Farmers weigh in on Nitrogen management in a changing climate

Climate and weather greatly impact a farmer’s day-to-day operations as well as their livelihood.  To gain perspective on farmers’ production practices and how they are changing, Michigan State University Extension educators and specialist invited farmers from across Michigan to participate in one of three discussions on sustainable corn production held at locations in the north central, central and south central part of the state during mid-March.  Climate and nitrogen were two of the topics discussed.

Concerns over heavy spring rains prompts Michigan corn growers to split N-applications throughout growing season.

Concerns over heavy spring rains prompts Michigan corn growers to split N-applications throughout growing season.

We found that producers have already decreased the amount of nitrogen applied per bushel of yield.  Cost of nitrogen, concern of environmental impacts, improved technology and better information were all given as reasons for the change.   The source of nitrogen used is also changing.  Most producers indicated that they will or have already moved away from using anhydrous mostly due to availability.  Many producers expressed an interest in using nitrogen stabilizers, but need more information on how and when to use them to get the best value.  While there is an interest in sensors technology to determine plant nitrogen needs during the growing season, producers are concerned with calibration and reliability of that technology.  The number of nitrogen applications made to the corn crop is growing.  Many producers are already applying nitrogen at planting and side-dress, but several are now including a nitrogen application pre-tassel through irrigation or with a high clearance tool bar.   Nitrogen is also applied using variable rate technology using yield goal and soil type to determine rate.  As one producer said, “I have changed my approach to nitrogen to both feeding yield and dialing back when there is less yield.”

The producers participating in these discussions are keenly aware of nitrogen’s value to their crop and risk to the environment.  They have already made changes to improve practices and are interested in learning more about efficient use of nitrogen for their crop.  Although many have tried practices such as nitrogen sensors, nitrogen stabilizers or cover crops, they still feel there is more research needed to determine the value of these management practices to their cropping system and they are willing to work with researchers and educators to solve the puzzle.


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