Cutting nitrogen rates may seem penny-wise, but without the proper facts, it can be bushel-foolish, according to a recent survey of university agronomists sponsored by Agrotain International.
While a majority in the survey said growers would benefit by adding a nitrogen stabilizer to their urea or UAN (liquid fertilizer), nearly all recommended that growers still maintain N rates and conduct strip trials for up to two years in order to measure yields before any rates are adjusted.
One university expert in the survey advised that growers should review research that compares products in conditions specifically similar to their own and select the one that was most effective in that environment.
The survey, conducted in recent weeks, asked agronomists from Texas to Pennsylvania about planting intentions and fertilization practices among growers in their areas.
Their responses provide valuable insights into improving fertilizer efficiency in a challenging economy:
- Sixty-seven percent believe growers should apply nitrogen at the same rates or higher rates as they did last season.
- Agronomists were about evenly divided on whether to apply the same rates of phosphorous and potash or to lower them. "It's economical to cut back rates with high fertilizer prices," one respondent said.
- Planting time is just around the corner in many parts of the nation, but futures prices and input costs have growers sitting on the fence about their plans for the 2009 season. Survey respondents predicted an increase in corn and soybean production, and a marked decline in wheat acreage this year. Although, recent USDA reports indicate a slight decline in corn and soybeans, many decisions are yet to be made.
- Nearly all of the agronomists surveyed (88 percent) agree that reducing nitrogen rates this season could result in lower yields.
"Rather than cutting rates, we recommend that growers stabilize their nitrogen with Agrotain to maximize yields," explained John Hassell, research and agronomic development manager for Agrotain International.
"In our calculations most growers will make more profit by achieving higher yields by maximizing efficiency, rather than by cutting input costs as nitrogen is a major driver for yields. We agree with agronomists that increasing nitrogen efficiency can go a long way toward protecting yield potential. I encourage growers to follow their advice and find out for themselves how the use of a nitrogen stabilizer can provide a positive return."
Half of the agronomists surveyed recommend documenting the ROI by applying nitrogen at the same rates as last year, adding a nitrogen stabilizer and measuring the yield increase at harvest. "Growers should determine the likelihood of a loss of nitrogen, the cost of any product they would consider using and determine the possible results before changing what they are doing," one agronomist said.
Regardless of a grower's strategy, the use of a nitrogen stabilizer can prevent two costly outcomes