WOOSTER, Ohio – Take the guesswork out of fertilizing corn with a late spring nitrate test, which shows how much nitrogen a field needs or not, ensures the crop is fed enough, and prevents unnecessary applications.
The test helps farmers save money on fertilizer while reducing how much nitrate leaves a field by nearly a third – all while maintaining yields.
So said a 2004 study in the Journal of Environmental Quality, and Ohio State University’s Sugar Creek Headwaters Project is eager to help farmers use the test and benefit.
Wayne County. A grassroots effort teaming Ohio State agricultural scientists and Wayne County farmers and agencies, the project is offering local farmers free LSNT soil samplers, sample bags and analysis.
If desired, they will also coordinate with the farmer’s crop consultant.
Eligibility is limited to farmers in the Wayne County portion of the Sugar Creek watershed. No contract is required.
Information. The test provides the information needed to split applications of fertilizer: a small amount near planting time, then sidedressing in late spring.
Split applications of fertilizer are recommended in many states, including Ohio, as a best management practice for corn.
“By evaluating the amount of nitrate N in the top foot of soil, it can be determined if mineralized and residual N from last fall until now, plus any fertilizer N applied thus far, should be sufficient for a full corn crop,” said Dave McCartney, a research associate with the project.
McCartney is part of the Agroecosystems Management Program at the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.
Avoid troubles. “A simple soil test can help avoid the unpleasantness of running out of N and can reduce the amount of N flowing out tile lines next spring in fields that are scheduled for more lay-by N than is really needed,” McCartney said.
“The nitrogen that leaves a field through runoff or tiles is money lost to the farmer,” said Jason Parker, coordinator of the project.
Excess. Excess nitrate flowing from fields is also a threat to groundwater and surface water.
It can spread a great distance, last a long time, and cause ecological harm and human illness, especially in infants – most notably, “blue baby” syndrome.
Widespread adoption of the LSNT, the study reported, could cut how much nitrate gets into water by 30 percent or more in the Midwestern Corn Belt.
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