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Northern Illinois Agriculture

University of Illinois Extension
2013 diers harvest

Fall nitrogen aid for corn stover degradation?

Corn and soybeans trials are being harvested today at the NIARC. I have noticed most of the researchers have dug in their closets and wisely brought their cold weather gear for harvest operations. Lack of sunshine and windy conditions makes harvesting with the cab-less plot combines an invigorating experience.

A recent conversation with a grower brought up the practice of applying nitrogen on corn stalks in the fall for the purpose of enhancing corn stalk degradation. Is this practice merited in northern Illinois?

Dr. Fabain Fernandez addressed this topic in a 2011 Illinois Bulletin article. He shared that corn stover has become more of a management concern over the years as new hybrids produce stronger stalks, relatively larger amounts of biomass, and increased corn-on-corn acres are planted. Stronger stalks are a desirable trait to help with standability of the crop but the drawback is that these materials are more difficult to break down in time for the following growing season.

Referencing the practice of applying urea-ammonium nitrate (UAN) or ammonium sulfate (AMS) to increase microbial activity and induce residue decomposition on the high C:N ratio stalks. Dr. Fernandez shared University of Wisconsin research that showed no benefit for fall application of nitrogen to increase microbial decomposition of corn residue. They observed that applying N did not change the C:N ratio. An additional consideration for 2013 is the current soil temperature. This mornings soil temperature measured at 4" at the NIARC was 39.6, a further hindrance to fall microbial activity.

The Illinois bulletin article can be accessed here

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