March 2, 2021

Keep Your Nitrogen in the Zone



Pop quiz—where does most nitrogen loss occur? Below ground. It’s an issue that can easily cost you 15 to 20 bushels of corn per acre.

“If you multiply 20 bushels by $3.50 a bushel, that’s a loss of $70 per acre,” said Joe Bollig, an integrated solutions specialist with MaxYield Cooperative. “That’s also a conservative estimate, since nitrogen losses can lead to yield losses of 40, 50, or even 60 bushels per acre.”

It’s a costly proposition, especially now that nitrogen has become one of the most expensive crop inputs. Nitrogen stabilizers offer a proven solution to combat this challenge. Not all stabilizers are created equal, however. Some are only active on the soil’s surface, for example. “Using the right stabilizer is more important than ever to keep nitrogen in the root zone and maximize your crop input investment,” Bollig said.

Instinct® II and N-Serve® stabilize nitrogen in the root zone, so this vital nutrient is available when your crops need it most. While there are less expensive products on the market, their effectiveness is questionable, Bollig said. Instinct II and N-Serve are the only nitrogen stabilizers accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as proven nitrification inhibitors.

“There’s solid science behind these products,” Bollig said. “N-Serve, for example, has been rigorously tested by third-party experts for more than three decades.”

What’s the “magic” behind the method?
While there’s nothing magical about nitrogen stabilizers, it helps to brush up on a little chemistry to understand how they work.

Before anhydrous ammonia is applied, the product is in the NH3 form while it’s still in the tank. After it is applied, however, the product is attracted to moisture in the soil and becomes NH4+. Soil itself has a negative charge. “Opposites attract, which is a good thing,” Bollig said.

Unfortunately, if the soil temperature is 50 degrees or warmer, a bacteria in the soil (Nitrosomonas) begins to convert the NH4+ (ammonium) to NO2- (nitrite) and then the nitrite is quickly oxidized by another bacteria in the soil (Nitrobacter) and converted to the NO3- (nitrate) form of nitrogen.

Because the nitrate form carries a negative charge like the soil, it is not tightly bound. This makes the nitrate mobile in the soil and more readily available for plant uptake, but because of this mobility, it also makes it subject to loss by both leaching and denitrification.

Nitrogen stabilizers circumvent this process by using nitrapyrin to kill the bacteria that start the nitrification process. “Nitrogen stabilizers keep nitrogen in the NH4+ form for 60 to 90 days,” Bollig said. “This protects nitrogen against leaching and makes more nitrogen available to the plants later in the growing season, when the crop really needs it.”

Think of stabilizers as insurance
Nitrogen stabilizers deliver this protection for approximately $10 to $12 per acre. They can generate a return of $40 to $50 per acre, Bollig said.

Nitrogen stabilizers are like full-coverage auto insurance, he added. “You wouldn’t send a valuable new car or truck down the road without proper insurance. Why would you plant a valuable crop and not protect it with nitrogen stabilizer?”

Nitrogen stabilizers can be applied in the fall or spring. N-Serve works well for fall-applied anhydrous ammonia. Instinct II offers versatility, since it can be applied with multiple nitrogen sources, including UAN, urea, and manure.

Now’s a great time to try nitrogen stabilizers, Bollig said. Since Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad approved $9.6 million earlier this summer to support the Iowa Water Quality Initiative, growers who qualify can receive a rebate of $3.50 on every acre where nitrogen stabilizer is applied.

Talk to your MaxYield agronomy specialist or SciMax Solutions specialist for more information about nitrogen stabilizers for your acres. “This best-management practice protects your yield potential and the environment,” Bollig said.

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