About 1 year ago

Optimizing crop nitrogen [1/2]: different schools of thought around the globe

Nitrogen applications practices around the world

The key to optimising nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is, of course, to supply nitrogen according to the specific needs of the plant, rather than applying a “blanket rate” – certain amount uniformly across each of the fields or entire farm. But how do you calculate an optimal N rate? Let’s looks at the current practices in different countries around the world, influenced by local policies, and economies.

Nitrogen applications usually target one or more of the following goals:

  • Optimise yield
  • Optimise profitability
  • Optimising produce quality e.g. grain, cotton

Different countries have different approaches that were shaped by the differences in their growing conditions (soil, rainfall), economies (availability of government subsidies), or environmental policies. Here is the summary from our experience interacting with customers on the ground as to how they think about nitrogen application.

  • USA: applying N fertilisers at a rate that is required for the plant to reach a yield goal, based on Stanford equation – an approach also known as “expected yield”, or “yield based”, developed in 2005-06 to maximise the return on nitrogen fertiliser cost across the corn belt.
  • Australia: qualitative approach, apply N fertilisers to targeting a certain protein content in grain crops or lint quality in cotton; yield-based calculations are also popular depending on the state.
  • NZ and EU: N applications are first and foremost influenced by environmental policies, encouraging manage crop nutrient cycle in a more sustainable way, influenced by environmental policies targeting N removal and restricting the application on farms, therefore growers are mindful of their NUE, applying N only where it makes a difference.
  • Latin America: soil sampling is the backbone of N recommendations including the addition of the remote sensing data to understand where to take the representative samples.
  • Smallholder farms in Asia and rest of world: variable rate machinery is largely inaccessible due to its high costs, and instead N applications are usually done manually, in a less structured way.
Agronomist from our Virtual Agronomy 101 Course voted on their goals for optimising nitrogen applications.

There is no right or wrong way to do variable rate nitrogen application – the diversity in approached shows that nutrient management practice needs to be relevant to local growing conditions as well as their economic realities. 

In this blog, we learned about the different practices of nitrogen management and the factors influencing them. In the next part of the blog, we’ll discuss how to determine the optimal timing and spatial variability of the nitrogen application using EC/yield maps, and remote sensing.

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