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Northern Illinois Agriculture

University of Illinois Extension

Nitrogen; will it stay or will it go?

The wild card in any discussion of overwintering nutrients is nitrogen. Even in areas that had better than expected yields we found high levels of nitrogen in the nitrate form in the top 12 inches of the soil profile. 2012 was a year of limited nitrogen usage and loss. Several samples pulled in DeKalb and in Grundy County recorded 29 ppm of Nitrate N in the top 12 inches of the soil profile, which equates to 116 pounds of nitrogen. Corn plants normally do a very good job of reaching the nitrogen in the upper 24 inches of the soil profile. To account for this we also measured at a depth of 12 to 24 inches and recorded another 40 pounds of nitrate nitrogen. Those who remember the nitrogen cycle know that nitrate nitrogen has a negative charge, is not held by the soil particles and most importantly is water soluble. It is this nitrogen that we will measure again in the spring that we have the greatest concern of losing, largely dependent on the weather conditions we experience this winter and next spring. If dry conditions persist much of this nitrogen could be available and could be a considerable advantage, especially for those with corn on corn acres. How dry does it need to be to prevent the loss of this nitrogen? We think it is realistic to think that if your tiles lines start running, likely it will be carrying nitrogen with it. A number of monitoring sites have been established to determine how much and how quickly the N loss may or may not occur.

Dr. Emerson Nafziger shared his initial report on the Illinois Soil Nitrogen Monitoring Project today, read his article in its entirety here

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