Nitrogen: An Overlooked Macronutrient

By Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Specialist

This article was originally printed as part of our Fall-Winter 2020 Newsletter.

In the Champlain Valley, we spend a lot of time and effort managing phosphorus (P). Rightfully so, as it is the pollutant behind algae blooms in Lake Champlain. Our clay soils often bind to it tightly, making it less available to plants when they need it most, and it isn’t perfectly balanced with crop needs in our manure applications. All of this makes it a tricky nutrient to manage. However, we have taken our eye off another primary macronutrient as a result.

Nitrogen (N)

Nitrogen is the dominant macronutrient in agriculture. While it hasn’t had top billing here lately, it is probably the most important and studied nutrient from a crop production standpoint. Without adequate nitrogen, yield and quality can be compromised. Nitrogen drives vegetative growth and protein content, having a direct correlation with forage value in livestock systems and nutrition in food crops. In watersheds where the receiving surface waters are marine (e.g., the Connecticut River which drains to Long Island Sound, or the Mississippi River which drains into the Gulf of Mexico), nitrogen causes water quality issues like eutrophication and algae blooms – the same problems that phos-phorus causes in Lake Champlain. Generally, N is much more mobile than P in soil. Because of this, it is often prone to loss. The primary pathways for N loss are:

• Volatilization – N turns into ammonia gas and dissipates into the atmosphere. (Applying nitrogen when temperatures are cool, a light rain is expected to facilitate incorporation, or by physically mixing it with the soil can reduce volatilization risk. Nitrogen stabilizers can also inhibit this reaction.)

• Denitrification – Occurs in saturated soil conditions when nitrate turns into N2 and N2O gas. (Good soil drainage, high soil organic matter and proper pH, split N applications and nitrogen stabilizers can help prevent excessive denitrification.)

• Runoff – Carries nitrogen from manure, fertilizer and eroded soil off the field into ditches, creeks, rivers and streams. (Field buffers, reducing erosion, properly timed nutrient applica-tions can reduce N runoff.)

• Leaching – When N can’t attach to soil particles or be taken up by plants, it easily leaches downward with soil water toward groundwater and even out tile drain outlets. This is much more common in sandier soils that do not have the water holding capacity of heavier soils like clay and loam. (Applying manure and nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season, proper nutrient management, avoiding fall-killed sod, and utilizing cover crops to increase nutrient uptake can decrease the amount of N leaching.)

A primary reason nitrogen is analyzed so much, is that farms can often see immediate impacts from over or underutilizing nitrogen. In addition, good N management can also save a farm a significant amount of money in fertilizer savings. This often gets overlooked when N prices are low (as they have been recently), and farms are prone to “insurance applications” of N to make sure they aren’t shorting their crops. With prices averaging between $0.28 to $0.41 per pound of N¹ (depending on the type of fertilizer), it can seem like a cheap way to ensure good yields and quality. However, in a time of tight margins and increasing environmental regulation this can be an unsustainable way to operate. And if you are an organic producer, the $3 to $5 per pound cost of N fertilizer means you probably already understand the value of farm-produced nitrogen, and being as efficient as possible with those homegrown and purchased sources of N². In 2018, Vermont agricultural producers utilized almost 10,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizer, with another 7,000 tons of multi-nutrient fertilizers that likely had some portion of nitrogen³. In comparison, during this same time period, 15 tons of phosphate fertilizer was sold for agricultural use.

In the coming months, we’ll dig deeper into the world of nitrogen and see where we can do a better job providing our crops with adequate nitrogen without breaking the bank or causing unintended environmental consequences. We will consider:

– Corn and Nitrogen: Managing N in corn silage crops and how do we know if we’ve overdone N applications? A Caring Dairy Prove-It Project case study on Corn and Nitrogen.

– Managing N in hay and pasture crops and letting nature pay your fertilizer bill.

– Manure and N management – how do we make the most of the nitrogen in our manure?

– HomegrowN – taking credit for all the nitrogen on your farm, not just the stuff you purchase outright.

If you have a question about N fertilizer or manure management you can also contact Kirsten at kirsten.workman@uvm.edu.

One tool available to producers to evaluate N management strategies is the Corn Stalk Nitrate Test (CSNT), seen here on the Gosliga Farm (Addison, Vt.). It is designed to be a report card assessment at the end of the season to help modify and improve N management strategies on the farm in future years. The CSNT is a useful tool that indicates whether the nitrogen supply for that year was low, marginal, optimal, or in excess of what the corn needed this year. Corn that has received inadequate N will remove N from the lower cornstalk and leaves during the grain filling period. Plants that have received more N than needed to attain maximum yields tend to accumulate nitrate-N in the lower stalks at the end of the season.

Citations:

¹ August 2020 (Progressive Farmer by DTN), https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/crops/article/2020/08/12/fertilizer-prices-remain-lower-first

² Organic N price based on estimated costs of bulk sodium nitrate (a.k.a. Chilean nitrate)

³ VAAFM, 2018-2019 Vermont Fertilizer Analysis Report https://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/agriculture/files/documents/PHARM/Fertilizer/Annual%20Report%20Fertilizer%202018-2019.pdf

RESOURCES: https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/wq252 http://cceonondaga.org/resources/nitrogen-basics-the-nitrogen-cycle

Stay Cool in the Shade and Read Our Summer Newsletter

In This Issue:

See the full pdf here

Spring Newsletter is Here!

View the Newsletter Here (pdf link)

In This Issue:

  • Focus on Agriculture, by Jeff Carter
  • News, Events & Info You Should Know
  • Opportunities for Grazing Funding, by Cheryl Cesario
  • Grassland Manure Injection: By The Numbers, by Kirsten Workman
  • Two Bedrock Professors Retiring: Will Be Missed in Jeffords Hall and Beyond
  • End of Gypsum Project Leaves us with Important Lessons and Questions, by Kristin Williams
  • USDA Authorized Flexibilities Help Producers During the Coronavirus Pandemic, by Jake Jacobs
  • Notes on the Wild Side, by Jeff Carter

Newsletter Highlight From Grassland Manure Injection: By The Numbers (pg. 4)    With funding from VAAFM’s Clean Water Fund and the help of Ken and Debbie Hicks at Hicks Equipment, we purchased the right equipment from the Netherlands. With the expertise of Eric Severy of Matthew’s Trucking to operate it, we began demonstrating the utility of this system. Shallow slot grassland manure injection gets liquid dairy manure just two inches below the soil where it is protected from runoff during rain events while still well within the root zone where the plants will use it. Read More

Save the Date: 2021 No-Till Cover Crop Symposium March 4-5, 2021. More information coming soon.   We’re joining forces with the Northeast Cover Crop Council to bring you a full day and a half of information related to no-till and cover cropping. go.uvm.edu/ntccs    If you missed this year’s symposium you can also read presentation pdfs and the proceedings online.

Financial Assistance Through USDA Now Available!

The CARES act authorized payments through USDA for covid-19 related income losses, this is called Coronavirus Food Assistance Program or CFAP. Don’t be confused by the name – this includes financial payments to farmers for losses incurred due to the pandemic outbreak.

CFAP assistance applications are administered through your local Farm Service Agnency (FSA) office and applications are being accepted March 26, 2020 through August 28, 2020.

Information on all these rules and qualifications can be found at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap. The website includes a payment calculator and printable forms (scroll down the page to see all forms required).

Application eligibility requirements include:

  • Specified agricultural commodities that have suffered at least a 5 percent or greater price decline (dairy, beef, forage crops all qualify, mid-January to Mid-April timeline) OR or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions and face additional costs.
  • Average adjusted gross income <$90,000 or derive at least 75% of income from farming.
  • Be in compliance with other USDA rules such as Highly Erodable Land regulations.

Application Submission:

You must apply through your local FSA office by mail, fax, hand delivery or electronic means, however offices are only open for phone appointments at this time. You should contact your local office before submitting your application. Reach your local FSA office for questions. In Middlebury, you can call 802-388-6748 and fax 802-497-3679.

Factsheets by Category:

Dairy CFAP calculations are being split into two categories: CARES Act payment which will compensate producers for price losses during the first quarter of 2020 and CCC Funds payment which will compensate for marketing channel and demand disruptions for the second quarter of 2020 (April, May, and June) due to COVID-19.

If you need assistance with HEL compliance or have other agronomy related questions that we can help with, call our office at 802-388-4969 and leave us a message.

Grazing Field Day and Ice Cream Social!

Tuesday July 23rd, 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. 1966

Healdville Rd, Mt. Holly, Vt 05758

Join us at Plew Farm, a diversified livestock farm owned and operated by Kevin and Patti Plew, for a pasture walk and ice cream social. The Plew’s will share with us how they manage all of their livestock – beef, pigs and poultry – on pasture and are utilizing rotations grazing principle.

Or contact Cheryl Cesario at 802-388-4969 ext 346

Ag Business Clinics & New Risk Management Website

UVM Extension Agricultural Business Program is hosting their annual business clinics across the state. These 1 1/2 hour appointments are available for producers to discuss farm, forest and maple business management. Ag Business Clinic Info & Registration.

Agricultural Risk Management and Crop Insurance Education Program at UVM has a new website, chock full of handouts and resources for your agricultural enterprise. Check out the Ag Risk website!

Warm Up with a Cup of Coffee and Our Winter Newsletter!

View Our Entire Newsletter Here!

In This Issue:

  • Focus on Agriculture, by Jeff Carter
  • News, Events & Info You Should Know
  • New Revenue Protection For Dairy Farmers, by Jake Jacobs
  • East Creek and McKenzie Brook Highlight 2018, by Kristin Williams
  • Reducing Farm Labor and Conservation Resources: Conservation Farmer of the Year Uses Cover Crops and No-Till
  • Grassland Manure Injection, by Kirsten Workman
  • Year in Review, Summary of Projects

View Past Newsletter Publications.

Grazing Class

Sign Up For Our Fall & Winter Grazing Class 2018-2019!

Rutland, VT March 5,12,19,26, 2019

REGISTER NOW FOR THE RUTLAND CLASS!

[Past- Middlebury, VT October 18, 25, November 1, 8, 2018]

10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m

The fee is $40 which includes The Art and Science of Grazing book by Sarah Flack. This class is for farmers who currently own livestock and want to create, improve or expand their pasture management system.

Do you:

  • Want to change from confinement or set rotation to management intensive grazing?
  • Have a grazing plan, but want to better understand how to implement it?
  • Need grazing infrastructure (e.g. fence, water, animal trails) and would like to design a system that may qualify for NRCS financial assistance?

 Topics Covered

  • Pasture plant identification of common species, looking at favorable growth conditions, and how plants respond to grazing impact.
  • Pasture nutrition and how it can affect grazing behavior and overall intake and animal performance.
  • Grazing management concepts such as measuring dry matter availability, determining paddock sizes, stocking rate versus stocking density and overall acreage requirements.
  • Soil health in pasture systems and the benefits of soil, forage and manure testing to understand nutrient cycling and nutrient management within pasture systems.
  • Pasture system design to determine infrastructure needs and management techniques to avoid overgrazing damage, decreased carrying capacity and other negative impacts.
  • Grazing record keeping systems and the benefits of monitoring and documenting activities

In addition to 4 class dates, there will also be opportunity for one-on-one consultation.

2018 Grazing Class Flyer- PDF

For information or questions, contact Cheryl Cesario- 802-388-4969 ext. 346 or 1-800-956-1125

Directions – Google Map Link to Middlebury Office

Directions – Google Map Link to Rutland Office

REGISTER NOW FOR THE RUTLAND CLASS!

This program is supported with a grant from:

 

 

2018 Summer Newsletter is Here!

Read the entire PDF here!

In this Issue:
Blog links:

Field Day with Manure Grassland Injector!

FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2018
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Barnes Black & Whiteface Ranch – Bridport Ventures Farm
Please join us to see our new grassland shallow slot manure injector in action!  

 

WHAT YOU’LL SEE & HEAR 

  • Veenhuis Euroject 1200 grassland injector.
  • Dragline manure application.
  • Hicks Sales LLC (Vermont Veenhuis dealer) will be on hand to talk about this technology and other models available in the United States.
  • Eric Severy, Matthew’s Trucking, will share his experience and expertise with manure injection and talk about how the equipment works and what situations might be best suited for it.
  • UVM Extension Agronomists will discuss the benefits of injection and how it can reduce runoff and increase yields.
  • Farmers will share their experience using other forms of manure injection.
  • Find out more about how to get this grassland injector on your farm.
DON’T FORGET TO RSVP:
champlain.crops@uvm.edu | 802-388-4969 x347
June 8, 2018
10:00 – 12:00
Or contact Kirsten Workman if you have questions or want more information.   
To request a disability-related accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Karen Gallott at 802-388-4969 or 800-956-1125 by June 6, 2018 so we may assist you.