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This is the year to fine-tune nitrogen management in corn

Tom J. Bechman view of cornfield from tractor cab
TWEAK RATES IN-SEASON: Nitrogen management tools like those developed by Granular can help you zero in on how much nitrogen to sidedress in early to midseason.
Computer simulations help you tweak N rates based on performance in past years.

You can produce well over 1 bushel of corn for every pound of nitrogen applied in some years. Yet in other years, it may take over a pound of commercial nitrogen per bushel. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew what it would take this year? With super-high nitrogen prices and hiccups in the supply chain, this is the year when making the most of every pound applied may be the difference between losing money, breaking even or turning a profit.

Bob Gunzenhauser and the folks at Granular can’t predict the weather, which is the dominant factor controlling how efficiently nitrogen is used in any one season. However, they can do the next best thing.

“We’ve upgraded and fine-tuned our nitrogen management software so that it’s much more precise in simulating how nitrogen will be utilized as corn develops,” Gunzenhauser says. He is the agronomy science manager for Granular. The farm management software company traces back to Encirca, started by Pioneer. Today, Granular is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corteva Agriscience. Granular’s certified service agents (CSA) assist farmers with software solutions, including helping them evaluate and fine-tune nitrogen management programs.

Managing nitrogen smarter

At the heart of Granular’s nitrogen modeling system is tons of data from field trials and plots across the country, Gunzenhauser says. From 2014 to 2016, Pioneer worked with multiple universities, collecting 49 site-years of data related to nitrogen management. Since 2018, data from Corteva nitrogen trials were incorporated into the model, along with on-farm trials from Ontario to the Mississippi River Delta.

Based on real-world data, Gunzenhauser says the model runs up to 400 simulations daily on one field of corn. That’s a simulation based on each of the past 20 years of weather data for 20 management zones within the field.

“That helps our CSAs know what to expect once weather patterns begin unfolding in terms of nitrogen efficiency,” he explains.

Using computer modeling

Working closely with a CSA, there are two ways you as the grower can benefit from having access to these types of simulations, Gunzenhauser says. First, you can use them to prepare your nitrogen program for the year before planting. Second, they’re useful for guiding in-season monitoring and possible tweaking.

Planting-time N recommendations. How effective can you expect your nitrogen program to be based on how the season is shaping up? The nitrogen management program can help you bring the abstract to reality, fine-tuning it for each field based on your management zones.

“The program can help you see opportunities,” Gunzenhauser says. “For example, it may indicate you could cut nitrogen rate 8 pounds per acre if you use a nitrogen stabilizer for spring-applied N. That could be important this year.”

In-season N monitoring. Many things happening in May and June can affect nitrogen use efficiency, including rainfall amounts, patterns and soil temperatures. Granular’s updated software modeling capabilities can help you more efficiently zero in on tweaks that can benefit the crop.

“If you received 4 inches of rain over a couple weeks, the software can help you predict how much N might be lost in each field,” Gunzenhauser says. “If you likely had losses, you can plan a midseason application. If you intended to apply anyway, you might want to revise the rate upward.”

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