Nitrogen calculator aids decision-making

A new tool developed with the help of a Manitoba Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (ARDI) grant may help quantify economic benefit of nitrogen applications.

An ARDI release notes that Manitoba’s nitrogen application guidelines for wheat, barley and canola are almost 20 years old, and that since then any farmers have moved away from cropping systems that included tilling fallow to minimum till or no-till, reducing erosion and allowing for continuous cropping. In addition, varieties that were popular before 1990 are not even on the market today.

In 2004, ARDI provided a $35,000 grant to allow Western Co-operative Fertilizers Ltd (Westco) to pull together years of nitrogen response research studies. Westco conducted this work on behalf of the Manitoba Soil Fertility Advisory Committee.

All the data relating to wheat, barley and canola yields, nitrogen applications and soil conditions has now been entered into an electronic “calculator” that farmers can use to run different scenarios, plugging in their own data for average yields, soil moisture, residual nitrogen in the soil, the cost of nitrogen fertilizer and the price of the crop. In an instant, the calculator provides guidance on what the economic consequences of applying nitrogen at different rates might be.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when fertilizer is $750 per tonne, you’ll make less than when it’s $450 per tonne,” Dr. Rigas Karamanos, Agronomy Manager for Viterra said in the release. “But, what we’re doing is zeroing in on the rate at which you make the maximum net return.”

The release says farmers shouldn’t expect the calculator to accurately predict yields, since there is no way to capture all the relevant factors, such as management practices, ecological conditions or inputs other than nitrogen. But, since the calculator relies upon Manitoba field data as its baseline, it does provide an important guideline.

The calculator was recently reviewed at the Manitoba Soil Fertility Advisory Committee, where a motion to make it available online to Manitoba farmers was unanimously approved. After user testing is complete, the calculator will be posted online at www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/research/ardi.

ARDI is a research and development granting program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

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