NutrientStar: Taking The Guesswork Out Of All Things Nitrogen

Photo Credit: EDF/NutrientStar
Photo Credit: EDF/NutrientStar

The transparency movement is infiltrating all levels of the food production chain.

Consumers as well as powerful corporate entities like Walmart want transparency on how the food they buy and sell is being produced, while at the same time more and more farmers are demanding price transparency from the retail chain (FBN’s controversial Procurement program comes to mind).

And now, yet another initiative looking to provide transparency within the agriculture sector has been launched.

NutrientStar, still in its relative infancy as of this writing, looks at two often disparaged goods: Nitrogen stabilization products; and software-based nitrogen modeling applications (such as ADAPT-N, Climate’s FieldView Nitrogen Advisor and DuPont-Pioneer’s Encirca Yield Nitrogen Management Service) that purport to, through the wonders of advanced algorithms and aggregated data crunching, help a producer with often-difficult fertilizer management decisions.

Publicly launched the night prior to Commodity Classic down in New Orleans at a French Quarter restaurant reception, the program is backed by an eight-member review panel comprised of Extension researchers, ag professors and independent advisors (University of Lincoln-Nebraska’s Kenneth Cassman and well-known CCA Shannon Gomes, among others). The eight member panel directs the review standards and field trial protocols and, according to the NutrientStar website, assesses nutrient management tools “in an objective, transparent process.” Any panel members with conflicts of interest are barred from participating in the review process on those products.

“Nutrient Star itself is not endorsing or approving or rating any particular product,” program administrator and EDF sustainable ag expert Karen Chapman explains. “The science review panel established our protocols, and they assess the products by how well they achieve Nutrient Use Efficiency (NUE). There are a lot of Nitrogen efficiency tools on the market. We want to give farmers confidence that the tools they purchase will work as advertised.”

Chapman, a Central-Ohio farm girl that blogs for EDF on everything from memories of growing up on her grandfather’s Ohio farm to the Lake Erie Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) issue, is the driving force behind NutrientStar currently, and she graciously took the time to connect with PrecisionAg.com to answer any questions we had about the program.

My first question for her was one I figured she gets all the time. How does that whole “Environmental Defense Fund” name-thingy play when you’re running in Big Ag circles?

“There is often trepidation (about the name) at first, but EDF’s history of collaboration really speaks for itself,” she responds. “We’ve always had very good cooperation from, and all of our ag-related project work is centered on, working closely and collaboratively with farmers. We believe that sustainability can and should help a grower’s bottom line.”

Because really, there is just a TON of field trial data that NutrientStar requests from manufacturers in order to make its evaluations (soil data, application data, rainfall data, etc.), and it’s hard for this author to imagine many handing over a cache of possibly-exploitable information about their products to an outfit with a name like EDF’s.

However, I digress. The name-concern out of the way, we moved on to the nuts and bolts of the program, which Chapman says is driven by the aforementioned NUE metric.

“Yield over N-applied is the definition the review panel uses for (NUE), or in other words, partial factor productivity,” she explains. “That’s where we’re starting from.”

NutrientStar’s launch kicked off with evaluations of Koch’s AGROTAIN and Dow’s N Serve and Instinct II nitrogen stabilizers (the program evaluates these by crop type), as well as the aforementioned ADAPT-N nitrogen modeling program from Agronomic Technology Corp. More reviews will go online later this year.

According to Chapman, ADAPT-N takes soil data, weather data and a farmer’s management data and plugs that into a crop model that then makes nitrogen recommendations throughout the season.

NutrientStar’s evaluation looked at 104 replicated ADAPT-N field trials from 2011-2012 in New York and Iowa, finding that on average the program’s recommendations allowed for an average 37 pound per acre reduction in nitrogen use, a two bushel per acre yield increase and a $30 per acre average ROI.

“We got the ADAPT-N data from Cornell (who originally developed ADAPT-N) and we are actually also doing our own trials on it, and as soon as we get all of that data we will be able to show performance across different management practices,” Chapman explains. “We’re also looking to the future to what other things NutrientStar might help assess. We’re interested in delivering really good information – that’s our main focus.”

Coming soon from NutrientStar are recommendations for where companies might consider locating field trials to produce regionally specific data, based on what the group defines as “agro-eco regions,” which divide up production areas across the country according to soil water holding capacity and climatic zones.

“For some we will be able to show in what agro eco region those on farm trials or small plot tests were done, so you can see on a regional basis how the products performed, because in farming especially we often hear ‘Well, it doesn’t work down here, or this product works here, but not so much over here.’”

Yet there are those that would likely question choosing to go with ADAPT-N over the other choices in the segment based solely on 104 field trials from two states. Skeptics would call that a small sample size, a term that gets thrown around a lot this time of year in NFL Draft player evaluations for prospects that have missed a significant number of their games to injury or other circumstances, limiting the amount of data NFL decision makers have on the prospect. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Adapt-N has been in development for over 14 years, in market for research and calibration since 2008, and is used in 38 states).

Like their NFL brethren, Ag decision makers try to avoid making decisions based on small sample sizes (i.e. five years of yield data is the generally accepted minimum for VRA).

“We’re going to have more data coming in, and this is just the starting point. It’s representative of the kind of data that we’ll be showcasing on the NutrientStar website, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Chapman says. “So far ADAPT-N is the tool that we have the most data on. We need more robust data from tool manufacturers and from field trials to show how products work in the context of the 4Rs, and as more data comes in, we can get more granular.

“And those other companies – Pioneer and Climate Corp. – we’re working on a plan with those companies to assess their products, as well.”

The next step for NutrientStar is to further engage with the ag retail and agribusiness chains, a process that begun in earnest down on the Bayou back in March.

“We see an opportunity for ag retailers and advisors to use NutrientStar,” she says. “It provides grower customers with the best data out there on these tools. As we collect more data, we’re building the program into a valuable source of unbiased, reliable information. We are totally open to working with interested companies, and we are actually looking for some enterprising retailers that would want to be a part of the emerging testing network. So I’ll ask them to please reach out if they are interested in hosting field trials or learning about other aspects of the program.”

For more information on NutrientStar, feel free to visit NutrientStar.org.

UPDATED 4/28: Emailed statement from Steve Sibulkin, CEO, Agronomic Technology Corp.: “We believe Adapt-N has been uniquely forthcoming with its research, competitive trials, etc. in sharing data to deliver on the industry promise of transparency. Our approach encourages comparison and transparency. In an article about transparency, we think that intent/notion is important.”

Leave a Reply

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

Data Stories
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota High Tech Association
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
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
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
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 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
Trending Articles
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
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
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
Latest News
AgBot16 Challenge
Hort TechUSDA Announces $3 Million For Agricultural Robotics Res…
December 8, 2016
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the availability of $3 million in available funding for Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Business ManagementPrecision Farming Forecast: 4 Challenges, Opportunities…
December 7, 2016
Opportunities and challenges. They are the yin and yang of the business world. It could easily be argued that, out Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Buhler Versatile HQ cab
BusinessThe State Of Precision Ag In 2016
December 7, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find Read More
BusinessFarmobile Details New AGCO Distribution Deal
December 6, 2016
Farmobile today announced a strategic partnership with AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. The agreement will allow Read More
Hort TechSol Chip Launches Autonomous, Wireless Solar Tag for Sm…
December 6, 2016
Sol Chip, a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) systems and energy harvesting solutions, today announced the introduction of its Read More
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