How technology is changing the face of nitrogen management

Supplying crops with the optimum amount of nitrogen can be difficult, especially with constantly changing variables like weather and soil content. And with the vast amount of land growers work with, it’s nearly impossible to know how crops are responding to nutrients at all points in the growth and uptake cycle – unless they have access to a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone).

Drones have replaced a task that was previously done by walking fields with a notepad in hand, allowing for coverage of more acres, as well as the capturing of data that cannot be seen by the human eye. The technology drones provide growers with will, among other things, help the farmer to tailor nitrogen (N) applications to crop needs. They can easily follow the crop during the growing season and show a grower that they need to apply additional N if the crop is showing signs of N deficiency.

So how does it work?

Most agriculture drones depend on multi-spectral imaging to spot problems with a crop’s health; specifically, they look at changes over time in visible light (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) light reflected by crops. These images are taken over time by drones, manned aircraft or satellites. It is possible to detect plant health from these images because plants reflect different amounts of visible green and NIR light, depending on how healthy they are. By measuring the changes in visible and NIR light reflected from a crop, we can spot potential health issues.

(Via Andrew Nixon, Best Drone for the Job)

In the world of agriculture, no two fields or crops are the same. Using drones for nitrogen management has taken a previously time-consuming task and provided a way for growers to more effectively and efficiently monitor the health of their crops. Technology is constantly evolving, and drones are the latest tool in the grower’s precision agriculture tool belt.

Another advancement in technology that is helping with N management is controlled release fertilizer. Currently, the only controlled release fertilizer available in broad acre agriculture is a product called ESN® SMART NITROGEN®. ESN is a urea granule encapsulated in a flexible polymer coating that protects nitrogen from loss mechanisms, and controls its release to match plant demand. This unique technology responds to soil temperature, an important factor in a plants growth rate. Crops get the nitrogen they need, when they need it. ESN is backed by over 800 crop years of testing by independent, third party research. The data is proof of performance for this unique product.

Learn more about how ESN can help optimize your N investment. Visit

It is important to follow the rules and regulations of drone safety. For a summary of drone regulations in your area, visit:


Transport Canada

Transport Canada Elevating Enforcement of Drone Rules


Federal Aviation Administration

An In-Depth Report on FAA Drone Regulations and their Impact on Ag