Grant allows team to study nitrogen support tools
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — With the award of a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, a regional team of soil fertility experts is studying how in-season nitrogen support tools compare to current nitrogen recommendations.
Led by Dr. Nicole Fiorellino, University of Maryland Extension agronomist, the project aims to implement commercialized nitrogen-modeling products and other tools that use in-season data to inform decision making on sidedress applications to corn.
She said the results could be the basis for updating the university’s recommendations on fertilizer use.
“We’ve been keeping our eyes peeled for an opportunity to do this kind of research,” Fiorellino said. “It sounds like a simple thing to do — just change the regulations — but it takes a lot of time and money to do this type of research.”
Fiorellino said the $1.6 million grant will include at least two years worth of on-farm research.
“The major caveat of this grant is that it’s done on farms and not only at research centers,” she said.
With Extension soil fertility specialists Dr. Amy Shober in Delaware re and Charlie White in Pennsylvania among those involved, the team will soon begin identifying farmers and sites across across the three states to participate in the research and hope to begin the project in this year’s growing season.
Using separate and proprietary technology, these nitrogen support tools, which include Corteva’s Granular and Yara’s Adapt-N product, use data on field conditions, weather, crop growth and economics to feed an algorithm to generate recommendations on fertilizer rates, variable rate application and application timing.
With wider adoption in Midwest states than in the Mid-Atlantic, the tools’ goal is to increase crop yields while being more efficient with nitrogen. The more nutrients taken up by crops and not at risk of leaching into waterways could also help the Chesapeake Bay watershed states reach water quality goals in their Watershed Improvement Plans.
“We hope these tools can help us reach all of that,” Fiorellino said. “We’re hoping they’re going to perform well but we need to do some ground truthing before the university makes recommendations.”
A second component of the five-year grant, likely to follow the field research, focuses on determining what incentives work best to attract farmers to increase adoption of new conservation practices.
For that portion, the team is partnering with Dr. Leah Palm-Forster, UD assistant professor of applied economics, to offer actual money to farmers who participate and implement practices. Fiorellino described the incentive research aspect as a type of auction where farmers could bid on the practices they would most want to put in place on their farm. One-third of the grant funding is marked for the incentive portion, she added.
“It really fits the goal of what they’re looking for in how do we increase the adoption of these practices,” she said.
Farmers who are interested in participating in the project or want more information can contact Fiorellino by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.