University of Minnesota Extension
/
612-624-1222
Menu Menu

Extension > Agriculture > Nutrient Management > Nitrogen > Validating N rates for corn on farm fields in southern Minnesota

Validating N rates for corn on farm fields in southern Minnesota

Gyles Randall, Soil Scientist and Professor, Southern Research and Outreach Center, Waseca; and Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, St. Paul.
Michael Schmitt, Extension Soil Scientist and Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, St. Paul.
Jeffrey Strock, Soil Scientist and Assistant Professor, Southwest Research and Outreach Center, Lamberton; and Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, St. Paul.
John Lamb, Extension Soil Scientist and Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, St. Paul.

Recommendations to optimize profits and protect water quality

Purpose

This publication describes the results of 29 site-years of research on farm fields in southern Minnesota to find the best rate of nitrogen (N) to apply for corn after soybeans. Results show that the N rate recommended by the University achieves optimum corn yield and may be greater than needed for maximum profitability in many fields.

Overview

graph

Figure 1. Impact of N rate on crop yield and nitrate loss from a corn production system.

More N is added for corn than any other nutrient in Minnesota. The right amount of N optimizes crop yield while minimizing loss of N to the environment. The wrong amount eats into profits and can send excess nitrogen into ground water. Figure 1 illustrates the significant impact the N rate has on crop yield, as well as its potential loss to ground water.

Finding the right amount of fertilizer N to add for a crop means first estimating how much N is available from the soil and then adding fertilizer N to meet the crop's total N need. Because uncontrollable factors like precipitation and temperature affect the release of N from soil as well as the amount of N needed by a crop, the optimum amount of fertilizer N can change from location to location and from year to year. Continual studies measuring corn yield response to fertilizer N take these variations into account.

University of Minnesota soil scientists have conducted hundreds of field studies to find the best rate of fertilizer N for corn following soybeans since the 1960s. The N rate recommendations are updated regularly using the most recent corn hybrids with greater yield potential. The latest N rate recommendations for corn following soybeans are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. N recommendations for corn after soybeans where a soil nitrate test is not used*.

Expected yield (bu/A)
Organic matter level** 100-124 125-149 150-174 175-199 200+
-------------------------------------------------- N to apply (lb/A) --------------------------------------------------
L 90 120 150 170 190
M and H 60 90 120 140 160
* Adapted from Fertilizing Corn in Minnesota, 03790.
**L = Low, less than 3.0%; M = Medium and H = High, more than 3.0%.

In recent years the University's N recommendations for corn have been questioned by the fertilizer industry and by some farmers and advisors. They considered the recommendations lower than appropriate, with one reason being that many of the field studies were done on University Experiment Station land. It was time to move the N rate studies to farm fields.

From 1989 through 2001, University recommendations for corn after soybeans were tested in fourteen small-plot and fifteen field-size strip experiments on farmers' fields. Data from the field-size strip trials were collected by farmers and crop advisors (see Acknowledgements section). Yield data indicated that the N rate recommended by the University produced the expected results. In fact, the recommended N rates were higher than was needed at most of the sites to reach an economic optimum. Best management practices cited later in this publication were used at all sites and are essential to efficient N use.

Experimental procedures

Small-plot studies

The fourteen small-plot studies carried out from 1989 through 1999 were equally divided between the loess soils (silt loam) of southeastern Minnesota and the glacial till soils (clay loam) of south-central Minnesota (Table 2). The small plots were 10 to 15 ft wide and 40 to 60 ft long and were replicated four to six times at each site. The farmers tilled, planted, applied pesticide, cultivated, and selected hybrid and planting rates. University scientists applied the fertilizer N, hand-harvested the yields, and collected other appropriate field data (weather, past cropping and nutrient history, etc.).

Table 2. Site characteristics for the small plot studies on farm fields.

Site Year County Soil texture Method and time of N application, N source
A 1989 Dakota silt loam Spring preplant, urea
B 1989 Olmsted silt loam Spring preplant, urea
C 1989 Waseca clay loam Sidedress, ammonia
D 1990 Waseca clay loam Sidedress, ammonia
E 1991 McLeod clay loam Spring preplant, urea
F 1992 Blue Earth clay loam Spring preplant, urea
G 1992 Dodge silt loam Spring preplant, urea
H 1992 Goodhue silt loam Spring preplant, urea
I 1993 Nicollet clay loam Spring preplant, urea
J 1997 Blue Earth clay loam Spring preplant, urea
K 1998 Dodge silt loam Spring preplant, urea
L 1998 Dodge silt loam Spring preplant, urea
M 1998 Mower loam Spring preplant, urea
N 1999 Olmsted silt loam Spring preplant, urea

Field-size strip studies

Because some dealers, advisors, and farmers were not sure about the relevance of yield responses from small-plot studies, 15 field-size strip studies were carried out from 1997 through 2001. All sites were on glacial till soils in south-central Minnesota (Table 3). Sites were chosen by the farmer and either local crop advisors, dealers, or state agency personnel. There is a concentration of sites in Nicollet County because of nitrate concerns in the St. Peter Wellhead area and the presence of a multi-agency project to examine N use for corn.

Spring or sidedress application was used at 10 sites and fall anhydrous ammonia plus N-Serve was used at 3 sites. Fertilizer N was applied by the dealer or farmer in strips matching the applicator width (30 to 60 ft). Strip length ranged from about 400 ft to more than 1200 ft.

Table 3. Site characteristics for the field-size strip studies on farm fields*.

,/
Site Year County Texture Method and time of N application, N source
AA 1997 Nicollet clay loam Spring preplant, urea
BB 1998 Blue Earth clay loam Fall ammonia
CC 2000 Nicollet clay loam Spring preplant, urea
DD 2000 Nicollet clay loam Spring preplant, urea
EE 2000 Nicollet clay loam Fall ammonia + N-serve
FF 2000 Nicollet clay loam
GG 2000 Nicollet clay loam Spring preplant, urea
HH 2001 Blue Earth clay loam Sidedress, ammonia
II 2001 Brown clay loam Spring preplant, ammonia
JJ 2001 Martin clay loam Sidedress, ammonia
KK 2001 Nicollet loam Spring preplant, urea
LL 2001 Nicollet clay loam Spring preplant, urea
MM 2001 Nicollet clay loam Spring preplant, urea
NN 2001 Nicollet clay loam Fall ammonia + N-serve
OO 2001 Redwood clay loam Fall ammonia
*All fertilizer N rates were replicated three times except for the two earliest sites (AA and BB) where only two replications were used. No zero N (0 lb N/A) strips were included at sites AA and BB and only one control strip was included at sites GG and KK. Because of these limitations, no statistical analyses were performed for these sites.

At each field-strip site the tillage, planting, pesticide application, and hybrid and planting rate selection were done by the farmers. The strips were combine-harvested using yield monitors. All yield data were collected by the farmer and/or consultant. The strip-average yields were given to the authors of this publication for statistical and economic analyses.

Two statistical models were used to find the best rate of N for each site. The least significant difference (LSD) value gives the smallest yield difference among treatments that is statistically significant at the 90% probability level. The LSD was conducted on all yield data from the sites that had three or more control (0 lb N/A) plots/strips. With the Quadratic Response Plateau model, a response curve was fit to the yield data up to the N level where a yield plateau was reached. The economic optimum N rate (EONR) was calculated using an N price of $0.15/lb and a corn price of $2.00/bu to determine the N rate where the cost of an additional pound of fertilizer was no longer exceeded by the value of the additional yield response. EONR analysis was conducted on all sites except I (only 4 N rates) and AA and BB (no control strips).

Results

graph

Figure 2. The quadratic response plateau (QRP) model used to find the optimum N rate for an example data set.

Small-plot studies

Corn yields for each of the N rates and the statistical data using the LSD and QRP models in Figure 2 are shown for all 14 sites in Table 4. The optimum yield (LSD) is in bold print. Yields were optimized at the 30-lb N rate at 1 site (L), at the 60-lb rate at 4 sites (C, D, H, and K), at the 90-lb rate at 5 sites, at the 120-lb rate at 1 site (F), and at the 150-lb rate at 1 site (E). Averaged across all 14 sites, the optimum N rate (LSD) is 71 lb N/A (Figure 3), or 82 lb N/A if using only the 12 responding sites, to produce a yield of 169 bu/A. The EONR averaged across the 13 sites that fit the QRP model was 86 lb N/A. The range across sites was 0 to 140 lb N/A.

Table 4. Optiumum fertilizer N rates for corn after soybeans based on small plots in farm fields*.

--------------------------------------------- N rate (lb/A) --------------------------------------------- LSD EONR**
Site 0 30 60 90 120 150 180 (0.10)
------------------------------------------------------------ Corn Yield (bu/A) ------------------------------------------------------------ ---- lb/N/A ----
A 150 142 151 151 145 160 161 NS 0
B 163 176 178 188 186 190 192 12 126
C 138 - 149 152 155 150 - 10 80
D 147 - 164 171 166 164 - 14 76
E 104 - 138 158 161 177 183 11 140
F 107 132 144 156 164 168 161 13 131
G 105 123 132 140 145 144 138 11 105
H 115 137 147 148 152 156 - 15 92
I*** 80 - 10150 114100 - 120 - 13 -
J 178 170 178 186 172 172 - NS 0
K 175 191 202 207 208 206 - 18 89
L 175 200 185 214 203 193 201 18 82
M 147 164 190 212 210 217 185 12 108
N 146 159 175 183 173 178 - 8 86
* A response to fertilizer N was not obtained at two sites (A and J), although yields at these sites ranged between 150 and 180 bu/A. This can be explained by the release of N from soil organic matter. Greater availability of soil N usually follows dry years and/or long-term applications of N (fertilizer and/or manure) in excess of crop removal.
** EONR = Economic Optimum N Rate based on 15ยข/lb N and $2.00/bu corn.
***Actual N rates shown in superscript.
graph

Figure 3. Optimum fertilizer N rates using LSD (0.10) and QRP models for 13 small-plot sites.

The optimum N rate data in Figure 3 show the variability among site years. University scientists make their recommendations slightly greater than the response data suggest. This cushions the farmer from risk of yield and profit loss under unforeseen conditions. In this case, an N recommendation of 120 lb N/A was actually more than was needed for optimum yields at 13 of 14 sites when using the LSD approach and at 10 of 13 sites when using the more liberal QRP approach. Based on these yield responses to N in small-plot studies, the 120-lb N rate, recommended by the University of Minnesota for 150 to 174 bu/A corn grown on these soils, was enough to optimize yield and profit at 13 of 14 sites. In fact, the yield maximum at some sites was reached at 60 lb N/A and no more N was needed.

Field-size strip studies

Corn yields for each of the 15 field-size strip studies are shown in Table 5. Least significant differences were calculated for 11 of the sites while EONRs were calculated for the 13 sites with 0-lb control plots. All 13 sites responded to fertilizer N. The optimum yield (LSD) is in bold type. Yields were optimized at the 60-lb N rate at 3 sites, at the 90-lb rate at 6 sites, and at the 120-lb rate at 2 sites. Averaging these optimum N rates and associated yields across all 11 sites produced an optimum N rate of 87 lb/A (Figure 4) and an average yield of 150 bu/A.

Table 5. Optimum fertilizer N rates for corn after soybeans based on field-size strips.

--------------------------------------------- N rate (lb/A) --------------------------------------------- LSD EONR**
Site 0 30 60 90 120 150 180 (0.10)
-------------------------------------------------- Corn yield (bu/A) -------------------------------------------------- ---- lb N/A ----
AA - - 152 155 156130 162160 - ** -
BB - - - 20080 200 200160 - ** -
CC 128 - 159 165 169 168 - 5 106
DD 120 - 141 148 144 150 - 16 93
EE 116 - 150 156 158 161 - 6 104
FF 130 - 157 162 164 163 - 19 95
GG 135 - 163 168 172 165 - *** 90
HH 103 - 140 148 146 153 153 9 104
II 123 - 145 137 154 156 156 18 169
JJ 93 - 108 109 110 110 - 7 68
KK 120 - 135 136 132 136 - *** 55
LL 140 - 160 161 166 171 - 6 145
MM 138 - 145 150 146 148 - 4 65
NN 126 - 151 157 162 160 - 9 113
OO 113 - 143 150 151 153 148 11 96
* EONR = Economic Optimum N Rate based on 15¢/ lb N and $2.00/bu corn.
** Only two replications, no statistical analysis conducted. Actual N rates shown in superscript.
***The 0-lb control strip was not replicated at these sites, so the LSD was not determined.
graph

Figure 4. Optimum fertilizer N rates using the LSD (0.10) and QRP statistical models for 13 field-size strip sites.

The EONR using the more liberal QRP method ranged from 55 to 169 lb N/A and averaged 100 lb N/A for the 13 sites (Figure 4). Eleven of the 13 sites had EONRs less than 120 lb N/A.

As with the small-plot studies, these field-size experiments demonstrate the site-to-site variability when finding an optimum N rate for corn (Figure 4). But in total, a 120-lb N rate was enough to optimize corn yield at all sites using the LSD method, and at 11 of 13 sites using the QRP method.

Small plot vs field-size strips

graph

Although the procedures were different for these two types of field studies, the results were remarkably similar (Figure 5). Corn yields for the 0, 60, 90, 120, and 150-lb N rates were averaged across all 13 small-plot sites to find the EONR for small plots, and across all 13 field-size strip sites to find the EONR for the strips. EONRs for the small plots and field-size strips were 105 and 99 lb N/A (QRP). Optimum yield was greater in the small plots (173 bu/A) than in the field-size strips (152 bu/A) because of high yields in the small plots in southeastern Minnesota in 1989, 1998, and 1999 (when field-size strip studies were not done). This shows that plot size does not affect fertilizer N rate recommendations.

Best management practices

plant

The recommendations validated in these on-farm trials are based on best management practices (BMPs) that are essential for profitable and environmentally sound N management. Fertilizer form (nitrate or ammonium), timing of application, and fertilizer placement all help determine if the N will be available to the plant, or if it will be more easily lost by volatilization (ammonia), by leaching (nitrate), or by denitrification (nitrogen gas) (Figure 6).

Some practices are recommended throughout Minnesota (statewide BMPs) and others are more specific to the soils, temperatures, and moisture conditions of various regions of the state (regional BMPs). Because appropriate management practices are so critical to the effectiveness of applied N, we have listed here the essential statewide and regional BMPs that will help assure profits and reduce N loss to the environment.

Statewide

field
truck

See Best Management Practices for Nitrogen Use Statewide in Minnesota, 06125; A Soil Nitrogen Test Option for N Recommendations with Corn, 06514; Fertilizer Urea, 00636; and Fertilizing Corn in Minnesota, 03790.

map

Southeastern Minnesota

tractor

See Best Management Practices for Nitrogen Use in Southeastern Minnesota, 06126; and Nitrification Inhibitors and Use in Minnesota, 03774.

map

South-central Minnesota

temperature

Table 6. Long-term average corn yields and flow-weighted nitrate-N concentrations in tile drainage as affected by time of N application and N-Serve at Waseca.

Time of application*
Parameter Fall Fall + N-serve Spring
Avg. corn yield (bu/A) (1987-2001) 144.5 152.9 155.5
Flow-weighted nitrate-N concentration in tile drainage (mg/L) (1990-1999) 18.3 15.5 13.8
*Anhydrous ammonia applied after October 20 in the fall and prior to planting in spring.

See Best Management Practices for Nitrogen Use in South-Central Minnesota, 06127; and Nitrification Inhibitors and Use in Minnesota, 03774.

map

Southwestern and West-central Minnesota

See Best Management Practices for Nitrogen Use in Southwestern and West-Central Minnesota, 06128; and Fertilizing Corn in Minnesota, 03790.

Acknowledgements

The authors extend appreciation to Farmland Industries; Tennessee Valley Authority, National Fertilizer and Environmental Research Center; Greater Minnesota Corporation; Agricultural Utilization Research Institute; USDA-CSRS; American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture; Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation; Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council; and the St. Peter Wellhead Protection Project for their financial assistance. Thanks to the many farmer-cooperators who participated in the project and to the consultants/local advisors (Blue Earth Agronomics, Karyn Wassman; GMA Agronomics, Kevin Bitterman; McPherson Crop Management, Bernie Paulson; and United AgTech, Steve Sodeman) whose collection of field strip data was vital to this project. We appreciate the technical assistance of Jeff Vetsch, Andy Scobbie, Brian Anderson, and David Groh in the collection and analyses of the data. This publication was funded as part of a USEPA 319 Grant awarded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and managed by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.

References

Production Manager: Catherine Dehdashti, Extension Service Communications, University of Minnesota
Editors: Kathleen Cleberg, Press 1 Production; and Les Everett, Water Resources Center, University of Minnesota
Designer: John Molstad, Studio 31 Graphics, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
WW-07936 2003

  • © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy