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Use nitrification inhibitors to mitigate risk

When limiting fertilizer use, nitrification inhibitors can be used throughout the growing season to prevent loss.

As the 2022 growing season nears, rising fertilizer prices have left many farmers rethinking their application strategies.

“In the past when nitrogen was a little less expensive, growers were often tempted to just add more untreated nitrogen as an insurance policy on yield,” says Tim Laatsch, director of agronomy for Koch Agronomic Services. “This year, the economics simply do not support that decision, so I think a lot of growers are going to operate more toward that threshold of right rate.”

When minimizing fertilizer use, farmers run the risk of losing nitrogen (N) and giving up yield. Nitrification inhibitors can be a powerful tool to prevent N loss.

“When we give up yield, we give up a lot of revenue opportunity,” Laatsch says. “The answer is really quite simple – use technology to minimize nitrogen losses. Use the right rate and protect nitrogen against loss to protect yourself against those potential yield losses. Stabilizing in this economic environment is probably more important than it has been in many recent growing seasons.”

Using nitrification inhibitors with spring fertilizer applications can help mitigate the risk of changing weather patterns. Across the Corn Belt, weather has trended toward larger scale events and seasonally increased spring precipitation, Laatsch says.

“We’re getting rainfall and precipitation events that are above average in magnitude and at a time of year when the plant is actively growing and taking up nitrogen,” Laatsch says. “That’s when we’re at risk of losing that N. Over the last five to seven years, we’ve seen very good responses to spring stabilization of nitrogen.”

Nitrification inhibitors can also be used in conjunction with split N applications. “Anytime I can time the application of nitrogen to be closer to when the crop optimally needs it and will be actively taking it in, the less likely I am to experience loss or yield-loss scenarios,” Laatsch says. “I look at [split application] as a risk mitigation strategy.”

Last year, Laatsch saw record yields on several fields on his home farm, despite more rain than usual in the summer months.

“It was a phenomenal year, but if I had not stabilized that sidedress application of UAN [urea ammonium nitrate], I know I would have sacrificed a lot of a bushels,” he says.

Use of nitrification inhibitors with fall fertilizer applications is also imperative, Laatsch says.

“We just put too much nitrogen at risk when we apply in fall without stabilization,” Laatsch says. “It’s a critical management tool we know works, and we know it’s going to deliver a benefit over time.”

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