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Nutrient Management
Peek behind curtain at N rates

Did you ever want to know what made something tick so bad that you longed for a peek inside the black box? When the unlikely crew of the timeless movie “The Wizard of Oz” finally pulled back the curtain, they discovered much less than they expected. Ask enough questions about nitrogen recommendations, and you’ll find the data backing the guidelines may not be as awe-inspiring as you thought.

Try taking refresher course in Crops 101

The FFA and 4-H crop judging champions were crowned just before Christmas. One activity contestants must do is complete a 40-question quiz about modern crop production. In the true spirit of the TV show “Are you as smart as a fifth grader?”, here’s your chance to see if you can match wits with six-graders through seniors who participate in crops judging.

Spring N may still need an inhibitor

If the old axiom is true that the last season is the one you remember most for decision-making, then many may be tempted to do everything they can to minimize nitrogen losses this spring. The last two springs, in fact, have featured cool, wet springs that didn’t lend themselves to nitrogen application. Instead, they were tailor-made for losing part of the N that may have been applied.

N loss during cold higher than thought

For years, growers and other experts have believed that nitrogen losses to the air (volatility) from surface-applied urea could not occur in the cold, but innovative new research has recorded significant losses in those very conditions.
Rick Engel, associate professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University, carried out the research. He says results from the first five campaigns have been unexpected.

Hands-on manure study sheds light on phosphorus

Farmers know that manure is an excellent source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for our field crops, and it provides other benefits for soil quality. Here in Michigan, there are key assumptions that are used when determining the actual amount of nutrients that are available in the first year of application.

Boost N and boost corn yield

All Peter Scharf sees is yellow corn and lost potential when he looks at the 2009 corn harvest report in Missouri.

N applied in spring creates grass glut

The story punch line comes first when Rob Kallenbach talks about applying nitrogen fertilizer to pastures in spring.

Manure easement a bonus?

We are seeing more manure easements on farms. If you have a farm with a 10-year manure easement on it and you decide to sell the farm, do you see any strength?

Precision ups yields, lowers N rates

Technology can be great when it saves money and places inputs precisely. Eric Fuchtman of Creighton and his father, Clifford, have integrated technology into their cropping system, utilizing 20 years of soil test results for nitrates to vary the rate of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer applied over the 1,000 acres of corn they raise.

N rates improved

On Dec. 1, the new North Dakota spring wheat and durum nitrogen rate recommendations were unveiled. The new rates are the product of North Dakota research since 1970. Archived data represents about half of the data, and field research from 2005-2008 represents the other half of over 100 site-years of N rate studies.

Hold on to nitrates

Installing pattern tile systems in wet fields with suitable outlets is a paying proposition. If farmers didn’t believe it before, the advent of yield monitors in 1992 drove the point home. Maps typically indicate yield is reduced not only in the obvious wet spot, but also much farther out than many suspected.

Mission impossible: Reinvent this field

Don Biehle waited a long time to convert a piece of land the Southeastern Purdue Agricultural Center acquired a few years ago into useful land. The SEPAC superintendent planned to install pattern drainage in zones with water control structures, establish wetland habitat around the irregular borders of the wooded field and restore a wetland. But the project scheduled for August 2009 was scrubbed when Mother Nature dumped several inches of rain on the farm near Butler

Should you use an N stabilizer?

Nitrogen management continues to be an important issue for Iowa growers. “As if economics weren’t enough of a reason to improve nitrogen management, factors like the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, greenhouse gases and cap-and-trade legislation have only elevated the importance,” says Tracy Blackmer, director of research at the Iowa Soybean Association.

N-rate calculator gets an update

The nitrogen response database in the Iowa Corn Nitrogen Rate Calculator was recently updated. The calculator is an online decision-making tool from ISU Extension. With the updated database, the recommended N fertilizer application rate that you calculate for various situations has changed slightly from last year.

How to handle manure on wet fields

With a wet summer creating high soil moisture conditions in many fields and autumn’s unpredictable weather, now is a good time to review your manure management plan.

Manure to pay via credits

Contractors broke ground in November at Kreider Farms’ dairy facility at Manheim, Pa., to install an innovative $7.75-million nutrient management system to be paid for by nutrient, or manure, credits. The equipment and technology is owned by Colorado-based Bion Environmental Technologies. Nutrient credits saved with the biological processing plant will be sold under Pennsylvania’s new nutrient-credit trading program.

State producers face challenges managing soil pH

In many instances on the farm, the word “fixed” is used to describe the known and understood factors impacting the grower’s business and profitability.

Vermicompost better than fertilizer

A 25% gain in garlic weight-gain was nothing Ed Fraser could turn up his nose at. In fact, the Churchville, N.Y., certified organic producer is intent on sniffing out more benefits of using “made in New York” vermicomposted dairy manure to amend his soil and suppress disease.

Check soil fertility with tissue tests

This is the time of year when you can evaluate your fertility program by taking plant tissue tests. What can you address if you come across deficiencies? Of the tissue test results I’ve looked at over the years, nitrogen and zinc seem to be the nutrients most often listed as deficient. Phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and sometimes boron may show up as deficient as well.

Dairy manure great for corn

Manure from dairy cows is great for corn, says Darren Hefty, who farms with family members near Baltic, S.D., and co-hosts the TV show “AgPhD.”


A grumbly stomach can tell you when you’re hungry, but not what kind of food it needs to boost depleted nutrients. Devouring an entire chocolate cake might quiet the stomach, but it’s probably not the best selection. For crops, throwing straight nitrogen at plants may not be the best choice for optimal growth, either.

Use high-tech tools to make manure applications easier

Gary Doerr and his wife, Liz, of Creighton have been raising hogs for years. They recently found a way to combine high-tech tools they were already using in crop production to improve how they spread hog manure over their crop fields.

Costly fertilizer makes manure more valuable

When discussing unique ideas for job creation in rural Iowa, one of the things you may want to do is follow your nose. Manure is a valuable resource that saves farmers money and opens up doors for new business opportunities.

N to the rescue

Nitrogen applied either last fall or this spring may be lost from soils in areas experiencing a lot of rainfall in May and June. After excessive rains, corn growers need to reassess the available nitrogen supply in their fields.

Automatic probe samples soil fast

Jim Burton farmed for 35 years and did his share of poking holes in the soil to take soil samples. “I didn’t like the work, and I don’t know anyone who does,” he says.

Fixing N lacks promise in cooler climates

Nitrogen fixation is a very biologically expensive process. “The word on the street still is that legumes are just like any other plant,” said Peter Bottemley. “If there’s soil nitrogen, they’re going to take it.”

‘I’ll never apply fall nitrogen again!’

I’ve heard several growers exclaim that they will never fall-apply nitrogen again. Although fall-applied fields often suffered more loss than spring-applied fields, that is not always the case.

How to handle corn’s most costly input

Here’s a nitrogen-related question for this month’s Indiana Certified Crops Adviser panel.

Opinions vary on whether to cut N rate

Everyone has one. That field planted the wrong day where the stand isn’t what you like. Suppose you wanted 30,000 plants per acre, but have 25,500 instead. Worse yet, the range is 15,000 to 32,000 plants per acre. You were going to sidedress 180 pounds. Should you cut back?

Apply nitrogen with corn plant in mind

Corn after corn on irrigated ground on Del Unger’s farm near Carlisle may receive as many as five to six applications of nitrogen. The last few applications, often with zinc added, are applied as 28% N through irrigation. The Ungers are prepared to inject N and other nutrients until tasseling if necessary.

Get the most value from manure resource

There was a time when livestock producers considered manure as a waste problem. With skyrocketing commercial fertilizer costs in recent years, both livestock and crop producers now think of manure as a valuable resource.

New Subsurfer incorporates dry manure

Is it the next-generation manure applicator, or is it limited to only poultry litter?

Increase crop fertility with liquid manure

Spreading manure is a sophisticated business these days. For farmers who know the quantity of nutrients available in the manure, it is simply utilizing a resource from the operation. For Kurt and Wayne Kaup of K and W Farms at Stuart, applying liquid manure from their 26,000-head hog wean-to-finish operation is a standard practice.

Apply fall N by the rules

This crop season wasn’t particularly grower-friendly. We fought early rains, massive flooding and early-season cold, wet weather. Then came the hot, dry weather, and wind and hail damage across much of Iowa. So, we can only hope the law of averages comes around and we have a decent fall harvest season, and favorable weather to apply dry fertilizer and anhydrous ammonia, or NH3.

Putting P, K fertilizer in its place

Every fall we get questions about fertilizer placement, and as prices escalate, the discussions get longer and more complex. Broadcast applications of P and K have been the norm and standard for decades, but like other agronomic practices that have evolved as yields rise, we are all looking for ways to save money, increase profit and protect our environment when it comes to fertilizer applications.

Let nitrate stalk tests guide your N plans

G & K Concepts, Harlan, isn’t the only firm that believes in the value of stalk nitrate tests. Here’s what others say about the potential value of testing stalk samples.

Stick to a consistent soil sampling season

All experts don’t agree about the best way to sample a field or how many cores to pull. Most agree on one thing, however: Do it consistently.

Iowa revising nutrient standards

Local nutrient management specialists with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa will be working the next several months to update Iowa’s nutrient management standard (or 590 standard). That announcement was made in December after U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced USDA’s revised national standard.

Soil temps are key to applying N in fall

If this harvest is as late as many anticipate, the temptation to apply anhydrous ammonia too early will be nonexistent.

The chemistry behind N loss

To understand how nitrogen stabilizer N-Serve prevents nitrogen loss, a short chemistry lesson is in order.

10 tips to improve your fertilizer use

Fertilizer production costs are substantially higher in 2011 than they were the past couple of years. When you look at the numbers, remember that commodity prices also have increased significantly.

Don’t forget phosphorus levels

The Indiana Certified Crop Advisers panel had plenty to say this month about whether or not starter fertilizer pays.

Determine buffer pH to pinpoint lime rate

One good reason for soil testing is to determine soil pH. Most people want pH in the 6.0 to 6.5 range for corn and soybeans. At this level, nutrients are more available to plant roots, and some herbicides are more effective.

An eye on nitrogen

To better manage nitrogen applications, Tom Snider Jr. first went the split-application approach: preplant anhydrous ammonia with a strip-till pass, followed by a small dose in the starter at planting, and then a final sidedress application. “I don’t apply nitrogen in the fall at all,” says the McCool Junction producer.

Crop sensors work

The Skinner family has been working to tighten nitrogen rates ever since they started using precision agriculture techniques some 15 years ago. It’s not just the rising cost of N, says Darin Skinner. “We want to be good environmental stewards,” he says. “We want to be on top of fertilizer rates for both reasons. It’s in the news. The public is paying more attention.”

More corn, less N

The corn crop was struggling when Darin Skinner drove the high-clearance applicator down the rows at his family’s Hardscrabble Farms last July. Late planting following a wet spring delayed operations on their farm and most others in Ohio. “I really thought we could be looking at a 100-bushel yield,” he says. But things went better than he expected. “We ended up having a pretty decent year.”

Putting sensors to work

Crop sensors can be useful to farmers, but it takes certain steps to make them work, says Robert Mullen, director of agronomy for Potash Corp. Three kinds of crop sensors are currently available, he notes: Crop Circle by Holland Scientific Inc., Ag Leader Technology; GreenSeeker by NTech Industries Inc., Trimble; and CropSpec by Topcon Positioning Systems.

Soil tests gauge nutrient needs

Will the 2012 drought continue into 2013 growing season? “We don’t know, but one thing we do know is insufficient rain in 2012 had a significant impact on crop production in some fields and specific areas of fields,” says John Sawyer, Iowa State University Extension soil fertility specialist. “That can be taken into account when deciding nutrient applications for 2013 crops.”

Study: Corn root structure key

Preliminary results from a major study at the Irrigation Research Foundation near Yuma, Colo., have revealed that the shape, density and depth of corn roots are key to water and nutrient uptake.

Fertile soil isn’t enough; nutrients must still be available to plant

Farmers attending the Channel Seed Achievement Series workshop in Dodge City in early December got a lesson on soil fertility and productivity from Fred Vocasek, senior laboratory agronomist for Servi-Tech.

Take 10 steps to save money on fertilizer

Are you taking all of the following steps to make the best use of applied nitrogen?

New system collects runoff

The South Dakota State University Southeast Research Farm at Beresford installed a manure management system last summer to control runoff from outdoor livestock pens. The system could serve as a model for small livestock farms.

Heed soil status when irrigating manure

Michigan livestock farms are catching and storing more manure containing a high amount of rain and resulting runoff in an effort to protect surface water quality around the farmsteads. As a result, more irrigation systems have been installed to land-apply these manure streams. The basic principles of manure application correlate to manure irrigation plus some additional safeguards.

Livestock’s carbon footprint under study

Consumers increasingly want to know the carbon footprint of the way they travel, the laptops they buy and the food they eat. Businesses, manufacturers and farmers want to reduce their environmental impact, as well as offer products designed to appeal to consumer preferences.

MSU seeks better ways to use water, nutrients

One of the hallmarks of Michigan agriculture is its diversity and the contribution of specialty crops to the state’s economy.

Manure manager

After a hot summer day of working pigs, nothing is more relaxing than heading to the lake to cast a fishing line. For Ronnie and Rocky Means, it is a short commute.

Dikes cut input costs

Bryan Kirkpatrick understands two key points. First, if you’re going to store large quantities of liquid fertilizer on the farm, you need dikes. Second, it’s how you buy and sell that determines if you net a payback.

Getting the rescue nitrogen on corn, no matter what

In show business, the mantra is: “the show must go on.” In cornfields, it’s “the nitrogen must go on, no matter what.” Hopefully, you’ve already applied the amount of N you feel comfortable with this year. But in case weather threw in a monkey wrench, especially on late-planted corn, there are solutions.

Improving microclimate pays

The logic Chuck Kupatt lays out is simple. The big opportunity to increase crop yields is in helping plants control the unpredictable. Determine how to help them better survive the stresses of the environment, such as temperatures and moisture, and your crop yield should increase.

Contented cows

Just the hint of a breeze off the southern tip of the Ozark Mountains holds the promise of changing seasons as cattle producers Steve and Shari Swenson look toward winter.

Drainage discovery

If you have cropland near a stream, river or lake, which most Minnesota farmers do, chances are that you’ve taken your share of criticism when those neighboring waters turn murky or slimy or kill aquatic life.

Water quality revelation

Farmers and residents near Willmar are finding out that city stormwater runoff affects lake water quality a lot more than farm practices do.

Extra N pays big in corn after corn

Results from Practical Research Plots conducted by Beck’s Hybrids show it pays to apply more nitrogen for corn after corn than many people previously thought. Six-year data gives the biggest indication of the need for extra N in corn after corn vs. corn after soybeans.

Zeroing in on precision N rates

Agronomists have long admitted that nitrogen recommendations for corn generally aren’t too accurate. Plus or minus 40% accuracy isn’t very good, particularly with today’s rising concerns over Chesapeake Bay nutrient pollution.

Avoid dairy-cow transition to disaster

Think about transition cow management in terms of all the changes going on in a dairy cow’s body. Going from a pregnant, nonlactating state to being non-pregnant and lactating — her hormones are changing like crazy.

Hay man strives for excellence

For Taylor County, Texas, hay producer Leland Robinson, it’s not just the quantity of hay produced, but the quality.

Optimum N rate varies by where you live

After five years of testing on Purdue University farms and private farms, two Purdue Extension agronomists believe they can help you nail down a profitable nitrogen rate. Bob Nielsen and Jim Camberato undertook this project because they felt data on response of modern corn hybrids to N rates on Indiana soils was lacking.

Nebraska: more corn with less nitrogen

Nebraska farmers are using nitrogen fertilizer much more efficiently than they were 30 to 40 years ago.

Take a close look at phosphorus use

An expert answers questions about what phosphorus does for crops.

Peanuts take lead in rotation

Diversified Oklahoma producer Joe D. White is a strong proponent of crop rotation on farming operations at Frederick and Davidson. The rotation is peanuts, corn and cotton — leading off with peanuts.

Compare fertilizer options

Farming! There are always so many questions and few black-and-white answers! That is why farmers know so much about so many subjects.

When does it pay to spray at last minute?

Is there still time to dribble some extra N on corn or apply fungicides or insecticides on soybeans? Indiana certified crop advisers tackle the topic.

Great year to test hay

Chris Parker doesn’t care if only a few people take the time to test their forages. He still beats the drum, saying it’s a tool that’s not used enough by those who spend thousands of dollars for hay.

Making the cut

Dale Duggan is meticulous in growing — and harvesting — hay in an efficient manner at Ballinger, Texas. Duggan puts down 107 pounds of 20-20-0-12 per acre to meet the nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur needs for his three-way cross of sorghum-sudan.

Online videos show viewer how to nab nitrates

You may have heard of bioreactors or conservation drainage, but chances are, you haven’t seen how these two new practices take nitrates out of underground tile waters. That’s not surprising; like the tile water they cleanse, they do their work unseen, underground, with little fanfare or maintenance.

For soils, patience is a virtue

Ray Styer knows how to build on something patiently to make it pay off. That is the way he treats his soil, which he continually improves by using a careful
cover-crop selection over decades.

Cover crops make N available

In research plots at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro, N.C., George Naderman, a retired Extension soil specialist and an associate professor emeritus at North Carolina State University, measured from 100 to 200 pounds more of nitrogen in the top 5 inches of soil where conservation tillage had been used for six crop years, compared to conventional tillage. Researchers had put on the same amount of N on both fields during operations.

Cutting-edge tech surfing

‘‘Ray Boswell is always trying new things,” says Johnston County Extension agent Tim Britton. “He doesn’t try any and everything, but he is constantly on the lookout for the best new things to try. He keeps what works.”

Turning to pivot

Much of the U.S. may be entering something similar to what Texas suffered from October 2010 until spring 2012, and what South Carolina, Georgia and Florida suffered through most of the last year — extreme and exceptional drought.

Use center pivots to spoon-feed N to your cornfields

After above-normal spring rain in 2011, Doug Ziemke of Waco noticed yellowing in several cornfields. Tissue samples verified his suspicion that some of his preplant nitrogen had leached below crop roots.

Research continues in quest for higher soybean yields

High soybean prices and increased genetic potential have driven producers to search for common practices that can boost soybean yields and increase profits. Starter nitrogen application, foliar nutrient application and new, slow-release N products have gained attention in the past few years as methods to boost yields.

What cover crops mean for hypoxia

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when someone says “cover crops”? Stopping soil erosion, right? It took Barry Fisher nearly an hour during a tour of cover crop plots at Roger Wenning’s farm to mention soil savings.

Wise liming choices bring big results

Lime neutralized Jim Book’s crop problems.

Stories behind crops quiz photos

Your December Indiana Prairie Farmer featured 10 pictures in the annual Indiana Prairie Farmer/Beck’s Hybrids Crops Knowledge contest. If you don’t have your issue handy, visit on the Web, click “More Indiana Prairie Farmer,” then “Magazines Online.” You’ll find the story on Page 7 in the December issue.

Hog manure helps cut fertilizer bills

At Wortman Farms, swine manure is a valued soil nutrient. Without the fertilizer value from the manure, there have been times over the past few years when the swine business would have been a losing proposition.

Making water work

Growing cotton means a lot of tweaking this or that to adapt to a particular season.

Cover crops and manure: 2 can be better than just 1

Cereal rye and manure, when combined, provide benefits to each other, resulting in greater overall benefits to livestock producers, their bottom line and the environment.

Right tools save dollars

Steve Alsabrook meticulously uses inputs that will get the job done for Alsabrook Farms at Haskell, Texas. It could be high-tech tools or a generic pesticide if it works for a particular crop enterprise.

Eye on 100

Roger Baumfalk, Avon, S.D., is shooting to produce 100-bushel-per-acre soybeans.

Timing of weed control is key to victory in protecting yield

When it comes to postemergent weed control in corn, timing is everything. While the vast use of glyphosate herbicides and herbicide-tolerant seed has curbed weed pressure, the development of resistant weeds has made the timing of weed control more important than ever. If farmers wait too long in the growing season to treat, they can expect yield reductions.

Texas gets weed control in dry fertilizer

Texas cattle raisers have another way to get weed control in pastures — in one step.

Converting CRP to crops? Start in the fall

When Gerald Curry of Ponca purchased a quarter section of Conservation Reserve Program land, he had two options. With only one year remaining in the CRP contract, he could have tried to bid the ground back into the program during the next sign-up, if rental rates were agreeable.

Footprint farming

Corn farmers like Steve Ebke of Daykin usually don’t define themselves in business terms such as raw-material suppliers or members of a supply chain.

Eco-Drip puts down roots

From its meager start in the melon patch where Hubert and Annette Frerich tried drip irrigation at Garden City, Texas, the Eco-Drip Subsurface Drip Irrigation business expanded into several states and put down roots for cotton.

Get the most from precision

Creighton farmer David Condon began adopting precision tools in 2003 with a yield monitor in his combine. That initial installation began a progression of new tools that have saved input expenses and placed other inputs where they are most likely to increase production and improve profits.

Got water-logged soils? Strip Maker helps dry them out

Mother Nature often dictates what crop producers can get done, particularly during planting season. Wet, cool soils and heavy residues often gum up the best-laid plans. It’s not only a northern and eastern Corn Belt scenario, but one that can happen in Nebraska, too.

Bringing home the prize

In 2010, Kevin Monahan of Waverly, Va., had his worst year ever growing peanuts. In 2011 he had his best peanut-growing year ever. In fact, judging from the state peanut yield contest, Kevin had the best peanut yield in the state in 2011.

More on-farm research work urged for corn

Farmers and UNL Extension educators have run productive, organized on-farm research projects for several years in two regions of Nebraska — the Quad County Project of York, Fillmore, Hamilton and Clay counties, and the Nebraska Soybean and Feed Grain Profitability Project in east-central Nebraska.

Dry weather increases risk of starter fertilizer damage

Here’s a pop quiz on pop-up fertilizer:

Cover crops study: exploring single vs. multiple species

A replicated trial on a small farm in the north-central Upper Peninsula compared three cover crops and a fallow treatment. The project was funded by a Michigan State University Extension regional Project GREEEN grant. The cover crops included marathon red clover, a hybrid sorghum sudangrass and a multi-species cover cr