Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Accurate soil test helps lift nitrogen fertiliser efficiency

December 23, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

A better understanding of nitrogen fertiliser efficiency and soil testing could boost arable margins considerably, says an expert.

Arable agronomist Allison Grundy, of CF Fertilisers, says many farm businesses would benefit from understanding more about Nitrogen Fertiliser Use Efficiency (NfUE) and the critical role of accurate soil testing in optimising nitrogen applications.

In 2019 farm trials, a combined approach to nitrogen applications delivered an increased margin over fertiliser costs (MOFC) of £280/ha in some crops, she says. In other crops, growers recorded a 10% yield increase by using 15% less nitrogen.

Important area

“Whether you look at it from a production efficiency or environmental point of view, getting the most out of bought-in fertilisers will be one of the most important management areas UK growers will face in the coming years.

“Keeping nitrogen applications to the economic optimum required to deliver yield and quality while achieving the maximum return on investment is a key objective for all growers and understanding NfUE and the importance of soil nitrogen supply is absolutely fundamental to this.”

In simple terms, NfUE is a measure of Nitrogen fertiliser recovered by the crop. It gives growers a valuable picture of how much Nitrogen fertiliser is actually used by the crop and an insight into the impact their fertiliser choices are having on their production efficiency.

Convincing results

“It can also highlight where potential environmental concerns might lie which is an increasingly important factor in modern production,” says Ms Grundy.

Trials have shown ammonium nitrate (AN) convincingly outperforms straight urea in wheat production in terms of NfUE with an average value for Nitram (34.5%N) of 74% compared to just 66% for urea, she says.

“This difference of 8% NfUE is the equivalent of an additional 16% total loss of nitrogen from urea. In crops with an application rate of 200kg/ha nitrogen, this would be equivalent to a loss of 32kg/ha nitrogen.

“In other words, simply using Nitram resulted in crops recovering an extra 16% or 32kg/ha of nitrogen than they would have done with the same application rate of urea.”

Correct choice

As well as making the correct fertiliser choice to maximise NfUE, understanding the contribution soil N is making to crops is also critical, adds Ms Grundy.

“Unlike conventional soil nitrogen tests, CF N-Min measures also accurately predicts additionally available nitrogen – which is the amount forecast to become available to the crop between the spring and harvest.

Adding these to an estimate of nitrogen already contained in the crop gives a true picture of soil nitrogen supply, says Ms Grundy.

“This can then be used with CF N-Calc to produce fertiliser recommendations based on yield and quality aspirations whilst minimising the potential environmental impact and ensuring the investment in nitrogen is made full use of.”

Combining the commitment to improve NfUE with N-Min can have a significant effect on margins too, she says. “In 2019 trials alone, we’ve seen this approach increasing margin over fertiliser costs by £280/ha in oilseed rape and adding 1.0t/ha to wheat yields.

“In spring barley we’ve seen a 10% lift in yields combined with a corresponding 15% drop in N requirement. “It’s a relatively simple way for growers to increase their own production efficiency and help industry meet future environment objectives.”

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