Farmers weigh in on nitrogen management

Nitrogen is an important nutrient for corn production. Optimal management is good for both the farmer and the environment.

Photo credit: Dennis Pennington, MSU Extension

Photo credit: Dennis Pennington, MSU Extension

Climate and weather greatly impact a farmer’s day-to-day operations as well as their livelihood. To gain perspective on farmer’s production practices and how they are changing, Michigan State University Extension educators and specialists invited farmers from across Michigan to participate in a discussion on sustainable corn production. Climate and nitrogen were two of the topics discussed.

We found that producers have already decreased the amount of nitrogen applied per bushel of yield. Cost of nitrogen, concern of environmental impacts, improved technology and better information were all given as reasons for the change. The source of nitrogen used is also changing. Most producers indicated that they will or have already moved away from using anhydrous ammonia mostly due to availability. Many producers expressed an interest in using nitrogen stabilizers, but need more information on how and when to use them to get the best value. While there is an interest in sensor technology to determine plant nitrogen needs during the growing season, producers are concerned with calibration and reliability of that technology.

The number of nitrogen applications made to corn is growing. Many producers are already applying nitrogen at plant and sidedress, but several are now including a nitrogen application pre-tassel through irrigation or a high clearance tool bar. Nitrogen is also applied using variable rate technology using yield goal and soil type to determine rate. As one producer said, “I have changed my approach to nitrogen to both feeding yield and dial back when there is less yield potential.”

The producers participating in these discussions are keenly aware of nitrogen’s value to their crop and risk to the environment. They have already made changes to improve practices and are interested in learning more about efficient use of nitrogen for their crop. Although many have tried practices such as nitrogen sensors, nitrogen stabilizers or cover crops, they still feel there is more research needed to determine the value of these changes to their cropping system and they are willing to work with researchers and educators to solve the puzzle.

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