Nitrogen management: Q&A with Graduate Research Assistant Eric Winans

Eric Winans

What have the last three years of nitrogen management taught us? We recently spoke with University of Illinois Graduate Research Assistant Eric Winans at the Top Producer Summit in Chicago about his research findings.

Watch the video above or read the article below to hear from Eric on nitrogen management, particularly in Illinois.

Q: Can you summarize what 2019 looked like, and what were some wins and losses?

A: 2019 in general was record precipitations across the state north to south, and across most of the country, earlier in the spring through the end of May. Most of the central and southern part of the state had droughts through most of July, and up north we had continued rains well through grain fill and things never really seemed to dry down. It seemed like it went from warm weather to cold in a snap and we had early snows and bad standability issues. The cons are obvious – this was just a very rough year, but the pros are that we had a unique year from a research perspective so we learned things that we wouldn’t typically learn in a normal year.

Q: Illinois is a heavy ammonia state, especially in the fall. Do you see that changing with the past two falls that we’ve had to face?

A: I can see it going one of two ways. From an environmental standpoint, I think it’s smarter to not put nitrogen on in the fall with as wet as it has been. But I can see it going the other way too. If the farmer is convinced that he can protect his ammonia and put it on in the fall, that’s more convenient for him in some instances with how wet our springs have been.

Q: Do you see ESN playing a role in that ammonia, helping the farmer make that decision on what they’re going to do?

A: Yeah I do. With these wetter springs becoming more of a normality, if farmers are going to be switching their operations to look more towards spring applications of nitrogen, I think ESN is an excellent source because it gives you a little more flexibility in your applications. With these wet springs, you can protect some of that nitrogen and have it last you through most of the season.

Q: When you’re looking at your research, what’s the best application method that you see for ESN?

Looking at just ESN, the best application method that we’ve seen (we’re focused mainly on spring applications) is banded beneath the crop row. We’re big advocates for banded fertility because planted populations are continuing to increase year to year. With more plants you’re going to have to be innovative in ways to better feed those plants. In my opinion, ESN was made for the band to go beneath the crop row to go below the future seed.

Looking at it from a whole systems approach, we know that you need to have some nitrogen on right from the start and some of that needs to be available. If I were to pick a system that I think would be optimal it would be to put ¼ of your nitrogen on as urea or UAN with the planter and put the rest on as ESN.

Q: Where do you see the future of fertility as a whole?

A: With regulations becoming more and more prevalent I think we’re going to have to bury that fertilizer instead of putting it on the surface, so I think banding nitrogen and phosphorus is going to become a pretty common practice. Strip-tilling and banding that fertilizer beneath the crop row is going to become more and more prevalent. As farms grow in size and our windows for fieldwork become narrower, I think there’s going to be more farmers trying to put all of their fertilizer on at once in the springtime with the planter. That’s why I think ESN is a great product – you can put your full rate on ahead of planting and feel comfortable with it.

For more research results from the University of Illinois Crop Physiology department, click here.

To learn how ESN works, click here.

Questions or comments? Tweet us @SmartNitrogen.