Using the right amount of nitrogen fertilizer to obtain desired corn yields can be a challenge for both economic and environmental reasons. Applying too much nitrogen is costly and can contribute to water quality problems. Applying too little can result in sub-par crop yields. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia are using sensors called light emitting diodes (LEDs) to accurately measure the color of young corn and apply variable rates of nitrogen according to plant needs.

The researchers are in their second year of testing this new technology on farms across Missouri. They hope this LED approach will not only increase profits for producers, but also create a healthier environment, including in the Gulf of Mexico, where nitrogen runoff carried by the Mississippi River has created a "dead zone."

"Past research has shown that many fields in Missouri can make full yields with less nitrogen than they are receiving," said Peter Scharf, MU nutrient management specialist.

The Environmental Protection Agency has adopted an action plan based on voluntary programs to reduce nitrogen loading in the Mississippi River. Their target is reducing the size of the hypoxic zone to a five-year average of less than 5,000 square kilometers. In recent years, the hypoxic zone has been as large as 20,000 square kilometers.

Source: University Release