Well. We’re back on Nitrogen today. I know. It’s a favorite topic of mine. Quite seriously: there’s your planter, there’s water, and there’s N. It’s a perpetual, timeless hit.
A few articles back, I did talk about Potassium. If K is the unicorn of the nutrient world, then N is the dragon to slay. That’s because it is so conducive to loss. We’re approaching June, which means that we’re exiting the time of year when Nitrogen loss is a major threat, but whatever page on whatever calendar we turn, we can still lose N. May we can lose. June we can lose. July we can lose. See the pattern? Sidedress with UAN, we can lose. Topdress with urea, we can lose. The stupid pattern continues.
So, sure. N is a difficult, fickle kind of nutrient, prone to loss no matter the day or activity. But we’re still bigger. We’re still smarter. Fickle as N might be, at the end of the day, it’s an element, beholden to the laws of biochemistry. We, friends, are sentient beings capable of learning, using tools, producing knowledge, etc. A little nutrient shouldn’t stump us.
If you’ve read these articles at all, you know that the correct rate of application and the correct timing are key to Nitrogen management. There’s a third key though, since rate and timing only minimize loss. That key is protection of the right source.
If you’re thinking, “The right source?” then you’re right on the money, friend. To maximize the efficiency of our corn plants, we need to ensure that they take in as much ammonium as possible. Ammonium is the source we must aim to protect to truly manage N to the best of our abilities.
How to protect it is the question. As we’ve discussed before, there’s a list of pathways via which you lose Nitrogen: volatilization, nitrification, denitrification, leeching. How will you stop these things? What is your plan?
To irrigate it in is a common (and smart) answer to the question, and if that’s what you’re thinking right now, I congratulate you on a good decision. But I wouldn’t be doing my job to let you imagine that it can be the extent of your plan. It lets you win with time, and so long as your application rate is based on careful and correct information, it lets you win with rate of application, too. You eliminate surface volatilization, but unfortunately, the other pathways of loss are still very much in play.
An N inhibitor might actually be the only thing that can put any real stop to the problems of nitrification and denitrification. (Come on, you had to see that coming, right?) Such a product stops ammonium (our key source) from turning into nitrate, unlike good timing and/or proper application rate which minimize the chances of nitrification and denitrification but pose no biochemical barrier to them when they do happen.
Which inhibitor you should use is kind of beside my point today, but of course, your Central Valley Agronomy Field Sales Agronomist is very capable of helping you choose based on the specifics of your operation.
And if this all seems a bit dubious to you still, I invite you particularly to my little corner of our Answer Plot. I’ve been hard at work integrating the tools and techniques of N management into an elegant plan and I invite to come see the future of N management in action. It is a tough nutrient to master, but the level of knowledge and know-how we’ve attained today give us all the power we need to tame this important dragon.