The Hidden Cost of Too Much Fall Nitrogen: Soil Degradation & Reduced Yields?
19 Oct 2327 min 20 sec

As Kelly Garrett says, the holy grail of American Agriculture is corn production and for 50 years we’ve thought the key to more corn is more nitrogen. As it turns out, too much nitrogen in the Autumn can degrade soil biology so that you’re actually hurting yourself. XA’s Matt Swanson sits down with Damian Mason to discuss new findings on soil biology, understanding the nitrogen / carbon ratio, and the importance of water extractable carbon.

Presented by Loveland Products

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00:00 Is your soil suffering from having too much fall nitrogen? And what is that all about? 00:05 That's what we're talking about in this episode of Extreme Acts, cutting the Curve. 00:09 Welcome to Extreme Acts Cutting the Curve podcast, where we cut your learning curve with insights you can apply immediately to your farming operation. This episode is presented by Loveland products. 00:20 When it comes to crop inputs, you need products that are field proven to deliver both results and value. For more than 50 years, 00:28 Loveland products has been providing farmers with high performance value-driven product solutions designed to maximize productivity on every acre. 00:36 Visit loveland to see how their innovative products can help you farm more profitably. And now, here's your host, Damien Mason. 00:45 Hey there. Welcome to another fantastic short episode of Extreme Mass. Cutting the curve. We're delving into something pretty specific, 00:52 and I'm doing it with a guy that knows a heck of a lot more about what's happening in your soil than I do. 00:59 Matt Swanson, extreme ag affiliate from Western Illinois, proposed a topic and I said, you know what? You're over my head on this, 01:07 but I think it's something we should probably dig into. Um, the detriment of excess foil fall nitrogen to biology. 01:16 All right. We're knowing we're learning more, Matt, about soil biology, how important it is, 01:20 how we've oftentimes worked against it with some of the practices and some of the products we've used. And then you throw this topic at me and I'm like, man, 01:29 tell me all about it. You say that excess fall nitrogen is bad for soil biology. Yeah. So essentially at the end of the year or the end of the growing season, 01:38 we have three pools of nitrogen that are, that potentially could be leftover depending on how much we have. All right? So we leftover from the crop that we applied, 01:47 we have nitrogen. Well, that's a, that's a big one. And that's where we talk about like these products, like Loveland has products to help get the nitrogen out of the, the, 01:56 the fodder and the, the, the stove, et cetera. That's one that we never thought much about, and now we're learning more about it. 02:04 But I don't see where that would be detrimental to your soil biology, because we want to get it back in the soil, don't we? We 02:09 Do, but the, the issue becomes where we, that nitrogen is available and the biology and, and the soil itself, actually, 02:21 that nitrogen gets used to burn the water, car, water, extractable carbon. That's, that's in the soil. And that carbon is, 02:28 is important for a lot of things, not only in the fall, but in the next year. So, okay, 02:32 So the three ways that you're not, you're not gonna, Yeah, you're not gonna be able to get away from having that nutrients, those le that stuff leach out of the stove and things like that. 02:40 But it's just a matter of not making it worse and understanding what the, what it's doing. 02:44 All right. So three, three ways that we have excess fall, autumn, nitrogen, and we're recording this, by the way, in fall. So this is a, a timely topic. 02:52 This last year's crop or this year's crop, the stove, that's one way. Where's the other? Just stuff, 02:57 I'm guessing stuff We over applied that never got taken up. Yeah. 03:00 It's either over applied or it's soil supply during the summer that never got taken up. You know, 03:05 there's some studies that say as little as 30 to 40% of the nitrogen we apply actually gets utilized by the crop. Yep. 03:11 It's utilized by biology or other things. So that leftover in is a portion. Then we have nitrogen that we apply in the fall, 03:18 either through something like a phosphorus fertilizer that has a, an ammonium component to it, like DPA or map. 03:25 And then there's what the soil is supplying in the fall, which is not as much as it in the summer, 03:30 but it still does what the soil supplying in the fall that, um, is also in that pool. 03:38 All right. You proposed this topic and I said, it's so interesting. I want to get into it for the last 100 years. 03:45 Uh, okay, maybe not the last 50 years. You go to the co-op and you say, I'm gonna grow corn. They load you up with nitrogen, 03:53 and now you're telling me that it's could be a detriment to have too much fall nitrogen. Um, 03:59 this seems to fly in the face of what everybody has been thinking and been told their whole, uh, corn growing career. You wanna grow corn, 04:07 gotta put out nitrogen. Yeah. I mean, nitrogen is still one of the higher return on investments. Fertilizer we use no question as far as commercially applied nitrogen, um, 04:17 or commercially applied fertilizer, but it has to be balanced like anything else, right? So there, depending on the soil type, you can maybe hold more. 04:27 But the other part of this is we're relying increasingly on biology to supply phosphorus and nitrogen, you know, through a lot of products, whether it's, 04:36 you know, a, a source, a pivot bio, there's a number of 'em out there. Mm-hmm. The only way those work is if we have a supply of water, 04:44 extractable carbon to feed those, those, those microbes. And if we're, if we have excess in for whatever reason at the end, 04:53 at the end of the year, that's going to promote the biology to use up that carbon and it's, you're gonna have to replace it, 05:00 or you won't have it in the springtime in next year when you need it until it can rebuild. 05:04 Okay, wait a minute. So the products, the products that are now touted, so it used to be na, nitrogen stabilizers. Uh, you, you know, 05:13 go ahead and put on that, all that nitrogen and use this NerVve was the big most popular one. I think it'll keep your nitrogen in the soil, 05:20 keep it from volatilizing or leaching, whatever. I'm not even sure how it worked. Now we're going to products that allow you to reduce nitrogen 05:29 and their method of action is what? Explain it again. Yeah. So I mean, it's just biology is all it is. Um, but the, they rely on a carbon source to, to function. 05:43 They have to have it to feed, essentially. So whether that's coming out of the plants or the soil, it has to be there. And when we have, they have what they call a carbon nitrogen ratio, right? 05:54 So you can't have too much of one or the other. But when we, when our, we keep our biology active, which is something we wanna do, 06:02 but we just don't want to, we don't wanna be over applied on end because that feeds harder. Right. And it burns stuff out quicker. So we wanna keep that, um, 06:15 stuff in balance. We're not gonna have, we're not gonna be able to get away from having, we don't want zero in at the end of the year. Right. 06:21 We want enough to keep our biology going without feeding them a bunch of Mountain dew, essentially. 06:27 Okay. So, uh, by the way, I didn't, I never knew about the carbon to nitrogen ratio until I, uh, joined, uh, forces with XT extreme ag to produce this content. Is, is it, 06:39 am I the one that was late to the party? Or is it something we just started talking about in the last few years? Um, it's something that, what I would call mainstream, and even, even now, 06:47 it's not what I would call mainstream. Um, but mainstream agriculture has more talked about in the last May, even three years probably. Um, 06:55 but it's still not something you're gonna come into a conversation at the local co-op with. 07:00 All right. So, uh, having excess nitrogen in the fall, uh, the average person is still like ready to, they're, they're not sure they even are, 07:09 they're not even sure they're gonna agreeing with this. 'cause it seems to fly in the face of what we've always thought. Having lots of nitrogen, that's a good thing. And you're saying it kills, 07:20 is it kill the carbon or it just upsets it distorts the ratio? No, it just distorts the ratio. I mean, it, it, there's, it's not, 07:27 so something you, you said something about iner iner the function or the, the method of action of iner is physically killing the biology. So that's, 07:36 that's what iner does. Um, That's why it kept the nitrogen there. That's right. So when you have excess, we'll call it excess in, 07:45 you're always gonna have some, when you have excess in, you allow that biological cycle to ramp up and it burns the carbon out of that soil. And it's not a, 07:56 we're just talking about the water extractable portion. We're not talking about like long term organic matter, things like that. What I'm specifically talking about is, 08:03 is kind of the short term or water soluble version. Okay. Well you said water extractable, water extractable and water-soluble portion. 08:12 That help me understand that. Is that like the more readily available? Is that what we're 08:17 Saying? Yeah, that's, that's the best way to look at it. This, that's the portion that the, 08:20 the bio soil biology at large is gonna use as a f as a food source. Okay. What do I do to, if this is a detriment? 08:30 Yeah. And I believe you. I believe you. And this is something that, again, it was this new way of thinking, uh, which by the way, 08:38 isn't that a neat thing before I get into preventing this from happening? Isn't it amazing just in your farming career how far we've come on trying to 08:47 understand soil biology? We're still not even close. I think we still know as much about the surface of Mars as we do about our soils. Yeah. But just in your farming career, 08:55 how much we've started to focus on it? Oh, it's changed, it's changed dramatically in the last three to three years, let alone in the last, in the 15 I've been doing this. So, um, 09:06 it's, no, it is quite amazing. How do I prevent this problem? How do I prevent having excess fall nitrogen? 09:16 It seems like the easy thing would be don't go out and put, apply fall nitrogen. Yeah. Let whatever, whatever's there exist. 09:24 But is that the, that's the first thing, right? So what, there's, there's a couple things going on and, and first off maybe to bring this maybe a little closer to home for people that, 09:33 that think the water extractable is a little too deep or a little too remote for them, quite frankly, if you, 09:40 if you're growing 250 bushel corn and you still have 50 pounds of soil nitrogen available at the end of the year, 09:45 that's money that you spent that you didn't need to spend. Now some of that is based on what the soil supplying, 09:50 which is can be hard to predict. Okay. Granted. Um, but the, the first place to, to bring this home or make it matter, right, 09:58 to the average guy, is to say, okay, just don't spend more money on nitro applying nitrogen season than you don't need. Mm-hmm. Um, but um, 10:08 you're gonna have to ask me your question, Damien. I forgot it again. Well, I got lots of questions preventing the excess. Yeah. 10:14 Prevent prevention of excess fall nitrogen seems to me like, okay, you can say don't go out and apply it, which again, 10:21 flies in the face of what a lot of farmers have been doing as common practice. You see people put on fall nitrogen. But even if you say, okay, stop that, 10:29 is there a way to prevent, is there a chance that I have excess fall nitrogen without doing fall applied? You already told me Yes, there is residue. 10:38 Yep. Now we have pro, okay, let's go with residue. We have products that we're using to help break down that residue. Right? Is that a, is that a bad thing? Because by breaking it down, 10:49 I'm getting it back in the soil. Am I, am I overloading my soil with fall nitrogen? No, but no, I would still use the breakdown project. There's, 10:57 there's a lot of reasons. Those are good things. Um, because you're not just releasing nitrogen, you're leasing phosphorus and potassium things that you still need. 11:05 And even degrading that fodder so that it gets into the organic matter cycle quicker. And it prevents me from having seed to soil, uh, 11:14 contact issues come spring planting. I mean, there's still a lot of reasons to use the, the products, uh, that we use to, to degrade the fodder. Yes. 11:23 Yeah. Yeah. No, I would not, I would not not recommend anyone to, to use those products. Okay. So don't misunderstand me there. Um, 11:32 what I would say is in the past we've used things like a m s applied in the fall as a substitute for one of these products. Yeah. 11:41 And essentially what we're doing is we're using that in to ramp up the biology to do it. 11:46 And whereas the biological product itself will do it without the in added to it. So we're gonna, most soils are gonna have leftover in, 11:54 especially if you've had a short crop or you apply heavily or you have a high organic matter soil, 11:58 most soils are gonna have enough that if you add the biology and a food source for them, which the carbon is the food source, not the nitrogen to be specific, 12:06 um, it's going to have enough to break down your residue without needing to apply more. 12:12 Okay. Yes. All right. So you say use the, for use the stuff that breaks down the residue. Yep. Um, we probably, are we, okay. Answer me this is, is, 12:24 is it never a good time to do fall applied? In other words, are should we, should we avoid fall applied nitrogen? 12:30 Yeah, I mean for, for the specifics of what we're talking about today, not necessarily, um, 12:37 I would target your applications to a lower rate than at least what's common in my area. You know, 12:43 it's not uncommon in my area to put a hundred seventy five two hundred pounds out in the fall. That's probably not necessary, 12:48 and it's probably not the most economic way to do that. Um, but Kelly and I both apply, you know, a hundred pounds as, you know, 12:57 subsurface in, in the fall in the form of anhydrous. And there's nothing wrong with that. Is it the best ideal world situation? Not necessarily, but this is again, 13:06 one of those where the economics of it and the time savings of it makes sense. Okay. So the reason, first off, 13:12 the reason the economics work is because it's cheaper in the fall, but the economics working against you are a bunch of what you're putting on in 13:21 October, November, may very well not be there. Come may. Yeah. So it's, it gets used for other things. It gets used bio biology, 13:30 it gets used for other things. Um, and it also leeches in all of the other issues we have with nitrogen fall applied. So I'm not even saying don't fall, apply nitrogen. 13:39 And I think Kelly would agree with me on this, even though he is not here and Mike, but what we're saying is pull it back to a number that that is meaningful. 13:47 You know, like a hundred pounds is kind of the number both of us use and is easily held on by the soils that we have and doesn't create, and it's deeper. Right. 13:57 So a lot of those carbons and things we're needing are nearer to the surface. Um, in a lot of cases we're applying that in hydro 6, 5, 6, 7 inches deep. So, 14:07 and it's not gonna move up like it would move down, I guess. Okay. Right. Okay. Um, 14:14 then the other thing about, uh, prevention would be really in the fall application, there's not much I can do about what is still out there. 14:24 But maybe is there a thing Swanson, where a lot of people are just doing stuff as it's what they've always done. Should we pull soil samples before? I mean, is this something that, 14:35 like right now, should I out and pull a soil sample and say it is different now than it was in March? 14:41 So one of the things that we do as part of our, our normal diagnostic program or our crop monitoring program is we pull an H three, a soil sample with the tissue sample, for example. 14:50 So we are already gonna have a R five, you know, a black layer or a, or a brown or a mature pod soil sample because of we're pulling 'em with tissues 15:03 and it, and if you do like something like a plant available, which is kind of what you're, that's really all you need, um, 15:10 it's gonna show you how much in you have left. And you know, if you've got 20 pounds left, 25 pounds, I don't have any heartburn about that. 15:16 If you have 50, 75, a hundred pounds left for whatever reason, um, that's kind of a red flag to me. 15:23 And it could just be because you had a short crop, right? You could have applied a normal amount and you had a short crop and you just got 15:29 left over. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Meaning that the, whatever you had, the corn didn't, you had a drought and it didn't utilize all the nitrogen that was there. 15:38 And so there's remaining nitrate, is that what you're saying? That's right. And it could be in ammonium form, but a lot, 15:43 a lot of time the ammonium form is soil supplied nitrogen That hasn't been taken up yet at this point of the year anyway. 15:49 Are we gonna get to where, and this is a big topic, and this isn't really on topic, are we gonna get to where there's restrictions about the amount of nitrogen we 15:57 use anyhow, with all of this? 'cause I see it as the new boogieman. It's, it's really, it's got a lot of political, uh, 16:04 pressure and environmental pressure behind it. Are we gonna get to where monitoring fall nitrogen, because that's when so much leaching happens, right? 16:11 Between October and planting is when you, it's getting in the watershed. Correct. Ideally, if you, I mean, ideally you would put it on in, in November, 16:21 it would freeze almost instantly, and it would stay frozen until it thawed out in March, and then you went straight into planning. Right. But how often does that happen? 16:28 Never. So it's, I mean, you see it in, in Temple's watershed now in Maryland. Um, there's some discussion around Lake Erie and those type of things, 16:38 although that's more of a phosphorus thing. Um, and in Illinois as well though, you know, Illinois has a, 16:43 a nutrient loss reduction strategy specifically to kind of front run that, um, type of regulation. Right? Certainly possible. And honestly, even as a farmer, 16:53 if I thought it could be done smartly, I wouldn't necessarily be against it. Um, unfortunately, 16:58 that's the chances of that happening when government's involved seems slim. Yeah. I mean, that's the thing. We're farm guys and, 17:05 and I'm certainly all pro agriculture, but you know, next state over is Ohio, and they've had this a algae bloom in Lake Erie, you know, 17:17 it was the, the rivers caught on fire in Cleveland in the sixties and seventies, and then they got the thing cleaned up and after the industrial cleanup became 17:26 the agricultural problem with an algae bloom that was prohibitive and killed stuff. And it was because of phosphates in, in, in, 17:35 in use in agriculture. So to pretend that somehow we're not culpable. Well, there is, there is some blame to be here and there, there have been some 17:45 overuses of fertility. Yeah, certainly. I mean, in the, in the issue with phosphorus, and it's the same way in Illinois, 17:52 is there is an issue with phosphorus fertilizer runoff, and there's an issue with the fact that the soils in that particular part of Ohio and in my part or most of Illinois, are fairly rich in phosphorus anyway. 18:03 So when the soil erodes, um, get phosphorus in the, in the water and nitrogen is the same, is the same one. Okay? 18:11 So if we get this thing figured out that fall nitrogen in excess is detrimental or degrades biology, when we get it figured out, are we gonna see, 18:21 is this like the next revolution? You know, when we came up with, what's it called, the Haber Bosch, uh, method of creating nitrogen, 18:30 it was like, oh my God, we just caught lightning in a bottle. Is now the management of nitrogen and that way to the benefit 18:41 of soil? Is this the next lightning in a bottle thing? Well, and here's the best way to explain this, and, and we're gonna talk about pivot specifically, 18:50 but it applies to a lot of other of the microbial type fertilizer suppliers, right? They are very dependent, or at least in my opinion, 18:58 with some data to back it up, are very dependent on this wock or water, extractable carbon to function. Okay? 19:06 And as we overly, if you wanna say overly or fall apply or improperly apply improperly time, however you wanna word that nitrogen, that's, 19:16 that's de detrimental to that WOC number that we number or realizing is even more important than even, you know, 19:23 we've been talking about this kind of in my circle the last three years, or maybe a little bit longer than that. It's even more important today, 19:30 I think than I, than we realized at the time we were talking about it. And it's because we're relying on things like pivot or source or any of these 19:37 biological type things to provide fertility, we have to have that wok portion. Mm-hmm. 19:43 And excess nitrogen is detrimental to wok specifically. So that's why is it gonna be a revelation or a revelation or a revolution like the, the Hayward Bosch process was probably not, 20:00 is it going to be something that differentiates your best managers from your average and low managers? Absolutely. 20:06 Because it's a way to not only save money because you're, you're utilizing more efficiently what the soil's already providing. Yep. 20:14 You know, Damien, we've got places where we're gonna have 0.3 pounds of applied nitrogen per bushel grown this fall. Okay? It takes, 20:23 no matter where you're at, it takes 1.1 roughly depending on genetics and other things, pounds of nitrogen to grow a bushel of corn. 20:31 Now that doesn't all have to be applied, and it quite often it's not. But you're, 20:37 you're talking about the difference between applying 80 to a hundred pounds of nitrogen growing 250 bushel corn and applying 20:42 a hundred sixty, a hundred seventy, a hundred sixty, a hundred seventy is still good, but you've still spent money there that you didn't need to spend. Yeah. 20:48 You're just talking about reduction by half. Well, in the 0.3 to 1.1 a third, you're talking about going down by a, 20:55 by two thirds and not sacrificing yield. That's, that's right Now as, as we raise yield, which is the hope, right? You know, we may not see our applied nitrogen fall, 21:06 but our nitrogen use efficiency, our n u e number is what we're really worried about as far as what dollars we're spending. Um, that should come down. 21:17 But Go Ahead. You have to have, you have to have, in order for the biology to work to provide that nitrogen or even the other nutrients, you have to have that wock and applying excess or having excess 21:29 fall nitrogen especially, but all year long is detrimental to that number. Mm-hmm. 21:35 All right. I think that's probably about it is, but I'm gonna let you give me the wrap up on, on, uh, the nitrogen, uh, excess thing. We talked about how to prevent it. 21:46 We talked about why it matters. Um, I'll give you this last thing. How much do you think this has been the, you know, the old commercials for, uh, 21:55 old windows, new windows, your old windows and these to be a guy that go over and like cut a hole in the wall and say, if you have old windows, 22:03 you might as well have a hole this big in your wall and all your heat's going outta there. By the way, the people in the like Florida are like, 22:09 what are they worried about heat anyway? Is there a demonstrable loss that we're gonna be in a few years going, holy hell, 22:19 we were because we over applied nitrogen, it actually cost us yield. Are we gonna see the hole in the wall window commercial kind of a thing? 22:27 Five years from now we're like, you're losing this much yield or losing this much money because of it. Well, Damien, at this point, we've been doing this so long that, you know, our, 22:38 our soils, uh, have been chronically overfed with nitrogen in some cases. And listen, this, 22:45 this topic kind of fits in with guys that are hardcore, no tillers and see no other way to do it. Guys that are hardcore cover croppers and I get it. And they, 22:53 they and guys that are, we'll say more conventional or more traditional managers are, are, are gonna have a tendency to throw it out because of that. 23:05 This, this is an issue not only in the short term as far as making money, but it's, it's an issue as far as we talk about the degradation of our soils. 23:13 And, you know, you'll have a groundless pushback. Well, that's not true. And this and that, or more productive or whatever. Um, 23:20 the degradation of something like weox is a, is a long-term problem in that if we don't change our management, it's, it's, is it gonna get worse in some ways? 23:31 But is it going to be something that's gonna cost us more and more money or make our margins more tight? Absolutely. And that, and that can be every year. 23:40 We are certainly not, uh, tree huggy types that are all about, oh, we should never use any synthetic products, whatever. 23:48 But you can make the case and this starts to go down that road, which is why I wanted you, I'm so happy when you proposed this topic. You know, 23:58 uh, the biome gut health, uh, these are all things that we talk about. And I'm talking about humans. You, you know, 24:05 the stuff we never really talked about and maybe they did a hundred years ago, and now we are again, uh, 24:12 using antibiotics and then overuse of antibiotics gets to where then the only way to cure, uh, antibiotic resistance is to go with bigger and harsher stuff. 24:22 You could make that case about some of our soils. We've been pumping stuff to it. 'cause there's money to be made pumping stuff to it, 24:27 and then the answer becomes pump more stuff to it. And we've, we haven't killed the soil biology, but we certainly, uh, harm. We're 24:35 Not, we're not harm. Yeah. We're not helping at all. I mean, and there are, I mean, we could, I could show you, 24:40 we could walk through the results of soil test after soil test that measure that water extractable carbon. And as much as some guys are not gonna wanna hear it, 24:49 the more tillage you do, and especially the more aggressive the tillage is, the more excess nitrogen you apply. 24:56 There is no question whatsoever that it a hundred percent drops numbers like wok, uh, on your soil test and has a, a, 25:05 an effect on profitability the next year. Whether you notice it or not. Well, maybe, I think this is the next thing, 25:12 and I think we're gonna cover this topic again from different angles. You know, in the 1950s we came up with soil samples and we learned about N P K and then by 25:21 God, we thought, let's put some more into it. And then we started learning about micronutrients and we started learning about organic matters, value for porosity or, you know, water infiltration. 25:30 And until today, I hadn't thought about the next thing being water extractable carbon, but thank you for bringing that up. His name's Matt Swanson, 25:40 extreme Ag Illinois guy. My name's Damian Mason. I want to ask you, uh, one way, on the way, on the way at the door here, 25:48 if you gave a plate of food to an athlete, but the athlete was injured, had sprained ankles and was also suffering from the flu, 25:55 would the plate of food with the nutrition do as much good as if the athlete were not injured and did not have the flu? Of course, 26:02 the nutrition will go further and you'll get more result. Kelly Garrett says, that's exactly what we do with our, with our fields. We put a whole bunch of, 26:11 uh, products and inputs out there to a stressed crop. So Kelly Garrett says, two years ago, I'm sitting in his office, 26:20 stress mitigation is gonna be my big thing. Stress mitigation, Damien is gonna be my big overriding theme in the year 2022. He did that. 26:27 So he applies accomplished max in furrow for stress mitigation. That's accomplish max. 26:32 It helps with stress mitigation starting from the very time the plant goes in, the seed goes in the ground to start to plant. You want healthier plants. 26:40 Visit loveland, loveland Alright, until next time, name is Matt Swanson. Thanks for being here buddy. Yep. 26:49 And this is extreme ag cutting the curve. That's a wrap for this episode of Extreme Ag Cutting the Curve. But there is plenty more available by visiting Extreme 26:59 For over 50 years, farmers have turned to the proven lineup of crop inputs offered by Loveland products, from seed treatments, plant nutrition, adjuvant, 27:08 and crop protection products. Loveland has the complete lineup to keep your farming operation productive, and most importantly, profitable. Check out loveland to learn more.