By Elizabeth Hodges
Jon Walz of Stapleton, Nebraska was looking for ways to reduce input costs and be a better steward of the environment.
In particular, he discovered that he could achieve this by reducing fertilizer use by applying the fertilizer to specific areas where the crops needed it most. Walz was one of 35 producers involved in the Precision Nitrogen Project at UNL, funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service evaluating various technologies to improve nitrogen use efficiency.
Walz farms background
Walz Farms LLC is a cow/calf and row crop operation that intensively manages a cover crop rotation. Some cover crops they have used include small grains that they then graze their livestock on, reducing feed costs.
“On our operation, we try to use what we need to, not just put things on because we can,” Walz said.
This is what prompted Walz Farms to focus on how they can reduce nitrogen inputs. Walz Farms wants to focus on getting the best profit per acre, not just the best yield.
The nitrogen sensor and the study of the model
Walz’s study evaluated two different tools: a Trimble GreenSeeker crop sensor that is mounted on a high-clearance applicator to assess in-season crop nitrogen (N) needs in real time, and Corteva’s Granular Insights , a decision-based crop support system model that integrates management, weather, and soil information to assess nitrogen fertilizer needs.
He compared these approaches to his traditional nitrogen management, which uses variable rate application and a split nitrogen approach.
Trimble GreenSeeker and Corteva Granular both used a site-specific variable rate approach to make N recommendations for in-season applications. By using a site-specific approach, growers are better able to meet crop needs in that area and reduce nitrogen losses.
The total nitrogen used for each treatment evaluated was as follows:
- Grower management, 186 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
- Sensor-based management, 188 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
- Granular management, 220 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
The total nitrogen rate for granular management was significantly higher than producer management, while sensor-based management was similar to producer management. There were no differences between the yields of these three tests. The greatest nitrogen use efficiency was achieved for traditional grower driving and sensor-based driving.
Use of these results
While these results may not be mind-blowing, Walz sees them as an opportunity to play around with profit per acre and make other equipment changes. When this first study was done, part of the field had been hit by hail, so that was a factor that would have impacted the results. Looking to the future, he is redoing this study on a field that is in its second year of corn.
Walz said he’s learned that good areas of the field don’t need as much nitrogen and tough areas will need a bit more, and these technologies can help him find those areas.
“It’s about the right time, the right place, and the right product,” Walz said.
Future data analysis will examine how the tools performed in specific soil types and management zones within the field.
On-Farm Research Helps Achieve Goals
“Someone once told me that most agricultural companies spend 5% of their income on research and development, so I thought I should test for myself instead of trusting everything. they say,” Walz said. “There are new minds out there who will think differently when asked to help research something you want to improve.”
The Nebraska On-Farm Research Network helped Jon Walz achieve the operation’s goals by reducing inputs without costing the farm in the long run. The results give Walz confidence that he is doing it right. The next long-term step for Walz Farms is to close the synthetic fertilizer loop gap. He would like to see less imported fertilizer and with the help of new technology this might be possible.
If you are interested in solving a problem or looking for a new way to improve your operation and think Nebraska On-Farm Research could help you, please contact Laura Thompson for more information.
Contact a team member to start your own on-farm research study.