Nitrogen Strategy #1 of 3: Play Favorites with your Acres

Nine out of 10 farmers and agronomists agree: nitrogen is the corn input most likely to be voted “highest maintenance.” Based on the latest USDA ERS estimates, growers spend $42 to $62/acre on N (around $0.37/lb),  putting nitrogen as the biggest expense after seed on many operations. Given that these are state averages, certain fields with higher yield potential likely utilize even higher amounts of nitrogen.

But while it’s expensive, it’s also a delicate balancing act. Without sufficient amounts of nitrogen, corn will under-yield, and if over-applied, extra money is wasted, along with downstream effects to the environment.

To help growers optimize their N investment, Granular Agronomy Nitrogen Management has developed the industry’s leading nitrogen model, built on the premise that every acre you farm is unique — and that you’ll better utilize your N by managing zones within fields. We call these Decision Zones, and we believe they’re the key to making the best agronomic input decisions possible.

But don’t just listen to us. In 2020, Granular received a second patent, building on the one we received in 2019, validating the effectiveness of Decision Zones and how we use weather, environmental management zones (soils and management), and crop modeling to estimate crop requirements. The patent also gives Granular the exclusive right to use management zones and weather to estimate the optimal rates for profit or yield for fertilizer, seed or water. To date, Granular Agronomy +N services have been used on millions of acres in the U.S., and farmers have on average boosted profits $27/acre, reduced nitrogen by 9 lb/A, and increased yield by 6 bu/A. 

How Does it Work?

Granular Agronomy Decision Zones rely on three distinct layers of data to help growers plan at a sub-field level:

  • Proprietary Environmental Response Units (ERU) based on the Soil Survey Geographic (SSURGO) database and high-resolution elevation data. Think of this as soil maps on steroids. We reposition typical soil maps to include high-resolution elevation data — giving a much clearer picture of soil potential.
  • Multi-year yield analysis. We utilize multiple years of yield data to determine historical areas of low, medium and high production. This layer intersects the ERUs to provide even greater clarity on yield capability.
  • Irrigation – If a field has irrigation, zones are created to denote irrigated and non-irrigated. Different yield targets can be set accordingly, and irrigated zones utilize user-entered irrigation events, including fertigation and well-water nitrate credits.

By crunching all of this powerful historical data, Decision Zones customize nitrogen, seeding and fertility at the sub-field level. Yield targets for each specific decision zone are set, allowing growers to work with their Granular Agronomy Certified Service Agent (CSA) to customize N applications with greater insight than state university calculators or even their own experience.

In addition to these field layers, Granular Agronomy Nitrogen Management utilizes 20 years of weather history from Corteva and IBM/The Weather Company to provide a wide range of scenarios. By running different scenarios, we can help answer questions such as:

  • What happens if we have a drought like last year?
  • How does my plan need to change if we have an extremely wet year?

The Art Behind the Science

“Decision Zones are the foundation,” explains Alex Ballweg, a CSA based in central Illinois, “But the secret sauce in Granular Agronomy comes from the partnership between the CSA and the grower.”

Ballweg sits down with every grower to review the zones in their operations. “Decision Zones account for critical factors like historical yield, ERUs and soil potential, irrigation and weather history, but every CSA has to factor in the field knowledge of our growers — many who have been farming the same fields for 20 plus years,” he explains. “That’s the art behind the science — the CSA taking the grower’s intelligence and experience, factoring that into the technology, to finetune (and adjust all season) fertility plans and prescriptions.”

“My growers know N is the number one factor in yield,” Ballweg adds. “No one wants to be short, but you also have to manage resources effectively to ensure the best yield and profit in a tight margin environment. The Decision Zone technology gives us the intelligence we need to manage the variability that exists in every field.”

If you want to learn more about Decision Zones and how they can benefit your acres, call us at 888-435-4726 or schedule a demo at Stay tuned for more insights on Nitrogen in coming blog posts. 

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