Nutrient Management in an Uncertain Economy

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Consider this advice to achieve the best ROI

early season corn field imageThe current period of economic uncertainty will again be front and center as we head into the 2020 production season. You’re likely considering any suggestions on how to lower input costs and find production efficiencies wherever possible. Given that fertilizers and nutrients represent a substantial portion of cropping expenses, you’ll likely focus on nutrients first, before looking at other costs like seed, weed and insect control, and equipment. 

When revisiting nutrient management plans, you’re likely reluctant to scale back on the units of nitrogen you apply per acre, despite nitrogen fertilizer representing the biggest nutrient expense. One adjustment you will likely explore when evaluating existing nutrient plans for 2019 will be to eliminate the use of a nitrogen stabilizer. 

Consider Nitrogen-Use Efficiency Versus Input Expense

Mike Moechnig, field scientist with Corteva Agriscience, explained why cutting the use of a nitrogen stabilizer from nutrient management plans is a flawed approach. Moechnig said you shouldn’t view nitrogen stabilizers as an unnecessary expense, but, rather, you should look deeper into the important role stabilizers play in nitrogen-use efficiency. 

“When economic times are tough, farmers tend to look at input costs strictly by the numbers and cut what they don’t consider a necessity,” Moechnig said. “What growers should be looking at is nitrogen-use efficiency that can be attributed directly to using a nitrogen stabilizer, not the cost. ROI can be a difficult sell, especially during a depressed farm economy. And while farmers remain diligent in their efforts to protect water quality, economics is likely the driver. The positive economic impact of stabilizing nitrogen that is often overlooked should be factored into the decision and benefits reflected in nutrient management plans.” 

N-Serve® and Instinct® nitrogen stabilizers help maximize your largest input investment by extending nitrogen availability during critical growth stages. With more nitrogen available for crop uptake for a longer period of time, you can often reduce the amount of nitrogen applied initially and lessen the need to come back with additional nitrogen applications later in the season. With more nitrogen available for uptake longer into the growing season, you can apply less nitrogen and still realize an increase in yield. 

Stay the Course

Jason Strand, manager of precision agriculture with Frontier Cooperative Company, North Bend, Nebraska, is advising his customers to stay the course and not make any major adjustments — or cuts — to nutrient management plans. He is also a proponent of looking at stabilizer use from an overall nitrogen-use efficiency perspective and an investment versus a cost. 

“Our goal is to sit down with customers in the late fall after harvest and make a plan for the next year,” Strand said. “We’ve developed long-range — say, five-year plans — for a lot of our growers that we’ll re-evaluate every year. In most cases, we recommend keeping things consistent and counsel growers to not let economic factors dictate a major deviation, namely expense, to what has been working in the past.” 

Strand said the reason Frontier Coop likes to get plans finalized as early as possible postharvest is to prevent customers from coming back later — say, in February — second-guessing expenses and wanting to cut back on everything, then hope for the best. 

“Making last-minute changes based on economic factors is a risk,” he said. “We advocate getting a plan in place and staying with it. You look at your break-evens, obviously, but you do what you got to do to make money. Whether it’s a stabilizer, a fungicide application, you put that cost in the plan up front and figure that into the whole spreadsheet.” 

Strand and Frontier Coop are strong proponents for using a nitrogen stabilizer. So much so that 100% of the nitrogen fertilizer acres custom applied by Frontier Coop automatically include a nitrogen stabilizer. 

“On every acre we custom-apply, a stabilizer is automatic,” Strand said. “You get it no matter what. We don’t get much pushback because we put it into their bottom line. It’s a pretty easy sell as we position a stabilizer giving them more bang for their buck. We encourage stabilizers as a protection to their investments and to increase their nitrogen-use efficiency.” 

Despite the economic challenges, Strand doesn’t anticipate growers backing off or scaling back on nitrogen next year, especially with those who are using a stabilizer. 

“Our recommendation, assuming they are still aiming for top yield, is to keep with the plan and don’t let economic anxiety dictate solid nutrient management approaches. There will always be good and bad years. But, over the long haul, it pays to be consistent and not overreact.” 

Instinct is not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Federal law does not require any person who applies or supervises the use of Instinct to be certified in accordance with EPA regulations and state, territorial and tribal laws. Some states may have additional requirements related to liquid manure and nitrogen stabilizers. Be sure to consult your state or local Extension service to understand your requirements. When applying Instinct to deep pits, appropriate manure agitation safety steps should be followed. Instinct should be applied directly to the deep pit prior to pumping the pit; a thorough agitation system must be operating in order to evenly distribute Instinct within the deep pit; applicators and handlers of Instinct and manure treated with Instinct are required to use proper protective equipment as stated on the product label; air ventilation systems must be operational inside barns. Do not fall-apply anhydrous ammonia south of Highway 16 in the state of Illinois. Always read and follow label directions.