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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Seger

The Basics of N Stabilizers

You can’t talk about corn management without talking about nitrogen. Nitrogen (N) is the most important nutrient in corn because it is used in a larger quantity than other nutrients and is most frequently deficient. We can do very little to impact other nutrients in our plant – think micro-applications later this spring – if we don’t have our nitrogen levels right. It can be one of our top expenses on our crop; therefore, how do we protect and maximize our investment?

Where I live in Ohio, growers generally start the seed off with a little nitrogen near the furrow, often referred to as a pop-up application. Then, around V5, we come back in and apply the remainder of our season’s nitrogen as a side-dress application. This is our strategy mainly because it works with our equipment, and because we want to get our crop off to a good start, But, corn plants only take up about 5% of their nitrogen needs within 30 days of emergence. So, what can we do to stretch our nitrogen?

We often include a nitrogen stabilizer with our application as an easy solution. It doesn’t require a high-clearance machine or an extra pass across the field.

So, what are nitrogen stabilizers?

There is not much nitrogen available for plants in the soil naturally and the nitrogen we apply is very mobile, making it easy to lose. Nitrogen stabilizers are substances that prevent the loss of N. There are several different types designed to interact with the different forms of nitrogen we use on our crops. It is best to discuss with your trusted fertilizer dealer or agronomist what nitrogen stabilizers are best with the nitrogen you applied.

Applied nitrogen is lost mainly through denitrification, leaching, or volatilization.

Denitrification is when oxygen is removed from the soil rather than combined with nitrogen. This takes place in warm, wet soils, especially if there is crop residue. The soil organisms that break down your crop residue grab the oxygen from your nitrate (NO3-) and the dinitrogen escapes your soil as a gas. Adding a nitrification inhibitor slows the microbial activity, extending the time your nitrogen stays in the plant-available nitrate form.

Leaching is when nitrate nitrogen moves through the soil with water. The texture of your soil often impacts the distance your nitrogen travels. Clay and silt loam soils move nitrogen less rapidly than sandy soils. Again, nitrification inhibitors can slow the conversion of ammonium to nitrate, and ammonium (NH4+) uses its positive charge to attach to the negative clay particles.

Volatilization is when you lose ammonia as a gas from soil-applied urea (that isn’t integrated with the soil) or improper sealing when applying anhydrous ammonia. Usually a little rain on soil-applied urea is enough to help it move into the soil profile and bind the ammonium to the soil, but a urease inhibitor can protect your urea from volatilization while you wait on the rain.

Choosing the right nitrogen stabilizer usually comes down to your source of nitrogen. They can help preserve your nitrogen by slowing the nitrification process. This gives you plant-available nitrogen when your plant needs it most.

What precision ag technology have you used in nitrogen or nitrogen stabilizer application? Write a review to let other farmers know!

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