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Stackyard News Jan 2012

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Resist the Temptation to Apply Nitrogen Too Early

Met Office data from its new £33 million supercomputer suggests that this winter could be unusually mild and dry. So far, up to 20 January, apart from just a few days, temperatures have been well above freezing in many parts of the country so what are the consequences for fertiliser use?

GrowHow’s Arable Agronomist Allison Grundy says that to combat dry conditions farmers should follow a little an often approach to fertiliser applications.

Allison Grundy

Indications are that growers are already starting to think about how they can adapt their fertiliser plan to improve the chances of crops withstanding prolonged periods of dry weather. “In the main, considerations are focussed on applying a larger chunk of the total N requirement earlier in the season in an attempt to ensure that more of the fertiliser N requirement is taken up by the crop,” says GrowHow’s Arable Agronomist Allison Grundy. “However in my view this is a risky strategy. Large amounts of early N can increase lodging later in the season whilst at the same time applying N in less than ideal conditions can have a negative impact on the wider environment.”

She suggests that a more sensible strategy when conditions are dry is a little an often approach. “It is also essential to take full account of Soil Nitrogen Supply (SNS). New research has shown that many more fields would benefit from using the GrowHow N-Min service to measure how much N will come from the soil over the season. “What we must remember is that crops do have the capacity to compensate,” she says. “OSR, for example, takes up Nitrogen well into late June/early July. This means that in dry springs early applications of Nitrogen will be taken up by the crop later, when it can access it. This Mother Nature Effect can result in higher yields as has been borne out in the 2011 crop.”

Of course UK’s weather is notoriously difficult to predict – who can forget the Met Office’s barbecue summer! “Theoretically winter lasts until the spring equinox, March 21, when it can still snow – spring 2008 rings a bell! The mild conditions last autumn and, so far this winter, have produced some very forward crops which are unlikely to benefit from early doses of fertiliser N. In contrast however later drilled wheat and winter barley will respond to early applications of Nitrogen but only when conditions allow,” she concludes.

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