There are two primary factors that lead to increased plant vigor, growth and productivity – carbon fixation by stimulating photosynthesis and nitrogen (N) uptake and utilization. When you can achieve these activities within the plant, the result that inevitably follows is a healthier, higher-yielding crop.

But how can farmers further access this performance potential from corn, soybeans and cereals?

The collective goal is to apply adequate pounds of nitrogen to produce expected yield while minimizing environmental factors. One bushel of corn requires anywhere from less than 1 Lb. of nitrogen to as much as 1.5 Lbs. of nitrogen. Once optimal nitrogen rates are determined to maximize yield, along with consideration for soil and climate condition factors, there are some best practices to follow in order to manage available nitrogen:

  • Apply nitrogen in accordance with crop demand, when it needs nitrogen the most.
  • Plant nitrogen-rich cover crops.
  • Control nitrogen fertilizer losses due to volatilization, leaching and denitrification.

At Commodity Classic in March 2016, Gary Tuxhorn, Ph.D., principal scientist with United Suppliers, presented part of a What Is New (WIN) educational session on converting nitrogen to bushels as well as improving efficient N uptake throughout the season. We recently talked with him more about that very topic.

Tuxhorn acknowledges it can be tricky to manage nutrients to ensure the highest metabolic efficiency, plant performance and, ultimately, yield.

“Nitrogen utilization in the soil is complex,” Tuxhorn says. “Most of the nitrogen that goes into the plant is used to make amino acids and build protein, to build chlorophyll and to increase the rate the plant takes in nutrients from the soil. These are all critical functions to the health and success of any crop.”

When the nitrogen cycle and loss of N to the environment affects yield, return on fertilizer investment is also impacted. Thanks to Mother Nature, less than 50 percent of applied nitrogen is utilized to its full potential, which curbs a crop’s ability to manage yield-limiting stressors.

“Plants need a strong metabolism and root system to take up adequate amounts of nitrogen during key growth stages,” he adds. “With more roots and shoots established, crops can access more nutrients in the soil and work to build a robust plant, and that can mean greater yield.”

When plants are utilizing N more effectively, you will see stronger, healthier crops, which become a bigger, more efficient machine that can support reproductive growth and add more bushels.

“As the plant continues its growth processes, such as photosynthesis and root development, more nutrients are utilized,” Tuxhorn says. “More N utilization results in larger stalks and leaves, faster and denser canopy development, and optimum yield potential. Larger, healthier plants are able to catch more sunlight, take up more nutrients and fend off yield-limiting stressors.”

Improving efficient N uptake throughout the season helps the plant to handle stress windows during key growth stages. It also presents opportunities for early foliar nutritional enhancements, such as United Suppliers’ Symbol/Advance product, which is powered by Take Off® technology from Verdesian Life Sciences and includes essential nutrients such as sulfur and potassium.

A new agronomic focus for many retailers is now on offering their farmer-customers solutions that can better utilize N uptake and manage these two factors that impact yield.