Are you applying nitrogen to corn ground either this fall or next spring or both? There is a 99% chance that if you are farming in the Cornbelt, nitrogen application in some form is part of your annual ritual. Nitrogen prices are up because of the demand, and when we are planning on growing corn on more acres, the demand for nitrogen increases and the price correspondingly increases. Yesterday we looked at the small view of nitrogen from a single farm standpoint, and today we look at the broad regional view, which gives you a picture of how your practices relate to other Cornbelt farmers.
USDA has just released an extensive study of nitrogen, much too broad for thorough examination, so excerpts will be taken from the report. All of the data comes from 2006, so that is a slice out of time, and will not be quite parallel to last year or this year, but close enough for comparison. USDA says in 2006, 69% of the 242 million acres of primary cropland were treated either with commercial nitrogen or manure. Corn received 45% of the 167 million acres treated with nitrogen and 65% of the 8.7 million tons of nitrogen applied to those crops.
USDA looked at best management practices, which were defined as:
• Rate: Applying an amount of nitrogen at a rate that accounts for all other sources of nitrogen, carryover from previous crops, irrigation water, and atmospheric deposits.
• Timing: Applying nitrogen as close to the time that the crop needs it as is practical (as opposed to the season before the crop is planted).
• Method: Injecting or incorporating the nutrients into the soil to reduce runoff and losses to the atmosphere.
The economists report the application rate criterion was not met on 32% of the acres, with cotton having the highest percentage (47%) of treated acres not meeting the recommended rate, however corn accounted for 50% of all the treated acreage not meeting the recommended rate.
Regarding timing, the criterion was not met on 24% of acres, and 34% of corn acres received either commercial or manure nitrogen in the fall, which was outside of the criterion established as a best management practice.
On the issue of application method, nitrogen was not incorporated into the soil on 37% of the acres, which received 24% of the total applied nitrogen. Soybeans had the highest percentage (45%) of acres not meeting the recommendations, with corn accounting for 46% of all treated acres not meeting the criterion. USDA says corn acres make up nearly half of all acres that are in need of some type of improvement in nitrogen management, in at least one of the three criteria.