Initial Field Evaluation of the Agro-Economic Effects of Determining Nitrogen Fertilizer Rates with a Recently-Developed Soil Test Methodology


Although agriculture is not the only contributor of excess nutrients to US waters, agriculture is an important contributor and should do its part to reduce nutrient loading. One important step in reducing agricultural contribution is to accurately account for all sources of plant available nutrients so that only needed nutrients are applied. In this study, three fertilizer rate treatments were evaluated: no fertilizer (control), traditional rate, and reduced rate based on a recently-developed enhanced soil test methodology. For each of nine sites in Texas, fertilizer data (formulation, rate, cost, and application date) and crop data (yield, price, and harvest date) were recorded, and economic throughput (profit) was determined. In this four year study, fertilizer rates were reduced 30%-50% (and fertilizer costs reduced 23%-39%) based on enhanced soil test methodology recommendations for wheat, corn, oats, and grain sorghum, but yields were not significantly reduced (0%-6%) and oat yields actually increased 5%. Profit decreased <1% for corn and increased 7%-18% for wheat, oats, and grain sorghum with reduced fertilizer rates. Although these changes were not statistically significant, they do represent benefit through increased profit potential and decreased input cost and production risk. In only 6% of the time was the traditional fertilizer rate the most profitable, compared to 51% for the unfertilized treatment and 43% for the enhanced soil test treatment. These results do not indicate that fertilizer application should be avoided but that fertilizer rates should be carefully chosen considering all sources of plant available nutrients (e.g., mineralization, irrigation water, nutrients deeper in the soil profile) to ensure that fertilizer is applied at the optimal rate.

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R. Harmel and R. Haney, "Initial Field Evaluation of the Agro-Economic Effects of Determining Nitrogen Fertilizer Rates with a Recently-Developed Soil Test Methodology," Open Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 3 No. 2, 2013, pp. 91-99. doi: 10.4236/ojss.2013.32010.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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