Monday, June 24, 2019

Efficient fertiliser use heralds better productivity for crops

June 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Machinery

New ways of using fertilisers could help meet increasing demands for protecting environmental assets while increasing farm profitability, new crop nutrition research suggests.

Getting the most out of bought-in fertilisers will be one of the most important management areas for UK crop producers in the coming years, says CF Fertilisers arable agronomist Allison Grundy.

Ensuring crops effectively use all available nutrients to maximise growth and minimise loss from the production system is one of the biggest challenges facing arable producers – whichever way you look at it, she says.

“It’s been driven from many directions, but many different factors are now highlighting the need for better fertiliser use to become a priority. The Clean Air Strategy clearly outlines the role agriculture plays in contributing to ammonia emissions and identifies ways in which this can be reduced.

“Nitrogen fertilisers contribute 25% to the total ammonia emissions produced by agriculture and one solution being proposed to reduce the amount emitted is to force growers to move away from straight urea, due to its higher rate of Nitrogen loss to the atmosphere at application.

“Presently, there are existing demands on how we can use Nitrogen fertiliser, such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) and the introduction of some Water Protection Zones (WPZ) that mean we have to look to use fertilisers more efficiently than we currently do.

Fertiliser choices

“Fortunately for growers, many of the practices that prove beneficial for the environment also improve production efficiency on-farm. High productivity can only be realised within a functioning environment.”

The term Nitrogen Fertiliser Use Efficiency (NFUE) is used to describe the recovery of nitrogen fertiliser applied to the crop, Ms Grundy explains.

“NfUE gives growers a clear picture of the impact their fertiliser choices are having on their production efficiency and can highlight where potential environmental concerns might result.

“Furthermore, there is good evidence that the higher the quality of fertiliser products used, the higher the NFUE achieved, especially with high grade ammonium nitrate such as Nitram (34.5%N).”

NfUE works by removing all other nitrogen sources from the overall NUE calculation so growers can see precisely how their bought-in fertiliser is performing, Allison Grundy adds.

“At the optimum nitrogen application, we’re looking at the amount removed by the crop minus that that would have been taken up if no nitrogen had been applied. This value is then divided by the optimum amount of fertiliser applied.

Trial results

“For example, in milling wheat trials carried out by arable research contractors Armstrong, applying zero N to trial plots produced 4.2 t/ha whereas applying the optimum nitrogen rate of 254kg N/ha produced 10.4t/ha.

“The nitrogen offtake – nitrogen in the crop at harvest  – was 68kg N/ha for the crop with no fertiliser added and 257kg N/ha where the optimum amount was applied giving a final equation of 257, which is 68 divided by 254, equalling 74%.”

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