Gathering Information

Gathering Information from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Mike Zwingman

by Mike Zwingman

I’ve written a lot lately about new ways of thinking about nitrogen management.  Today, allow me to write a little about new ways of acting in regards to nitrogen management, because, friends, this is just about a textbook year for such action.

Usually, we say that a chaotic year isn’t a great year to make big changes, but while this year has been challenging so far, it hasn’t quite been what I would chaotic, and while I’m going to suggest that you change your usual approach to things, the changes aren’t necessarily drastic.  Furthermore, this year’s challenges fit perfectly with the changes I’m suggesting here and should also give us exercise enough to make us better and more fit managers.

So here’s the deal: it’s been rainy.  Really rainy.  Rainy like nitrogen-loss rainy.  And I can hear the edge in more than a few voices: we’re on the verge of a freak out.

Here’s the change I’m suggesting, a new way of acting toward nitrogen management: don’t freak out just yet.  Don’t go out and fix anything just yet.  Instead, watch.  Pay attention.  So if the time comes when you do need to fix something, you’re perfectly ready.

This isn’t to undermine your concern.  Nitrogen loss is a real concern for many of us right now.  This is to say that today isn’t the day to fix it.  Our corn isn’t using a whole lot of nitrogen at this point.  And though our 30-day nitrogen loss risk is high, rushing to an application too soon gives you pretty dismal odds of success.


Today is a day for investigation, research, and learning.

Today is a day for learning more about your Net Effect of Stand Percentage (NESP) and understanding how that statistic informs your concern of nitrogen loss.  Perhaps you’ve lost 50% of your nitrogen application, but if you’ve also lost 30% of your stand, your risk of nitrogen loss is significantly reduced.

Today is a day for digging up roots and examining their development.

Today is a day for checking for compaction.

Together, these two pieces of information tell you something about the future ability of your plants for yield potential.  They also are useful to helping us consider placement issues.  If root development is lagging, for example, perhaps a y-drop is in order.  (Incidentally, you can read more about y-drops in Keith’s article this week.)

Today is a day for soil sampling and crop modeling, both of which inform us on the proper rate for any future applications.

I’ve written a lot lately about our responsibility to use inputs wisely to protect (and restore) our resources, but as I’m thinking about this right now, I’m thinking more about cold, hard economics.  Taking the time today to honor our concern and do our homework will lead us to the right decision and a positive impact on our bottom lines, whereas rushing into our fields with guns a’blazing, which is what we’ve often done, might be quite costly.