Nitrogen School Part 3: Managing Nitrogen Efficiently Is Hard! Guest Post!!
We want to extend a warm welcome on the Pederson Seed Blog to this weeks guest, Cody Boeck. Cody is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in civil engineering. Cody has worked with Pioneer for 8 years and has been a Digital Services Manager for the past 3 years. He works with Encirca certified service agents in the area to provide the best possible service to the customers with the aim of maximizing ROI and minimizing risk in terms of nitrogen management. Welcome Cody!
Every farm is unique, every field is variable, every year brings diverse weather, every hybrid is a little different, every fertilizer type acts differently, and every farmer does things in their own unique way. That is just scratching the surface of all the variables that go into understanding the simple question: “How much nitrogen do I have?” The mind-boggling amount of factors that affect nitrogen levels in your soils (as shown below) is further complicated by the fact that since nitrogen is mobile in the soil and therefore cannot be stored there, we have to reinvent our nitrogen management plan every single year.
Harnessing The Variables
Encirca was commercialized back in 2014 to help farmers wrangle this frustrating and expensive management puzzle. The purpose is to boil all the complexity down into actionable recommendations that growers can execute on to help them be more efficient with nitrogen. Encirca uses a complex crop growth model with over 100 variables to predict nitrogen levels at any time in any field. Two of the more difficult variables to pin down that have a huge impact on nitrogen levels are soils and weather.
To understand the soil that we’re managing, we start with the SSURGO database. This is one of the few places where you can find information about soils and their characteristics with depth information, something that’s crucial to understanding what’s happening with nitrogen below the ground. We then collaborated with the University of Missouri to completely redefine and modernize those soil zones by adding a layer of LiDAR to better predict how slope impacts how those zones should be managed. Understanding slope and soils informs how water moves, infiltrates, or runs off in a given field. This crucial piece of the puzzle is called an Environmental Response Unit (ERU) and is one of the base layers used by Encirca for VR applications. In addition, if growers have yield history, we can add that data to the equation as well to output a management zone map that is highly accurate. We call these Decision Zones.
The other factor that is highly important to nitrogen management is rainfall. The spottiness of rainfall makes it impossible to paint with a broad brush and still be accurate. Getting the best data is a numbers game of local data points to ensure accuracy. We’ve teamed up with a weather provider that has an extensive network of weather stations and also allows our customers to contribute to that network with their own stations. It ensures that we have a hyper-local data source for precipitation to plug into Encirca and ultimately manage nitrogen with.
How It Works
Modern corn hybrids are using more nitrogen late in the season. In fact, research done by Pioneer has shown that a high-functioning modern corn hybrid will use nearly 40% of its nitrogen needs after tassel. This a major driver for more and more growers to adopt in-season nitrogen practices and it’s also one of the baseline goals that the Encirca nitrogen model is looking for on every management zone. The question that the model is effectively asking itself is: “How much more nitrogen does this zone need to have enough at VT in the context of all the other information I know about this zone?” If we can have enough nitrogen left in the soil at VT, we’re putting ourselves in a great position to have a successful grain-fill period and ultimately a high-yield harvest.
Because nitrogen is complex and variable, managing nitrogen is also complex and variable. So unfortunately there’s no 5-question survey that you can take that will spit you out your current nitrogen levels, there’s much more to it. For this reason, we also created the unique role of Certified Services Agent (CSA) to help assist growers in managing nitrogen with Encirca. The CSA is there to set up boundaries, collect data, build scenarios, consult on management decisions, adjust yield goals, write recs, and ultimately be your go-to source for nitrogen management on your farm. The CSA actively tracks nitrogen progress on a season chart (as show below) and is coaching the grower all the way through the season on the best path to highest yield while using nitrogen efficiently.
How we execute managing nitrogen with each of our customers is unique to their needs, but at the end of the day our goal is to work side-by-side with them to examine different forms, rates, and timing of applications to find the best possible nitrogen plan tailored to the exact needs of their farms. Since every season is different than the previous, it takes a fresh approach and a willingness to be flexible in-season to precisely manage nitrogen on each field. With Encirca Nitrogen Management, there’s also a peace of mind knowing we’ve maximized the return on investment while minimizing risk associated with this critical nutrient.