Doug Albin, Clarkfield, Minn., isn't waiting for a silver bullet in nitrogen utilization years from now, much less in decades. A member of the Minnesota Corn Growers Research and Promotion Council, he’s concerned that environmental pressure may produce overly restrictive regulations.

"If we have regulations that say you can only apply this much in this place, what happens if you get a 6-inch rain and lose your nitrogen?" Albin asks.

He and his wife Lois grow corn and soybeans on 1,200 acres along the Yellow Medicine River. An advocate of right product, right rate, right time and right place, he has eliminated fall application in some fields and spring applications in fields that tend to flood. He uses variable-rate and split-rate applications, as well as tissue testing and nitrification inhibitors to spoon-feed his corn.

"Yield per pound of nitrogen applied has continued to increase over my 35 years of farming," says Albin. "Seed companies like to claim credit, but I feel it is largely due to better targeting nitrogen with equipment and technology. The difference between applying nitrogen and applying the right amount of nitrogen is a big difference in N."