Knowledge Center | Koch Agronomic Services
Knowledge Center | Koch Agronomic Services
The Role of Nitrogen and How to Protect It
Article Categories: CANADA, Blog Icon BLOG, Nitrogen Loss
When it comes to the agriculture industry, planning ahead and dealing with the unknowns are a way of life. From rainfall, soil conditions, weather forecasts, maintenance and more, even the most efficient operations must be prepared for whatever gets thrown at them.
So, in an industry where so many factors remain unpredictable, put your efforts in controlling the variables you can while being a good steward of resources. One of the most important inputs to understand and protect against unforeseen circumstances, is nitrogen.
Why Nitrogen is Important

As an essential macronutrient for plant function, nitrogen is one of the most important, nutrients in crop production. It is a key component of amino acids which form the building blocks of plant proteins and enzymes. These proteins make up the structural materials of all living matters and the enzymes facilitate the vast array of biochemical reactions within a plant.

Nitrogen is also a component of the chlorophyll molecule, which enables the plant to capture sunlight energy by photosynthesis, driving plant growth and grain yield.

It also plays a critical role within the plant to ensure energy is available when and where the plant needs it. This crucial nutrient is even present in the roots as proteins and enzymes help regulate water and nutrient uptake. 

Without adequate amounts of nitrogen, crops are small, yield poorly and are prone to diseases. Applying nitrogen in the right rate and at the right time to meet the crop’s needs is critical to optimizing yield potential. However, simply applying nitrogen does not ensure your crop will take up the nitrogen needed as it remains at risk for volatilization or denitrification.

Ammonia Volatilization
Volatilize | [ˈvälədlˌīz], verb
Cause (a substance) to evaporate or disperse in vapor

Ammonia volatilization is a form of nitrogen loss that occurs within days after application with surface-applied or shallow-banded nitrogen fertilizer sources that contain urea. The urea fertilizer must be hydrolyzed, or broken with water, to make the ammonium nitrogen available to the crop.  During urea hydrolysis, the pH in and around the zone of application increases and causes ammonium nitrogen to convert to ammonia gas. With many Canadian soils naturally having high pH levels to start, the risk of volatilization loss is further increased, making nitrogen protection vital to your operation.

The urease enzyme is responsible for facilitating the conversion of urea to ammonium nitrogen. Urease is commonly found in bacteria, fungi and plant tissue, but also persists for years in the soil environment as a free-soil enzyme outside of living cells. Urease inhibitors slow down the catalytic activity of the urease enzyme, lessen the pH change, shifting the pH toward ammonium nitrogen and mitigating losses of ammonia gas.

Surface-applied or shallow-incorporated urea or UAN are most at risk. Other risk factors that can increase risk of volatilization are: 
Warmer air temperatures (though urea can still hydrolyze up until freezing)
High residue 
Elevated soil pH
Soil moisture

Denitrify | [dēˈnītrəˌfī], verb
(Chiefly of bacteria) remove the nitrates or nitrites from (soil, air, or water) by chemical reduction

Denitrification is a below-ground loss of nitrogen. This process consists of bacteria in the soil breaking down nitrates (plant available nitrogen) to gaseous nitrogen (unavailable nitrogen to the plant). Whether you apply anhydrous ammonia, urea or UAN, in the fall or spring, all nitrogen sources are subject to denitrification after being converted to the nitrate form by biological processes.

Poorly drained or waterlogged soil conditions and warm soil temperatures are most at risk to denitrification losses. Other risk factors include:
Finely textured soils with poor internal drainage
Rapid snow melts and early rains
increased soil temperatures
Saturated soils with greater than 60% water-filled pore space

How to Protect Against Nitrogen Loss

Taking the steps necessary to protect your nitrogen and improve nitrogen use efficiency allows more of the applied nitrogen to be taken up by the plant. Solutions from Koch Agronomic Services (KAS) can have a positive impact on nitrogen management and yields:

ANVOL® nitrogen stabilizer — Providing the longest-lasting protection against above-ground nitrogen loss, ANVOL minimizes volatilization and has been proven to extend the window of protection for nitrogen beyond that of AGROTAIN.  The dual active ingredients make the difference by working in tandem: NBPT blocks the hydrolysis of urea as soon as it’s applied, then Duromide, KAS’s patented molecule, provides extended protection than NBPT alone.

CENTURO® nitrogen stabilizer — As a nitrification inhibitor for anhydrous ammonia and UAN, CENTURO blocks the nitrification process and keeps nitrogen in the ammonium form three times longer than untreated nitrogen fertilizer1. This reduces nitrogen loss from denitrification and leaching, ensuring that adequate nitrogen is available to the crop during periods of rapid nitrogen uptake.

TRIBUNE® nitrogen stabilizer — Containing both a urease and nitrification inhibitor, TRIBUNE guards against volatilization, denitrification and leaching. Dual active ingredients NBPT and Pronitridine come together to protect your UAN in a nonvolatile, true-liquid formulation.

SUPERU® Premium Fertilizer — Guarding against all three forms of above and below ground nitrogen loss, SUPERU uses urease and nitrification inhibitors to protect your nitrogen investment. SUPERU is backed by 25 years of research and hundreds of trials, showing how it can enhance nitrogen efficiency and optimize yields with the highest concentration of nitrogen available in a stabilized, urea-based granule.
Learn more on how to protect your nitrogen investment at Nutrient Protection | Koch Agronomic Services.

1The underlying data is based on third-party laboratory studies funded by Koch Agronomic Services; results may vary based on a number of factors, including environmental conditions. Improvements in nutrient use efficiency, yield and nitrate leaching may not be observed in all cases.

Article Categories: CANADA, Blog Icon BLOG, Nitrogen Loss
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Transient Deficiency: A short-term deficiency with potential long-term impacts. A simple way to explain what could quickly become an issue a crop may face each season.