Measure Of Age In Soil Nitrogen Could Help Precision Agriculture

Illinois Researchers
Illinois professor Praveen Kumar and graduate student Dong K. Woo developed a model to tell the age of inorganic nitrogen in soil, which could help farmers more precisely apply fertilizer to croplands. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.

What’s good for crops is not always good for the environment. Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants, can cause problems when it leaches into water supplies. University of Illinois engineers developed a model to calculate the age of nitrogen in corn and soybean fields, which could lead to improved fertilizer application techniques to promote crop growth while reducing leaching.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Praveen Kumar and graduate student Dong Kook Woo published their work in the journal Water Resources Research.

“By understanding how long nitrogen stays in the soil and the factors that drive that, we can improve the precision at which we apply nitrogen for agriculture productivity,” said Kumar, also a professor of atmospheric sciences. “We may be able to apply fertilizer specifically in areas that are deficient in nitrogen, in precisely the amount that the plants need to uptake, rather than just applying it uniformly. Potentially, we could see a significant reduction in fertilizer amounts.”

Plants take up nitrogen from the soil through their roots as a nutrient. Nitrogen is added to the soil through fertilizer application or by microbes in the soil breaking down organic compounds. However, when there is more nitrogen in the soil than the plants need, it leaches out into the water and can accumulate in lakes, rivers and oceans.

“Nitrogen, usually in the form of nitrate fertilizer, is needed for healthy crop production, but too much is not a good thing since the excess can contaminate water supplies,” said Richard Yuretich, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research. “Knowing how long nitrate resides in the soil will lead to more efficient agriculture that maximizes plant health without overdosing the environment.”

Kumar and Woo developed a numerical model to calculate how long inorganic nitrogen has been in the soil, using a corn-corn-soybean rotation common in the Midwest. Fresh fertilizer application or microbial production of nitrates and ammonium are considered “birth,” or age zero. The researchers then computed age by the chemical reactions or transformations nitrogen goes through in the soil, mediated by moisture, temperature and microbes.

The model revealed two surprising findings when comparing the average age of nitrogen in the topsoil with that in deeper layers, and in comparing corn fields with soybean fields.

“The biggest surprise to me was that we found a lower average age of nitrogen in soybean fields,” Woo said. “We use fertilizer on corn, not soybeans. Yet even though we count that fresh fertilizer as age zero, we found a lower average age of nitrogen in soybean fields. We found that is mainly because soybeans uptake the old nitrogen, so the average age is reduced.”

When looking at the layers of soil, the researchers initially expected that nitrogen would follow a similar age path to water: newer on top, and growing older as it migrates down through the soil. However, they found that the nitrogen topsoil had a relatively high average age when compared with the water. Looking closer, they realized that one of the forms of nitrogen, ammonium, accumulated in the topsoil.

“Ammonium has a positive charge, which adheres to the soil particles and prevents it from leaching to the deeper layers,” Woo said. “Because of that, we observe relatively higher nitrogen age in the upper layers, compared with the age of the nitrate that dissolves in water, which doesn’t have that barrier and can migrate down through the soil.”

The researchers have established a field site to validate their model by analyzing the isotopic composition of nitrogen, oxygen and water in the runoff. They hope that their work can help farmers more efficiently use resources while also reducing contamination of water sources and marine habitats.

“The idea of using age for chemical analysis is not new, but no one has studied nitrogen age in the context of an agricultural setting,” Kumar said. “By doing that, we are able to reveal patterns of stagnation in the soil, which is different than just using the concentration of nitrogen. The main idea is that there is a better way to apply fertilizer over a landscape than we do presently. We should be looking into more precise approaches.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Measure Of Age In Soil Nitrogen Could Help Precision Agriculture

  1. BAM-FX agricultural Solutions has a totally ionic product that contains Zinc, Copper and ionic ammonia radicals that will be perfectly suited for use in precision agriculture that is already cleared in several States. There are several other minerals including Magnesium, Manganese and Iron being tested. More are on the drawing board and this variety of minerals can be applied as a liquid spray that the plants absorb directly and are trans-located throughout the plant. In other words there is no run-off utilizing this technology and combined with precision application to only sections of the field that are deficient less fertilizer is required.

Hort Tech Stories
Sentera
DronesSentera Announces May Release of Multispectral Double 4K Sensor for DJI Drones
April 27, 2017
Sentera announced the release of its Multispectral Double 4K Sensor, offering five precise spectral bands: blue, green, red, red edge, Read More
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Hort TechAGCO, Fendt’s Project MARS Pursues the Future of Farm Robots
April 13, 2017
(SOURCE: Fendt.com) MARS stands for Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms. Or in other words, it stands for agriculture of the future, Read More
Sentera drone
DronesSentera Debuts Enhanced North America Dealer Network
April 11, 2017
Sentera today announced the availability of its precision agriculture solutions at over 350 retail locations across North America. By broadening Read More
Trending Articles
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk Averse Marketplace
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’s Rob Berglund on Cognitive Computing
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry Style Report
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More
Soybean Closeup
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Agriculture Helps Brazilian Farmers Top 90-Bushel Soybean Yield
April 5, 2017
In the 2016/2017 harvest, the Mato Grossense Institute of Economics (IMEA) estimated that the largest soybean state in Brazil will Read More
Grower Retaile iPad
ProfessionalsField Scouting Apps Boost Efficiency, Speed
March 31, 2017
Scouting is one of the most critical services that ag retailers and consultants can offer their grower-customers. The need for Read More
Bruce Rasa corn AgVoice app
Data ManagementVoice-To-Data Tool Shows Promise For Scouting
March 24, 2017
See it, speak it, record it. No pens, no paper, no lost information. In a nutshell that’s what Bruce Rasa Read More
Latest News
Simplot Truck on Wilcox Farm
Ag Tech GlobalSimplot Taps Spensa to Power Advisor Platform
April 28, 2017
J.R. Simplot Co. announced it has entered into a partnership with Spensa Technologies Inc., an agriculture services company based in Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Ag Tech GlobalBASF Fortifies Digital Farming Offer with ZedX Acquisit…
April 27, 2017
BASF has signed an agreement to acquire US-based company ZedX, a leader in the development of digital agricultural intelligence. The Read More
Sentera
DronesSentera Announces May Release of Multispectral Double 4…
April 27, 2017
Sentera announced the release of its Multispectral Double 4K Sensor, offering five precise spectral bands: blue, green, red, red edge, Read More
Data Science tablet
Data ManagementHow to Address the Challenges of Data Science in Agricu…
April 26, 2017
Recently, Joe Byrum wrote an excellent article on the state of machine learning in agriculture. In it, Joe highlighted one Read More
Industry NewsFrom PrecisionAg with Love: Thanks, President Trump! (O…
April 26, 2017
Without getting too far into the weeds, I think it’s safe to say that today America feels more divided than Read More
Purdue Online Course
ProfessionalsPurdue University’s Online Precision Ag Course Re…
April 25, 2017
An online course offered by Purdue University’s Agronomy e-Learning Academy, Precision Agriculture, has received the 2017 Digital Education Excellence in Read More
Nuffield Scholarship
Ag Tech GlobalNuffield: Promoting the Diffusion of Knowledge of Preci…
April 24, 2017
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet John Stevenson, a 2016 Nuffield Australia Scholarship winner.  As part of the scholarship, John Read More
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk A…
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Case IH Autonomous concept vehicle
ProfessionalsOpinion: What the Heck is A.I. Going to do for Agricult…
April 24, 2017
Let’s pause from the daily toils of ag for a minute and start thinking about the future. In a very Read More
Imagery ipad
Imagery/SensingNew Opportunities with In-season Imagery?
April 24, 2017
When I think about precision agriculture my usual thoughts are around the continuous learning about the variability in a field. Read More
Data ManagementNew Partnership: Farmers Edge, Allied Cooperative Link …
April 24, 2017
Farmers Edge announced it has partnered with Allied Cooperative, a provider of agronomy, feed, grain, and equipment services to growers Read More
Retailer Grower Tractor
ProfessionalsAg Attorney: Sorry Right to Repair Advocates, But You&#…
April 21, 2017
(via AgLaw.us) This recent article on Motherboard is getting a lot of press: “Why American Farmers are Hacking Their Tractors Read More
ProfessionalsAgFunder: Clean Seed’s Wireless Smart Seeder is Set to …
April 21, 2017
(Via AgFunderNews.com) Heard of Clean Seed Capital Group? No? You will very soon because this Canadian company has been quietly Read More
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Sentera software
Decision Support SoftwareSentera Launching Field-Edge Plant Population Analysis …
April 20, 2017
Sentera is excited to announce the launch of its closed beta for field-edge Plant Population Analysis, available through its AgVault Read More
Data ManagementFarm Market iD Launches Sales & Marketing Platform
April 20, 2017
Following Farm Market iD’s February 2017 introduction of FieldVision, its mobile data-delivery platform, the company announced today its newest online Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’…
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: EFC Systems & 5 Facto…
April 19, 2017
Ernie Chappell of EFC Systems discusses five factors impacting the ag retail industry, the competitive advantages of enhanced customer engagement Read More