Farm Progress

Nitrogen Strategies for Corn

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Weather extremes, ranging from droughts to floods, have an impact on crop nutrient cycling. The nitrogen cycle is just one of many crop cycles environment elements can affect. Nitrogen is one of the 16 essential elements necessary for plant growth and development. Along with phosphorus and potassium, nitrogen is one of the three primary macronutrients. The macronutrients are commonly available to plants through fertilizer applications. Due to nitrogen’s mobility within plants and the soil, Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® team has continued to invest in corn plot research dedicated to uncovering the most profitable nitrogen management strategies.

Nitrogen Basics

The fundamentals of understanding the nitrogen cycle include the steps of nitrogen fixation, nitrification, and denitrification. Nitrogen fixation leads to nitrification when nitrifying bacteria can convert nitrogen gas (N2) to ammonia (NH4+), then the ammonia is converted to nitrite (NO2-) to nitrate (NO3-).

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Being mindful of when nitrogen loss can occur is vital to helping mitigate volatilization, denitrification, runoff/erosion, and leaching. These losses can have negative consequences on farm return on investment (ROI) and to nature. Rainfall, heat, soil characteristics, and other abiotic and biotic factors can also influence this nutrient cycle.

While it's essential to fully understand the nitrogen cycle, it's equally important to understand nitrogen uptake in corn. Knowing which corn growth stages have greater nitrogen uptake peaks can help you identify what timing you should aim for when making nitrogen fertilizer applications to the crop.

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Regarding environmental stewardship of nitrogen fertilizer applications, a farmer should acknowledge the 4Rs of ‘4R Nutrient Stewardship.’ Each of these elements of fertilizer sustainability can create a balanced cropping system surrounding environmental, economic, and social impacts of nutrient applications.

  • Right Source: Match crop need and reduce loss

  • Right Rate: Based on crop need

  • Right Time: Available during rapid uptake

  • Right Place: Optimize uptake by roots

PFR Proven™ Nitrogen Strategy on Corn

Considering both the nitrogen cycle and the nitrogen uptake curve on corn, Beck's PFR team has put split-applied nitrogen applications to the test. Since most corn hybrids will absorb more than 60% of their total nitrogen needs prior to tassel time (VT growth stage), applying doses of nitrogen fertilizer before that growth stage makes physiological sense. This means you will be applying what the corn plant needs when it wants it.

Beck's four-year, multi-location PFR data on corn has shown up to a +$72.36 ROI when making a split application of nitrogen at planting, followed by a sidedress application at V3.

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For additional sidedress product recommendations and tips, check out the Beck's PFR Proven-Sidedress’ page here.

Benefits of Split Nitrogen Applications and Sidedressing Nitrogen Early

  • Soil nitrogen availability is optimized to meet corn’s needs.

  • Using a less expensive form of nitrogen fertilizer can increase profitability.

  • Split-applying nitrogen can improve crop safety. UAN fertilizer granules can get trapped in the whorl of the corn plant – potentially resulting in fertilizer burn, especially when applied at younger growth stages (smaller plant = less surface area).

  • Making a nitrogen application with a 2x2x2 starter fertilizer pass (on the planter) requires fewer field passes than other nitrogen fertilizer methods.

  • Economically, split fertilizer applications can reduce risk costs vs. applying all corn nitrogen needs upfront.

  • Sidedressing nitrogen on corn provides an opportunity to add in a sulfur fertilizer before peak sulfur uptake occurs in corn.

  • Managing weather risks by spreading out product treatments at different times during the planting and growing seasons.

Additional Considerations

Nitrogen stabilizers can lessen environmental nitrogen loss. These products are meant to slow nitrification or reduce denitrification processes in the nitrogen cycle. Weather conditions can alter the effectiveness of a nitrogen stabilizer once the product has been applied. Be sure to check federal, state, and local regulations and guidelines for any nitrogen management rules. Most state land-grant extension services have nitrogen recommendation tools to achieve specific yield goals. From those baselines, be sure to check in with your local Beck’s Hybrids sales representative or agronomist for further nitrogen recommendation plans on maximized profitability!

Innovation has always been at the heart of farming. Dreaming, inventing, and experimenting with new tools, equipment, and products is what allows farmers to continue improving their operations. Beck’s family of employees thrives on innovation too, which is why they developed the Practical Farm Research (PFR)® program. Today, Beck’s provides a truly comprehensive, innovative, and practical agronomic research program that helps farmers with decisions that can improve profitability. By evaluating hundreds of new management practices and inputs, we deliver unbiased agronomic data to help farmers make better decisions and increase profitability.

Beck’s is the largest family-owned retail seed company in the United States that serves farmers in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. According to a recent seed industry survey, Beck’s ranks as the third largest corn and soybean brand in the United States. At their core, all Beck’s employees are Farmers at Heart. It stands for something special. It has soul. It has truth. And it represents a community of farmers, employees, and dealers who strive each day to seek challenges, push boundaries and innovate. Beck’s has, and always will be, proud to serve a community of farmers who love what they do and who are proud to be… Farmers at Heart. For more agronomic new and information, visit Beck’s Agronomy Talk page or blog at BecksHybrids.com.

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