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Caring for crops and water quality through Nitrogen Smart

workshop near cornfieldNitrogen is the nutrient most often deficient for Minnesota crop production. But applications that
exceed crop needs can result in excess nitrogen moving to ground and surface water in the form of nitrates. Through Nitrogen Smart, a new educational program made possible through a partnership of University of Minnesota Extension, the Minnesota Corn Growers and the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center, agricultural producers learn to maximize return on their fertilizer investment while minimizing impacts on natural resources.

"There is a sense of urgency around water," says Brad Carlson, Extension crops educator in Mankato
who is leading the development of the curriculum. "Nitrogen Smart will help producers maximize economic return on investments while minimizing nitrogen losses that can affect water quality."

The series drew 350 farmers to workshops this spring and there are plans to offer workshops again in the winter.

Brad Carlson
Brad Carlson
As a recent Minnesota Cornerstone blog post by the Minnesota Corn Growers noted, workshops are tailored to fit specific regions of the state. "If Carlson and his team were in Crookston, the information presented reflected nitrogen management challenges and best management practices in the Crookston region. Ditto for the other stops in Fergus Falls, Willmar, St. Cloud, Lamberton, Waseca, Farmington and Rochester."

The Nitrogen Smart workshops deliver high-quality, research-based education so producers can learn:
  • Sources of nitrogen for crops
  • How nitrogen is lost from soil and how to reduce losses
  • How to manage nitrogen in drainage systems
  • What the new Nutrient Reduction Strategy and Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan mean for Minnesota producers
  • Fabián Fernández
    Fabián Fernández
  • Practices to refine nitrogen management, including split applications, alternative nitrogen fertilizers, soil and tissue testing and nitrogen models
Related efforts are reaching agricultural professionals, who then pass along the practices and information to producers through their work in crop consulting, fertilizer or machinery sales, and other industry work.

Fabián Fernández, Extension nutrient management specialist and an assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Food and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), led a nitrogen conference in Rochester and co-directed a nutrient management conference near Morton. Together, these February conferences reached over 450 agricultural professionals and producers.

Extension researchers and educators study how different management strategies impact the nitrogen cycle and take advantage of soil’s natural capacity to supply nitrogen for fertilization while minimizing nitrate in the water and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Extension has updated corn fertilizer recommendations for 2016, and provided additional recommendations for Minnesota's irrigated sands. Fernández and colleagues continue to conduct multiple research projects on both University research plots and Minnesota's farms. The Nitrogen Smart program is a way to keep producers up to date with information they can use right now.

To learn more, visit Nitrogen Smart on University of Minnesota Extension's website.

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