Preventing Nitrogen Loss in a No-Till System

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No-till is an invaluable conservation practice but it is more susceptible to nitrate losses. Here’s what you can do to protect your nitrogen investment.

No-till farming is an excellent soil conservation practice that’s been proven to help reduce soil erosion and runoff. This is because it helps increase infiltration. However, the practice of no-till farming is not adequate at reducing nitrate loss from fields to streams and lakes. No-till farming contributes to higher nitrate losses than conventional tillage because of increased nitrate losses through underground leaching. 

In the case of long-term no-till farms (10-plus years), those areas see an even higher concentration of nitrates. Despite these challenges, no-till farming has many great benefits: soil erosion control, increased buildup of organic matter, structural stability, better water infiltration and more favorable crop growing conditions. 


The change in nitrate loading in runoff from conventional tillage to no-till ranged from a slight increase to as much as a 35% reduction. Loading from leaching, though, was shown to increase with no-till by a range of about 3% to 22%.[1] 

Given these pros and cons, some farmers implement solutions to reduce no-till nitrate leaching and loss, such as cover crops, crop rotations or split nitrogen applications.

One additional solution is the use of a nitrogen stabilizer. According to research from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, comparing nitrate loads in no-till and conventionally tilled fields, practices focused on nitrogen-use efficiency (such as use of a nitrogen stabilizer) can offer the best of both worlds to no-till fields: soil conservation benefits and protection from nitrate loss.

A research review from The Ohio State University also highlights that you can see additional yield benefits in no-till farming practices that are paired with nitrogen stabilizer use. Eighty-two percent of the reported fields with no-till soil saw an increase in yield, 13% on average.[2]

We ask that you weigh the benefits of no-till farming against the possibility for nitrate losses and consider the addition of a nitrogen stabilizer like Instinct® or N-Serve®. Not only can it help protect from the high nitrate leaching in no-till operations, but it can also help maximize yield potential by keeping nitrogen in the root zone where plants need it most. 


[1] Betts, L. 2018. The No-Till Nitrate Conundrum. Corn and Soybean Digest. 
Corn and Soybean Digest No-Till Conundrum

[2] Mullen, R.W. 2010. Nitrogen additives: What is what, and do they work? Proceedings of the Integrated Crop Management Conference. 
Iowa State University: Nitrogen additives: What is what, and do they work?


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