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

Your email address will not be published.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

One comment 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.

Production Stories
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
Best PracticesPrecision Ag’s Role in Getting Nitrogen Right For a Better Environment
September 2, 2016
Scientists can be forgiven for thinking that when they come up with optimized methods for accomplishing some task, end-users will Read More
Dave Swain (left), precision ag specialist, at Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: Management Zones Help Harness Field Variability
September 1, 2016
Not all fields are alike. Many different variables affect how your crop performs in a single field, so blanket-treatment of Read More
Philippines rice field
Best PracticesPrecision Agriculture Key To Sustainability In India
August 8, 2016
The sustainability of the agriculture production system in India appears to be under threat due to over-exploitation of natural resources, Read More
Trending Articles
Mitchell Technical Institute students with drone
IntegratorsMTI Precision Ag Students Use Drone Technology
September 19, 2016
After weeks of sitting in the classroom, several Mitchell Technical Institute students were able to spend a few hours outside Read More
Robotics AGCO Fendt Guide Connect
Market ImpactReport: Ag Robots And Drones May Be A $10 Billion Market By 2022
September 7, 2016
Robots and drones have begun to quietly transform many aspects of agriculture. In fact, the IDTechEx Research report on Agricultural Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
BusinessMZB Technologies, Climate FieldView Announce Data Integration for 2017 Season
September 6, 2016
MZB Technologies announces a data connectivity agreement with The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., providing increased precision agriculture Read More
Deere R4023 cab
BusinessReport: Smart Agriculture Market Worth $19 Billion By 2021
September 6, 2016
Research and Markets has announced the addition of the “Smart Agriculture Market – With Forecast (2016-2021)” report to their offering. Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
IntegratorsThe Top 10 People In Precision Agriculture
August 15, 2016
Precision agriculture — with all its wacky technologies and advanced algorithms and such — remains a people business. So, without Read More
Ag Drone
Technology10 Bold Predictions For Precision Agriculture
August 11, 2016
The future of technology in agriculture has never looked brighter, or more confusing than it does in 2016. We at Read More
Latest News
BusinessADAPT Conversion Toolkit Making In Roads With Equipment…
September 22, 2016
A leading group of equipment manufacturers will soon release products that greatly enhance a grower’s ability to manage data across Read More
Business2016 Farm Science Review: Talkin’ New Products, Educati…
September 21, 2016
The Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review has become an annual rite of fall for Buckeye State growers, retailers and Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge Awarded $6.1M Investment From Sustainable …
September 21, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has announced that it will receive $6,107,563 Read More
BusinessGMO Aphids to Battle Weeds? It’s Not as Far Fetch…
September 21, 2016
No, I am not talking about optimizing aphids for a global agricultural armageddon. That would be silly. I’m talking about 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
W. Wade Robey, Raven
Industry NewsRaven Adds New Director Of Engineering
September 19, 2016
W. Wade Robey, Ph.D., joined Raven Applied Technology in August 2016 as Director of Engineering. In this role, he leads Read More
Mitchell Technical Institute students with drone
IntegratorsMTI Precision Ag Students Use Drone Technology
September 19, 2016
After weeks of sitting in the classroom, several Mitchell Technical Institute students were able to spend a few hours outside Read More
BusinessOPINION: Climate Corp. is the Jewel in Bayer’s Monsanto…
September 15, 2016
PERSPECTIVE: Over the next few days and weeks in the ag media space the major players will examine this latest Read More
Sugarcane India
Market ImpactPlantations International Brings Precision Farming Tech…
September 14, 2016
Hong Kong-based plantation and farm management company Plantations International has announced it is moving its contact centre from the Indian Read More
Corn close up
Start-UpsLewis & Clark Ventures Raises $20 Million For Agric…
September 13, 2016
Lewis & Clark Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on Series A and B stage investments, has announced $20 million Read More
BusinessSentera Joins Forces With Another Drone Distributor
September 13, 2016
Sentera has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Dynamic UAV Solutions North America, LLC, a new distributor in the commercial Read More
New Zealand agriculture
Market ImpactPrecision Ag Technology Helping New Zealand Agriculture…
September 12, 2016
New Zealand has an enormous opportunity to use technology as a means to support the economic growth of its agri Read More
Robotics AGCO Fendt Guide Connect
Market ImpactReport: Ag Robots And Drones May Be A $10 Billion Marke…
September 7, 2016
Robots and drones have begun to quietly transform many aspects of agriculture. In fact, the IDTechEx Research report on Agricultural Read More
EventsPrecisionAg Vision Conference: Find Your Future in Phoe…
September 7, 2016
As the summer winds down and harvest begins in earnest, the time for immersing ourselves in future planning is getting Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
BusinessMZB Technologies, Climate FieldView Announce Data Integ…
September 6, 2016
MZB Technologies announces a data connectivity agreement with The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., providing increased precision agriculture Read More
DigiFarm
Start-UpsDigiFarm Puts The Precision In Precision Agriculture
September 6, 2016
While the general public adjusts to the idea of self-driving cars, in the agricultural world it’s old hat, writes Joe Read More
Craige Mackenzie
GrowersAgribusiness: Efficiency Through Precision Farming
September 6, 2016
Craige MacKenzie travelled recently to St Louis, MO, to receive the award of Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year from Read More
RainWise AgroMET IP-100 Internet Package
DataRainWise Spotlights Importance Of Agricultural Weather …
September 6, 2016
RainWise, Inc. believes monitoring weather data can assist farmers in making smarter decisions on the farm, especially with planting, harvesting, Read More