Assessing available N from fall and spring applications
Leaching of soil nitrate is expected with ponding, flooding, or soil saturation, but not all of the nitrate will have been moved below the root zone. A shortcoming of the 1-foot sampling depth is that it does not always reflect plant available N deeper in the profile, particularly when abnormal leaching occurs. This is why we suggest also sampling from the 1- to 2-foot depth for assessment of soil N availability, particularly in sandy soils.
In our on-going N rate trials conducted throughout the state, the “normal” background levels of soil N in the upper 1 foot of mineral soils typically range from 5 to 10 ppm NO3-N and 4 to 8 ppm NH4-N for corn grown in rotation with soybean or corn without manure- or legume-derived N. Typically the deeper 1- to 2-foot soil samples would have slightly lower N levels.
Making a decision
We suggest that the 25 ppm NO3-N critical level for manure- or legume-N fertilized soils may be too low for soils that have only received fertilizer N and where N loss conditions have been severe. Where enough rainfall has occurred to cause substantial N loss, we suggest this level of rain has depleted the lower soil profile as well as the upper foot of soil.
click image to zoom Table 1 lists estimates of expected soil NO3-N levels with different fertilizer rates assuming “normal” background levels of nitrate and ammonium at the time of fertilization and a “normal” amount of movement below the one foot sampling depth (approximately 1/3 of the fertilizer N is moved below the 1-foot sampling depth but retained within the root zone with normal rainfall). If the corn is healthy and the growing season typical from here on out, we would suggest applying no more than 10 pounds of N for every 2 ppm reduction in soil sample N below the expected levels listed in the table.
Recognize that as a healthy crop moves through the rapid growth phase prior to pollination, soil N levels will naturally decrease in response to rapid N uptake by the plants. However, by the time a healthy crop reaches the V9 leaf stage (about 30 inches tall), only 19 lbs/ac N (equivalent to 5 ppm soil NO3-N in a 1-foot deep sample) have typically been taken up the plants (Mengel, 1995). However, by the time a healthy crop reaches shoulder-high (~ V15 or 60 inches tall), approximately 116 lbs/ac N (equivalent to 29 ppm soil NO3-N in a 1-foot deep sample) have been taken up by the plants.
The following examples give you an idea of how the tabular information may be used to make this decision.
Example calculation when only NO3-N is determined:
Fertilizer N was applied at 160 pounds of N per acre in early April as 28% UAN in southern Indiana. Only soil NO3-N analysis was requested because it was assumed that most of the urea- and ammonium-N had been converted to nitrate since temperatures were warm prior to the April and May rains. The expected NO3-N level from the table below for a 160-lb N application is 35 ppm. Laboratory results indicated only 20 ppm NO3-N. The suggested N application rate would be: ((35 ppm – 20 ppm) / 2) x 10 = (15 ppm / 2) x 10 = 7.5 x 10 = 75 pounds per acre.
Example calculation when both NO3-N and NH4-N are determined:
Anhydrous ammonia with nitrapyrin was applied at 160 pounds of N per acre in late April in northern Indiana. Since the N application was relatively recent and a nitrification inhibitor was used , both NO3-N and NH4-N analysis of soil samples were requested. The expected NO3-N plus NH4-N levels listed in the table for a 160-lb N application is 41 ppm. Laboratory results indicated 15 ppm NO3-N and 20 ppm NH4-N for a total measured N level of 35 ppm. The suggested N application rate would be: ((41 ppm – 35 ppm) / 2) x 10 = (6 ppm / 2) x 10 = 3 x 10 = 30 pounds per acre.