CARY, N.C. — Farmers sitting on the largest aquifer in the United States have learned a thing or two about managing nitrogen applications in a way that mitigates nutrient loss to the environment in general and to waterways specifically.
Sitting underground below large areas of Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, the Ogallala Aquifer provides drinking water to numerous cities and municipalities in addition to quenching agricultural thirsts. Farmers in this region have become proactive — and adept — at minimizing nitrogen losses and maximizing nitrogen use efficiency.
“We’re becoming more aware of what the impact of nitrogen loss into our waterways can be, and we’re getting much better at measuring it,” said Mike Zwingman, agronomy research and development manager for Central Valley Ag. The company has more than 60 locations across Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa.
Zwingman said that more farmers in the region are doing several things to help the cause, including: splitting nitrogen applications, improving application accuracy and placement and using certain products that significantly reduce nitrogen losses, such as NutriSphere-N Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager from Verdesian Life Sciences.
“We can now quantify and qualify what our water is like,” he said. “The tools we have to manage nitrogen loss and address water quality issues are better than we’ve ever had before. Now, it’s about how we implement those tools in the toolbox.”
Breaking up nitrogen applications into two or more per season, use of variable rate technology for fertilizer applications and use of a nitrogen manager — combined — are making a big difference in stemming N losses, Zwingman said.
The Nebraska agronomist stressed that every pound of nitrogen lost to the environment represents a monetary loss to the farmer that is currently around $4 per acre. This figure combines the N cost and the lost yield of one bushel per acre due to a pound of N loss.
“The farmer is getting a much better return on his fertilizer investment while at the same time doing the right thing environmentally,” Zwingman said.
NutriSphere-N provides advanced protection of nitrogen and is available in formulations for use with dry urea, UAN solutions and anhydrous ammonia to reduce all three types of loss — volatilization, leaching and denitrification.
The formulation for anhydrous, NutriSphere-NH3, is the newest technology introduction and is applied via special dual-injection equipment manufactured by SureFire Ag Systems. Working off a toolbar, the SureFire Tower 100 System is uniquely designed to give accurate and even row-to-row distribution of NutriSphere-N while applying anhydrous ammonia.
There also is a formulation for high-volume UAN spraying, NutriSphere-N HV. This formulation is designed to work at UAN rates at or above 35 gallons per acre. An application rate of 18 ounces per acre creates a fixed, cost-efficient investment per acre.
“The NutriSphere-N line of products really helps us bridge a lot of gaps for our growers throughout the season, including the crucial May-to-August period,” Zwingman said. “We are able to protect that ammonium molecule from environmental loss throughout July and August when the corn plant needs the nitrogen the most.”