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.

Specialty Crops Stories
forbes-agtech-summit
Precision IrrigationImproving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
September 13, 2017
I recently attended the Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, CA, where roughly 50 start-up companies originating from Silicon Valley and Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
Corn Field Sunset
DronesArtificial Intelligence Is Changing the Farms of the Future
September 7, 2017
The farming industry is on the cusp of a so-called ‘technological revolution,’ writes Sohini Bagchi on CXOToday.com. With drones, robots Read More
Sentera drone
DronesSentera Adds Features to AgVault NDVI Toolbox
August 31, 2017
Sentera today announced new features for the NDVI Toolbox in Sentera AgVault Desktop. The new tools offer agriculture professionals improved Read More
Trending Articles
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights in Precision Agriculture
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
Farming at Sunset
Business ManagementAgtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome
September 6, 2017
Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, Read More
AgQuip overview
Australia/New ZealandAgQuip 2017 Displays New Ag Technology in Australia
August 28, 2017
The annual AgQuip field days took place in Gunnedah, NSW on August 22-24. Being the largest agricultural field days in Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More
Latest News
Petra-Andren-Cicada-Innovations
Australia/New ZealandGrowLab’s Rocket Fuel for AgTech in Australia
September 19, 2017
Despite its superpower status as a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and services, up until now Australia has had Read More
CropIn-Team-Photo-credit-BW-Disrupt
AsiaCropIn Aims to be a Global Leader in AgTech Sector
September 19, 2017
Krishna Kumar created AgTech startup, CropIn Technology in 2010, along with co-founders Kunal Prasad and Chittranjan Jena. The trio went Read More
China-Beidou-Navigation-Satellite-System
AsiaChina’s Navigation System Gets Powerful Chip to I…
September 18, 2017
A new powerful chip technology has been introduced in China’s national satellite navigation system to provide high-precision positioning, according to Read More
Tablet Grower
Industry NewsFieldReveal Names Hesse New CEO
September 18, 2017
Matt Hesse has been selected as the Chief Executive Officer of FieldReveal, a newly launched joint venture formed to deliver Read More
John-Deere-labs
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment…
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
Wheat sunrise
Australia/New ZealandSparkLabs Group Launches an Agricultural Tech Accelerat…
September 15, 2017
SparkLabs Group, which claims to be the largest startup accelerator group in Asia, is stepping into agricultural tech with a Read More
Sensors/IoTCollaboration Leverages Internet of Things, Sensors in …
September 15, 2017
The vision of having license-free community sensor networks for agricultural users has made a giant leap closer to reality. A Read More
Young Corn Field
Data ManagementPurdue Online Tool to Help Farmers Make Precision Decis…
September 14, 2017
An innovative online tool developed by a Purdue University engineering professor will allow farmers to process data collected from their Read More
forbes-agtech-summit
Precision IrrigationImproving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
September 13, 2017
I recently attended the Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, CA, where roughly 50 start-up companies originating from Silicon Valley and Read More
Nate-Dorsey-Field-Trial-Curve-Compensation
Systems ManagementField Trial: Precision Application and Curve Compensati…
September 13, 2017
Several months ago I wrote an article about curve compensation in planters and how these systems can help create more Read More
Diamondback moth
Tools & Smart EquipmentTechAccel Invests in Unique Sprayable RNAi Pesticide Te…
September 12, 2017
TechAccel, the Kansas City-based technology and venture development company, has announced it has awarded the first grant under its “Path Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights …
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Terra
Imagery/SensingAerial Imagery Aids Decision-Making
September 12, 2017
As the growing season has progressed, aerial imagery has been part of the world record setting data-collection efforts for Terra, Read More
Hurricane-satellite-image
Decision Support SoftwareKeeping Things in Perspective: Weather vs. Climate in O…
September 12, 2017
As I write this, we are on the heels of catastrophic flooding in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey, and another Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innov…
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
India-agriculture
AsiaAgriAI: Deep Learning in Indian Agriculture
September 8, 2017
Since the advent of 20th century, electricity became the main source of invention in every major industry ranging from transportation Read More
Precision Application Field sprayer
EventsHow Will Precision Technology Impact Global Crop Protec…
September 8, 2017
John Deere’s recent acquisition of Blue River Technology (BRT) isn’t just meaningful for farmers. It suggests that the very systems Read More
Data ManagementPrecision Farming: What’s Your Data Worth to You?
September 8, 2017
Today’s farm equipment today comes with more bells, whistles and blinking lights than Captain Nemo’s submarine, and most of those Read More