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Marion Calmer knows that proper use of nitrogen leads to increased profits, higher yields and less runoff.
However, what the owner of Calmer’s Agronomic Research Center in Alpha, Ill., is searching for is an avenue through which more nitrogen can flow from the soil into the corn root system to boost yield.
“We know nitrogen is one of the best investments we can make because we get more bang out of that buck than any other place we spend our money,” says Calmer. “I want to improve my plants’ efficiency in sucking nitrogen out of the ground.”
Calmer estimates only 40 percent of applied nitrogen is used by the plant. The remaining 60 percent of the nitrogen escapes into the air or leaks through tiles, making its way into streams, rivers and lakes.
Calmer set up a series of test plots to study efficient placement of nitrogen in corn. He found that the specific corn variety was as important a factor as where the nitrogen was placed in relation to the seed. Corn borer infestation also had a lot to do with that revelation.
“Anything that had the Bt gene in it stayed alive,” says Calmer. “When the corn plant stays alive and dies a natural death, it has the ability to suck the nitrogen out of the soil and turn it into more corn.”
Calmer’s initial belief was to place nitrogen either directly below the seed or to both sides of the row.