Listen for the noise in nitrogen economics

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What’s the most economic rate of nitrogen for corn? Where is that line between feeding the crop the right amount of the yield-producing nutrient and wasting dollars on excess product?

University of Guelph sustainable cropping systems professor Dr. Adrian Correndo says a lot of field trials and research brainpower has been invested in identifying an economic optimal nitrogen rate (EONR) but it’s incredibly difficult to peg a specific number that growers can plug into cropping budgets. When it comes to corn nitrogen rates “uncertainly is king,” he notes.

During Correndo’s presentation earlier this month at the Ontario Agricultural Conference at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus, he told farmers and agronomists that it’s better to talk ranges rather than specific numbers when it comes to corn nitrogen needs. He says developing a precise prescription for nitrogen application can be difficult because there’s a lot of ‘noise’ to consider and landing on a specific rate can be tough.

In this video interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Correndo says the noise that impairs clarity around nitrogen rates come primarily from the uncertainly and unpredictability of weather. Overall, he says, EONR is influenced significantly by weather (67%) followed by management (19%) and soil type (14%).

“What farmers are facing in the real world is maximum variability,” says Correndo. He suggests it’s better for farmers to focus on ranges for nitrogen application and the probability of hitting the target. He says the process is kind of like betting on a football game. But instead of looking at performance data and point spreads to pick a winning team, they use research, agronomics and data to give them a high probability of choosing a winning strategy that delivers an optimum nitrogen rate.

In the interview, Correndo looks at different management practices, including splitting nitrogen applications, and how they can help manage variability. He also discusses why simply adding an extra 50 pounds of N per acre to account for noise and variability is not a winning strategy.

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