Trimming Nitrogen Needs, Relying on Alternative Nutrient Sources, Making More Effective Applications; No-Tillers are Well Ahead of the Fertility Game

A few months ago, USDA published a report that offered an in-depth look at a number of practices of special interest to no-tillers. Unfortunately, this Economic Research Service (ERS) data was based on information gathered from corn growers back in 2010.

As you might guess, there’s been a considerable change in cropping strategies since then. Looking back at 2010, there were major differences between what no-tillers were doing compared with growers using tillage systems ranging from moldboard plowing to other reduced-tillage systems.

As no-tillers have demonstrated for more than 40 years, efficient nitrogen (N) fertilizer applications should coincide with plant needs in order to reduce the likelihood of losing nutrients to the environment before being fully utilized by the growing crop. As a result, no-tillers have long made the case for reducing the N applied after fall harvest for a spring-planted crop that leaves N vulnerable to winter runoff and leaching.

No-Tillers Make More Effective Use of Nitrogen

According to the ERS study, corn growers in 2010 applied nearly as much N in the fall as after planting — 20% in the fall vs. 22% after planting. Another 50% of the N was applied in the spring — before or at planting.

Looking back at data from the 2010 No-Till Farmer Operational Benchmark study, 53% of no-tillers were applying N at planting time while 40% applied N in a pre-plant spring operation and 55% were sidedressing N. Only 17% of no-tillers were fall-applying N, much lower than what most corn…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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