Farmers may soon have a new set of tools along with professional guidance that tells them not only how much nitrogen they currently have in specific, small areas of their fields, but how long they can expect that nitrogen to last.
Recent developments in soil testing, plus challenges to longstanding tests raise the question, how confident are farmers that their soil tests represent their fields? Three farmers share their takes from Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.
Seed treatment is all about reducing risk, especially in the first 72 hours of a plant’s life. And farmer use is proof. Aided by newer systemic fungicides and insecticides, their global sales more than tripled from $700 million in 1997 to $2.25 billion in 2010, and they’re estimated to reach $3.4 billion in 2016.
Consider a three-way look at your crop — from above and below and at ground level. That means a close-up look at plant roots and soil for clues to plant growth, plus aerial images to detect, confirm and define a problem.
When Bob Recker sees odd patterns in cornfields from the air as he flies across farmland in northeastern Iowa, he can’t wait to land and investigate up close. As owner of Cedar Valley Innovation, Waterloo, Iowa, he uses digital and GPS technologies, along with well honed engineering analytical skills to identify yield-loss problems.
Tim Dritz didn’t hesitate to drive 350 miles from his western Minnesota farm for a day and a half August meeting in Waterloo, Iowa. Neither did Charlie Hammer from Beaver Dam, Wisc., whose drive was about 250 miles one-way. The veteran strip-tillers didn’t mind because they were going to a peer meeting they valued – in meetings and online. They met on an invitation-only Facebook page dedicated to strip-till, which quickly branched out to technologic ways to boost agronomic efficiency, says Loran Steinlage, one of the group’s early members.
Your choice of nitrogen (N) comes down to when you apply, your equipment, handling preferences, availability and costs. And the weather wild card often determines whether you’re happy with your choice in any given year.
Nitrogen management is entirely about risk management, especially this year. “There’s an economic risk of wasting money and being seen as environmentally reckless by applying too much N, and a risk of corn yield loss from applying too little,” says Dan Frieberg, president of Premier Crop Systems, LLC, in West Des Moines, Iowa. “But there’s also a risk that’s not talked about much — allowing nitrogen-management decisions to adversely affect other crop-production operations.”