Nitrogen Management For Successful Corn Farming

Why Nitrogen Management Matters

For decades, farmers have luxury fed nitrogen and other nutrients on their crops. We assumed that successful farming always required a specific nitrogen application for a given yield.  The reality is a little more complicated.

Nitrogen is undoubtedly essential for successful farming, along with potassium, phosphorus, and micronutrients, including sulfur, boron, and molybdenum. Nitrogen is a pivotal catalyst that helps plants create chlorophyll, boosts the viability of leaf surfaces, supports photosynthesis, and much more.

Rather than focusing exclusively on total application rates, we should instead look at gauging nitrogen flow through the plant.

Have you ever applied nitrogen and got excited when the corn turned bright green? It’s a great feeling. But sometimes these bright green plants can indicate rapidly increased vegetative growth leading to hollow stands or pithy stalks. Our plants spent their energy on leaf growth instead of reproduction. When that happens, we’re disappointed at harvest because of lower yields.

So how do you balance between having too much and too little nutrients? How do we get the plant to metabolize nitrogen and not simply load it down with nitrogen?

If we can improve our nitrogen management techniques, some of our yield issues along with insect and disease pressures might also improve.

Nitrogen Fixation

We know that around 78% of the air we breathe is nitrogen gas. One of the most significant free commodities in agriculture is in the air around us.

Unfortunately, most plants really can’t grab nitrogen from the air on their own. They need active soil biology to metabolize nutrients from the atmosphere.

That’s where nitrogen fixers come into play. These tiny bacteria and fungi can help reduce our need for applied nitrogen. Revita-N is our premium biological product that adds nitrogen-fixing microbes to the soil. When you add our energy-supplying product Carbose, you’ve got a solid weapon for jump-starting your soil biology.

With nitrogen fixation, nitrogen management is critical. Too much nitrogen can reduce soil function and hamper biology. Having excessive nitrogen can also cause a reduction in our biological process along with a build-up of salts. Adding a premium humate product like VitaNterra can help protect the plant’s soil biology from salt injury.

We have a tremendous opportunity to be more profitable as growers. If we can get nitrogen-fixing bacteria working for us, our inputs and costs can decrease. That means more profits and healthier soils for the next generation.  

The Nitrogen Curve

The nitrogen curve shows us how plants use nitrogen. A plant’s nitrogen need typically starts small and grows dramatically as the plants grow and enter the reproductive phase.

Unfortunately, the nitrogen curve and our typical nitrogen application curve are opposites. Nitrogen is critical for vegetative growth. Although some nitrogen is needed initially, the most significant demand occurs during reproduction.

It’s not unusual to see heavy early nitrogen applications with little or no late-season applications due to equipment limitations. Many of us can only apply nitrogen at planting or during the early growth stages. Active biology and products like Revita-N, Carbose, and VitaNterra can help to balance the load and protect soil biology.

As the plant grows, late-season nitrogen demands are often not met. We then see pest pressure increase, plants die early, and lower test weights. The plant runs out of gas by the end of the season.

That’s why nitrogen management is so important. This may not be a fit for everyone, but it’s something that we all need to be looking at to increase profitability and our viability as producers.

If possible, we don’t need to flood our plants with nitrogen early; we need enough nitrogen for the plant to be viable and healthy. Early-stage micronutrients are also critical to set plants up for reproduction.

So, we often go to the diner and talk about our yields. Maybe we have a brag patch that gets much attention. What if instead of bragging about our 200 or 300 bushels of corn, we talked about $600 or $700 of profitability. That’s where the real future is. We must be viable to be here in the long run.

That can only come through nitrogen management and our soil’s biological profile renewal.

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