23rd Feburary 2016

Growers warned of patchy levels of nitrogen in soils this spring

The team at SOYL says variable rate application of nitrogen this season will help, and will deliver at least 3%/£25 per ha at harvest.

Farmers focused on keeping costs of production under control and driving up yield potential should take a look at applying variable rate nitrogen this season. The team at SOYL – the precision farming experts – says that differences in availability of nitrogen caused by a mild and wet winter means that many of our crops are now particularly uneven with patchy forward areas. This is exactly the kind of situation where targeted nitrogen will improve plant performance and efficient use of nutrients.

SOYLsense is SOYL’s variable rate nitrogen service and has continually delivered an additional 3-8% yield over the last ten seasons by targeting nutrients precisely where they are needed. Worth considering, when just a 3% rise in yield equates to a £25/ha benefit after costs even based upon current prices.

Why are crops patchy?

Warm soil temperatures this winter have created a continual mineralisation of organic material, releasing more nitrogen available for plant uptake. However, this organic matter is mineralised into ammonium ions which are held in the soil but then nitrified into nitrate ions which are then very leachable. Elsewhere, high winter rainfall has added to losses of nitrogen in soils. The overall impact of all of these factors varies significantly locally depending on a number of factors including local weather and soil type. The end result is this season’s crops are developing very inconsistently, with some areas very forward and other areas further behind. This variation is apparent between farms and often differences can be seen even in the same field.

Variable rate nitrogen tackles the problem of applying nutrients efficiently to patchy and inconsistent crops. Differences in Leaf Area Index across fields and crops are identified using satellite technology. Nitrogen policy is then tailored to the requirements of each area of the field as it comes out of the winter and through the growing season. Less forward areas are fed early to encourage growth while more forward areas will have some nutrients held until later in the season when pushing for yield. Crop progress through the whole season is taken into account and nitrogen applications can be tweaked if weather events drive a change in the crop’s needs.

Farmer Graham Potter, of W Potter & Sons in North Yorkshire who uses SOYLsense said: “Variable rate nitrogen is a necessity, especially in a wet season like this. Crops are showing massive variation in growth and development coming out of winter and would be impossible to manage manually. SOYLsense provides me with the ability to view my entire farm at a glance and make management decisions based on this information. This will be my fourth season using the service. Fields are consistently yielding higher and producing even crop canopies which are easier to manage agronomically and ultimately easier to harvest. Early crop management is key to achieving an optimum canopy at harvest, with all the technology and information at my disposal I am doing everything I can to achieve this.”

Growers interested in finding out about SOYLsense – SOYL’s variable rate nitrogen service – should visit www.soyl.com or call 01635 204190.

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