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Angie Peltier

Angie Peltier
Former Extension Educator, Commercial Agriculture

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Hill and Furrow

Current topics about crop production in Western Illinois, including field crops research at the NWIARDC in Monmouth.
Figure. How to take soil samples with a soil probe, an
auger, and a spade (Source: Figure 8.1 in the 2009 Illinois Agronomy Handbook).

Wondering how much N will be left in your soils come spring?

Be a part of the 2012-2013 Illinois Soil Nitrogen Monitoring Project and find out!

To help fine-tune or reduce spring 2013 nitrogen applications in areas with residual nitrogen remaining from the 2012 growing year, N concentrations will be quantified from soil sampled from around the state this Fall and next Spring. This monitoring project has been initiated by the University of Illinois and the Illinois Council of Best Management Practices (BMPs). The ICBMP is a coalition of agribusiness and agricultural organizations that is interested in improving water quality through the adoption of BMPs.

Drs. Emerson Nafziger and Fabián Fernandez, Extension Specialists at the University of Illinois, recently summarized how the 2012 drought may affect soil nitrogen concentrations next spring in a Bulletin article:

"The low corn yields and early death of the crop in dry areas of the state have resulted in a great deal of N in Illinois soils, both from fertilizer and from mineralization of soil organic matter. Because soil microbes convert ammonium to nitrate over time, we can expect that nearly all of this N is in the form of nitrate.

Nitrate is a form of N that plant roots can take up, of course. But it's also a form that, unlike ammonium, moves readily in the soil. With no roots present in most fields to take up nitrate, the nitrate in the soil now is subject to downward movement with water. If it stays relatively dry between now and next spring, some of this nitrate may remain in the soil to be available for next year's crop. Having a lot of soil N present now might help some producers decide to cut fall N rates, in case the amount of N carried over into the spring means less total N will be needed. Also, knowing how much nitrate remains in the soil next spring can help us fine-tune N rates if corn in 2013 follows corn in 2012.

If there is enough rainfall to get tile lines to run, we can expect some of the nitrate to leave the field in drainage water or to migrate below the root zone. In fields without tile drainage, wet soil conditions (while soil temperatures are above 50°F) can also result in conversion of nitrate to nitrous oxide or nitrogen gas, both of which will leave the soil. Knowing how much nitrate is present this fall can help us know how much loss there might be before corn or soybean roots next spring start taking up what N is left."

For those Certified Crop Advisors, agricultural professionals, and individual producers interested in participating in this project and obtaining complimentary soil nitrate testing results, there is a detailed sampling protocol. Although a soil probe is the best implement for taking soil samples, an auger or a spade can also be used as long as care is taken to collect an exact depth with a constant slice thickness. No specialized equipment is required!

Contact Dr. Nafziger ( to obtain sample bags and shipping containers. To minimize shipping costs, folks are asked to coordinate sending samples from multiple sites in the same shipping box.

Contact me {; (309) 734-5161} if you live near the Warren County Extension Office and would like to participate, but are physically unable to collect soil samples.

Results will be placed on a map as they become available, with no identification of producers or GPS coordinates.

Additional Resource: Ch. 8: Managing Soil pH and Crop Nutrients in the 2009 Illinois Agronomy Handbook.


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