High tech, but efficient, nitrogen application
Do you have all of your nitrogen applied for next year? Have you applied just part of it? Are you planning to apply nitrogen just in side-dress? The direction of nitrogen application technology is toward all side-dress because you will be using sensors that detect the nitrogen in the corn plant. And it is not just star wars farming, but efficiency, because the sensors call for less nitrogen than you would normally apply, and the yield turns out to be the same as if you had over-applied nitrogen before the crop was growing.
What is your current decision making process for nitrogen application? Has your rate changed in recent years? Are you applying nitrogen based on average yields? Or is your nitrogen application based on a maximum return to that resource, as recommended by the Iowa State University decision aid? Nitrogen application is not taken lightly, because of its financial boost to a valuable crop. A study published in the current Agronomy Journal details the findings of 55 on-farm tests involving crop sensors that were able to detect nitrogen levels in corn plants and adjust the rate of nitrogen being applied.
The result of the tests was to increase yield by almost 2 bushels per acre and reduce 25% of the nitrogen being applied. There seem to be some positives there.
Many researchers and farmers are beginning to have concerns about excess nitrogen being applied and making efforts that are directed toward better environmental outcomes. University of Missouri agronomist Peter Scharf says the sensor-driven nitrogen application may seem to be like a win-win, and there have not been many other systems that have actually achieved what this technology has achieved. He says optimal N rates vary substantially within a field and between fields, but most fields and most farms receive the same rate of nitrogen application, with much of the application occurring long before it is used by the corn plant.
With higher input costs, there is more financial pressure to cut costs, and that will continue if 2012 crop prices continue to fade. Scharf’s research on nitrogen application locations in a field evolved into letting the corn plant determine if it needed nitrogen, and began using sensors to detect deficiency. Attaching sensors and flow regulators to applicators being used on farms, the results of the modified units were compared to parts of the field where sensors were not used. The nitrogen was applied between the V6 and V16 growth stages.