Blog Series: Three Strategies to Better Manage Your Nitrogen in 2020

Nitrogen Strategy #2 of 3: Manage ALL your N variables, not just the easy ones

Part #2

In our first blog post, we covered why nitrogen is a critical input to get right and how managing at the subfield level can yield a better return on your N investment. But when it comes to better managing N, Decision Zones are just one piece of the puzzle. To keep narrowing in on getting the best return on your N, other management factors need to be considered when coming up with a plan for each acre. Some of the questions you should be asking include:

Field management

  • What kinds of nitrogen applications are performed on this field? Does the field receive any manure?

Seed genetics

  • What’s the maturity of the hybrid and when will the crop need the most N?

Planting date and Population

  • What seeding rate did the corn go in at, and when?
Previous crop

  • Are we corn on corn, or corn on beans?


  • Are we able to fertigate in-season?

Application strategy

  • VR vs. flat rate
  • Nitrogen Sources
  • Application Method
  • Equipment

When you start to lay out these management variables, a model where you can “plug and play” with different N scenarios will make or break your overall nitrogen strategy. That’s where Granular Agronomy + Nitrogen can shine. Growers can try out different management plans ahead of time to see which provides the best benefits. Think of this as being able to go through multiple seasons and play “what if” with questions such as:

  • What if I split-apply this field?
  • Will a nitrogen stabilizer be useful in the spring on my poorly drained soils?
  • What if I plant at 30k/A instead of 27k?

Because of these planning features, you can run scenarios and plans can be fine-tuned before you get to the field, not trial and error later or playing “catch-up” later. Establishing a strong N plan also helps in these common scenarios we hear from customers:

“Over-applying nitrogen is easier and cheaper than spending time and money on a strategy.”

A common train of thought for some farmers is erring on the side of over-application as an “insurance policy” in case their plan isn’t adequate. However, for every 10 pounds of extra nitrogen per acre the additional cost is $3.70/acre (at $0.37/lb N). In addition, University of Minnesota researchers found that the social costs of excess nitrogen (costs to mitigate groundwater pollution, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions and associated health issues) ranged from $0.001 to $10 per kilogram of nitrogen. These are costs that are not always directly attributed to crop production, but nonetheless accrue and have far-reaching environmental impacts.

“Flat rate vs. variable rate hasn’t been proven yet.”

It takes time and discipline to use recs consistently, but the payoff is worth it. In 2019, the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council conducted a study analyzing the effectiveness of variable rate nitrogen. The findings were conclusive: when evaluating four different management plans on similar acres (one flat-rate and three other variable rate programs), Granular Agronomy shined. “Economically, after deducting fertilizer expenses, Granular Agronomy was significantly more profitable,” said Sam Peterson, the researcher who conducted the trial. “Even after having much higher fertilizer expenses, it was $131.82 more profitable per acre to use the Granular Agronomy program over a flat rate program based on a $3.90 cash price for corn.”

When it comes to setting yield targets, taking all management variables into effect and running scenarios and recs will optimize the power of your corn acres.

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“The nitrogen model is what sets Granular Agronomy apart. Nitrogen is one of the most mis-managed inputs for corn, and it’s one of the most expensive. The model allows us to really hone in on what’s going on in each field, because each field is different,” said Kelly Robertson, Granular Agronomy Certified Services Agent from Illinois.”

Kelly Robertson,  Granular Agronomy Certified Services Agent from Illinois.

Listen to Kelly share more about how the Granular Agronomy nitrogen model helps the customers he works with here.

Stay tuned for the final way to manage your nitrogen coming up next. If you want to learn more about our N model and how it benefits your acres, call us at 888-435-4726 or schedule a demo at

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