Precision Ag’s Role in Getting Nitrogen Right For a Better Environment

Scientists can be forgiven for thinking that when they come up with optimized methods for accomplishing some task, end-users will jump at the chance to implement the new ideas simply because they are better. If only it were that simple.

Farmers in particular have a tendency to stick with the tried-and-true. For pathways_precisionprecision agriculture to have a greater impact in the fields, research findings must be presented with the farmer’s perspective always in mind. Whether the farmer has a small plot in Africa or a large operation in Iowa, he can always do things smarter and more efficiently. Nitrogen management offers a perfect example of an area in which farmers must do better.

In many places around the world, farmers have a legal duty to ensure their use of the land does not result in an excessive amount of nitrates leaching into the groundwater. The European Commission’s Nitrates Directive, for example, was adopted in 1991.

In response, farmers have leaned on experience to fine-tune their existing management procedures and reduce leaching, but they do not necessarily know the answer to the question of exactly how much of the substance leaches into the groundwater during a cropping season.  For them, precision agriculture is not a cure-all. It is a technique that can fill specific and crucial gaps in their knowledge.

Perhaps the biggest gap in the market, from the farmer’s perspective, is the availability of formal decision support tools to help with needs such as nitrogen management. These flexible tools would incorporate all the excellent research that has been done on yield monitoring, variable-rate application of inputs and zone management in a coherent, easy-to-use package.

Such a toolset would be inherently adaptable to the practical needs of the individual farmer, which is important because no two farms are the same. Adaptability and practicality remain the key to securing the buy-in of end users.

Farmers often havAg Dronee an easier time justifying the purchase of a new tractor or combine than, say, a drone, an array of field sensors or a software package. After all, the value of heavy machinery is well established. How much benefit can be had from analytical tools? Quite a bit, it turns out.

Whether the purchase of any particular analytical tool makes economic sense is a question best answered by the tools themselves. Sensors are an integral component of yield monitors that measure field performance against revenue, ensuring that farmers see that the smarter, more accurate decisions they make have an impact on the bottom line. Properly implemented, sensor technologies are critical to achieving the data density required to ensure farmers have the economically actionable intelligence they need to improve their management practices.

Farmers are let down when they turn to methods like the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to determine how much nitrogen they should use on their crops. NDVI determines the density of green in a field, which serves as a useful measure of plant health. Plant health is not the same as nitrogen stress, which is why relying on NDVI for variable rate nitrogen application can create undesirable results.

For instance, a field might show poor yields because of insufficient irrigation or insect stress. Applying more nitrogen will not improve the situation. Rather, it will waste the farmer’s resources and contribute to environmental degradation. Farmers need remote sensing tools that offer a more direct measurement of nitrogen stress than NDVI can provide.

This is critical, because the days of indiscriminately bombarding fields with nitrogen are coming to an end, to be replaced with more precise application of fertilizer. Precision agriculture lets the farmer know how much is enough, but coming up with the answer depends on having an appropriate array of crop canopy sensors that enable growers to escape old-fashioned methods of basing today’s nitrogen application on how much was applied last year.

True precision requires real-time analysis, as the right amount is always in flux. Dynamic factors such as soil moisture levels and weather conditions constantly alter a plant’s nitrogen uptake.  When combined with the technique of in-field reference strips, remote sensors arm growers with the data they need to more precisely apply nitrogen. If the output of a field matches the yield of the reference strip, no more nitrogen is needed. Conversely, if output is down in comparison, more nitrogen may be needed.

The most obvious payoff of advanced nitrogen optimization tools is the extra bushels at harvest time. For the farmer struggling to make it through depressed commodity prices, big savings on input costs are also hard to ignore. Yet the greatest benefit of all would be measured in the environment.

Failure to apply nitrogen with precision causes significant harm. As much as nitrogen delivers a massive boost to corn yield, it has an even greater effect in promoting algae growth when fertilizer runoff hits a stream or lake.

Eutrophication is the term used to describe the resulting overabundance of nutrients in a body of water. While plankton and algae feast upon the bounty of nitrates, they also multiply rapidly and disrupt the ecosystem’s balance. The algae that die end up consuming enough of the available oxygen that native fish suffocate.

In addition to this, nitrates making their way into the water supply raise significant human health concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency considers levels above 10 parts per million a hazard to drinking water, reflecting an elevated risk of various forms of cancer. The situation is so serious in central Iowa that farmers have their livelihoods at risk in a lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works over runoff.

The best way to get ahead of any such developments is to get nitrogen right in the first place, which is to say, by applying no more nitrogen than the plant can absorb. The Iowa Soybean Association keeps track of the performance of nitrogen sensing in the field. Most farmers are reporting savings of between $10 and $20 per acre in reduced fertilizer costs, meaning that growers recoup the cost of sensors within a year or two in many cases

Byrum is Senior R&D and Strategic Marketing Executive in Life Sciences – Global Product Development, Innovation and Delivery at Syngenta. Byrum will present the session, “Solving Big Problems: Innovation Through Open Collaboration” at the PrecisionAg Vision Conference on October 19. For more information visit www.precisionagvision.com

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment on “Precision Ag’s Role in Getting Nitrogen Right For a Better Environment

  1. I can reveal nitrogen needs of hundreds of thousands of acres per day, in real time, using the near infrared band with 20″ resolution before the grower even knows he has a problem.
    It is georeferenced and georectified.
    I can convert the infrared image to units of nitrogen needed in an area as small as 80 sq ft and deliver as much or as little is needed at 160 mph, regardless of soil or crop conditions.
    My name is Rex Lester and I have just solved your problem…

Best Practices Stories
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Success
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
Best PracticesPathways to Precision: Managing Risk With Germplasm
November 7, 2016
No one can know what the conditions will be for the next growing season. Is it possible for a grower Read More
Corn Field
Best PracticesPrecision Agriculture And The Not-So-Obvious Factors Affecting Production Decisions
October 5, 2016
Crop production is a seasonal enterprise during which day-to-day decisions are made with a goal of high yield and profitability. Read More
Young Corn Field
Best PracticesNitrogen: The Key to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
September 20, 2016
Precision ag can play a key role in reducing agriculture’s impact on greenhouse gases by limiting the nitrogen rate. Read More
Trending Articles
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secrets
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Farmers
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsGrower Groups Encourage Implementation Of AgGateway’s ADAPT For Precision Ag
November 2, 2016
A dozen leading U.S. grower organizations are hailing the collaborative efforts that led to the new AgGateway ADAPT framework for Read More
Events2016 Vision Conference: Things Overheard
October 27, 2016
Pardon the baseball pun (GO TRIBE!), but I think it’s safe to say that last week’s inaugural Vision Conference touched Read More
Latest News
TechnologyAgGateway Announces 2017 Board Of Directors And Leaders…
December 2, 2016
AgGateway has announced its leadership for the coming year, including the directors of its new Strategic Board and Operational Board, Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota…
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
AGCO AgControl
TechnologyPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
December 1, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To En…
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to…
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Sensors/IoTIoT The Focus Of New Topcon Partnership
November 22, 2016
Topcon Agriculture and SDF plan to enter into a non-exclusive long-term partnership agreement. This latest arrangement of Topcon with a Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secr…
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Succe…
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Far…
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
THRIVE
BusinessCall For Ag Tech Startups: Apply To THRIVE’s Open…
November 10, 2016
THRIVE is looking for high growth ag tech companies with an in-market solution that are positioned to scale. The top 50 Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere Launching New Operations Center Apps, Mappin…
November 10, 2016
In an effort to enhance the functionality, ease-of-use and overall value of John Deere Operations Center to producers, John Deere Read More
ComputersTrimble, CLAAS Announce LEXION Combine Factory Option
November 9, 2016
CLAAS and Trimble announced the introduction of a Trimble Ready machine factory option for CLAAS LEXION combines. CLAAS assembles LEXION Read More
Claas RTK Field base
EquipmentClaas Extends Precision Farming Offering
November 8, 2016
To enable use of automatic steering systems where a real time kinematics (RTK) correction signal is either limited or not Read More
John Deere Operations Center
UncategorizedWxAgrios Integrates With John Deere’s Operations …
November 8, 2016
Precision Weather Solutions Inc. has announced it is the first company with a commercially available solution, WxAgrios, integrated with both John Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Best PracticesPathways to Precision: Managing Risk With Germplasm
November 7, 2016
No one can know what the conditions will be for the next growing season. Is it possible for a grower Read More