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Agronomist: Apply enough nitrogen, but not too much
Indiana Correspondent

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. — Lance Murrell, a certified professional agronomist, spoke for more than 40 minutes recently on nitrogen and how much is necessary for optimum crop production.

When his presentation was over, Murrell joked with his audience that even after the talk, most in the crowd probably still didn’t know the answer.

“The answer is I don’t know,” Murrell said.

“The environmentally correct answer is enough but not too much. Nitrogen is the most difficult element we have to work with in production systems because it’s hard to say how long it will stay around.”

Murrell spoke March 15 at the Multi-County Crop Production Workshop - Management for Profit and The Environment. Primarily the SWCDs of Allen, Huntington, Kosciusko and Whitley counties sponsored the all-day event.

Working under the assumption that fertilizer prices are and will remain high, Murrell said fertilizer placement will become more crucial.

“The buzzword will be efficiency,” he said. “Where can I get the biggest bang for my buck. Farmers will have to learn how to manage the fertilizer-soil volume rates and still maintain yields.

“We’ll also be wondering if we need to fertilize the whole area, or get by with smaller areas and still get the same result.”

The best time to apply nitrogen is during side-dress, but for most farmers, that’s not practical, he said.

“We’re not farming 500 acres anymore,” he said. “We’re farming 1,500 or more. It’s hard to do. Most farmers can’t wait until then.”

A naturally occurring process is responsible for a big problem in Indiana, he said. “Denitrification loss is the biggest problem in Indiana soil because the soil is fairly tight and imperfectly drained.”

Denitrification is the process where bacteria break down nitrates to give gas, which returns to the atmosphere.

When the soils stay saturated under warm conditions, denitrification results, he said.

“When other conditions are favorable, waterlogged soils have the potential to lose 15 percent of the nitrate nitrogen to denitrification in two days,” he said.

“Flooded conditions lead to denitrification. It’s a function of moisture and temperature.”

The bottom line is always yield and increasing yield is still the only way we have to minimize per unit production costs, Murrell said.

“We can’t afford to let yields slip and pin our hopes on a disaster in order to increase crop prices,” he said. “We have to remember that what you have produced in the past is the minimum you can do in the future.”

This farm news was published in the March 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.