As one of the global leads in food production, the United States is challenged with declining farmland to grow that food. According to the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), there were 897 million acres designated as farmland in 2019. That’s down 23 million acres from 2010 and 46 million from 2000.1
With less land to plant, it’s even more important for you as a grower to be a good steward of your resources and find ways to produce more food with fewer inputs. In order to do that, you first need to know why protecting crop nutrients is so important to your operation.
Finding solutions for the ag community to more efficiently is the work being done at Koch Agronomic Services (Koch). A team led by Steve Coulter, senior vice president for Koch, is working each day to help growers do more with less.
“We know that in order to feed the world's population in the next 50 years, we need to grow a lot more food,” says Coulter. “And to do that, we have to be more efficient in every aspect of agriculture.”
Illustrating The Issue
Helping growers understand the value of protecting nitrogen has been an ongoing conversation according to Jared Miller. A master agronomy advisor for MKC, he’s worked with growers in Kansas for the past 10 years to increase the use of nitrogen stabilizers. He recalls how often the focus centered on the cost of the product and not the problem itself. Many suggested putting on more pounds of nitrogen instead of protecting it. His question back to growers helps to illustrate the issue.
“If I've got cows getting out of the pasture through a hole in the fence, am I going to fix that fence and solve the problem,” says Miller. “Or am I going to just keep putting more cattle in and allowing them to get out?”
After that, Miller talks to growers about the scientific facts of nitrogen loss and shares university data that explains what an investment in nitrogen protection will do for their yield. Growers can then see how using optimal rates of nitrogen in combination with a stabilizer makes operations more sustainable, increasing profitability.
Nitrogen Loss Explained
The three types of nitrogen loss are volatilization, denitrification and leaching. Several soil and climate factors go into each process, including soil texture, environmental conditions and nitrogen management practices.
Volatilization, an above-ground loss of nitrogen, happens when urease enzymes in the soil break the urea molecules into ammonia gas. Warm, moist and alkaline soil conditions make volatilization more likely to occur when an inhibitor is not present.
Denitrification, a below-ground loss of nitrogen, is the breakdown of nitrates to gaseous nitrogen by bacteria in the soil. Poorly drained or waterlogged soil conditions and warm soil temperatures are most favorable to denitrification losses.
Leaching occurs below ground when the nitrate form of nitrogen is moved below the root zone by an excess of water. Loosely textured and sandy soil allows nutrients to drain downward through the soil profile.
Layers of Protection
Agronomists will tell you there are many different layers of protection you need to consider when it comes to your nitrogen investment. Technical Agronomy Manager, Tim Laatsch, and his team of agronomists work with university researchers across North America to track performance of current ag products and put tomorrow’s solutions to the test.
Laatsch advises growers to first follow the best practices of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship initiative by selecting the right source of fertilizer, applying it at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.
“Growers have long been stewards of the environment through conservation efforts,” says Laatsch. “But as we’ve entered the modern era and seen significant scientific advances, we now have a wealth of tools available to produce more using fewer resources.”
Along with the 4Rs, he also looks at what products can help individual growers. Depending on several factors, growers can determine what would work best for their own operation. What crop are you planting? Where is your farm located? What type of soil are you planting in? What are the weather conditions for your area? Every layer of information goes into the decision-making process.
To learn more about how you can protect your nitrogen investment, speak with your KAS sales representative to find your local retailer.
1USDA - Farms and Land in Farms, Feb. 2020
The 4R approach is endorsed and supported by the International Plant Nutrition Institute, The Fertilizer Institute, The Canadian Fertilizer Institute and the International Fertilizer Industry Association.