March 2, 2021

Unlocking the Science of Nitrogen Management

SciMax NitrogenWith the release of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, it’s more important than ever for farmers to make the most efficient use of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). For more than four years, SciMax Solutions has been finding science-based solutions to help local producers advance conservation efforts and protect water quality.

“It’s all about healthy people, healthy crops, and a healthy environment,” said Peter Bixel, SciMax Solution’s team leader. “That’s why we’re focused on continuous improvement and continue to learn more every year.”

The stakes are high. The Gulf Hypoxia Task Force requires Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus load to the Gulf of Mexico by 45%. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requesting a strategy that emphasizes state implementation of new and existing N and P management practices for point and nonpoint sources.

SciMax is leading the way in nutrient management by focusing on four key areas:

1. Optimized nutrient rates. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nourishing a crop properly. Sometimes fewer nutrients are required, and sometimes more nutrients are needed, depending on the soil type, crop removal rate, and many other factors. SciMax harnesses the power of modern precision ag solutions and variable-rate technology to pinpoint these needs and spoon-feed the crop, said Larry Arndt, MaxYield Cooperative’s agronomy team leader. It’s not unusual to find ways to cut back on nutrient applications while protecting yield potential. In one field where SciMax clients Brian and Mike Riggert normally applied a flat rate of 150 pounds of N per acre, SciMax helped the Whittemore-area farmers determine that they only needed to use 70 pounds of N.

2. Solutions based on science. While many nutrient management guidelines were established in the 1970s, there are more current, effective systems to determine proper nutrient applications, said Dr. Rick Vanden Heuvel, a partner with SciMax Solutions who has worked on nitrogen throughout his career. He favors the Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test (ISNT), a soil-based system that promotes sustainable agriculture, offers growers increased profit potential, and enhances environmental stewardship. SciMax uses field-specific agronomic information to interpret the ISNT data and develop detailed nitrogen management prescriptions tailored to each client’s specific needs. “The ISNT, variable-rate technology, and SciMax have opened up many new opportunities to fine-tune N applications,” Vanden Heuvel said.

3. Support for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The nutrient management solutions available through SciMax fit with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy developed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Successful nutrient management is already happening, thanks to MaxYield’s willingness to make major investments in SciMax,” noted Vanden Heuvel, who added that growers have enrolled nearly 15,000 acres in SciMax. “Putting these nutrient management solutions into practice hasn’t required a dime of taxpayer investment.”

4. Promoting a voluntary approach. Since Iowa has countless soil types across the state and many different types of farming operations, a voluntary approach to nutrient management through SciMax offers much more practicality—and effectiveness—than a regulatory approach, said Bixel, who serves on the Nutrient Reduction Plan Science Team. Bill Northey, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture who farms near Spirit Lake, agrees. “The tools for successful N and P management aren’t going to be driven by government regulations—they will be driven by innovation. MaxYield Cooperative is playing a huge part of putting this innovation in the hands of producers through SciMax.”

While there’s no silver bullet with the complex issue of nitrogen (N) management, SciMax is taking a key leadership role in nutrient management, Northey added. “The SciMax team has the sophisticated tools that deliver solutions to get more conservation on the ground. Very few individuals or organizations have made the investment that SciMax is making to research new solutions, protect water quality, and provide proven, practical solutions that benefit farmers as well as our nonfarm friends and neighbors.”

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