Smart nitrogen, productive soil

Soil is the ultimate foundation for healthy crops and wholesome food production. In recognition of this, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) named 2015 the International Year of Soils.

The UN’s goal is to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of healthy soil. Healthy soil is critical for growing global food production. It’s the foundation for fuel, fibre and medicine, and plays an important environmental role, storing and filtering water, and improving resilience in floods and droughts.

Causes of soil degradation include erosion, compaction, salinization, nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and more. Unless new management approaches are adopted, the FAO predicts the amount of productive land per person globally will dramatically reduce by 2050.

Smart grower practices

Growers in North America are leaders in adopting new management approaches that support soil health. Smart technological advancements like precision application via GPS and ESN are also helping growers manage soil sustainability – the next step in our no till evolution. GPS allows growers to target specific field areas for treatment, reducing compaction. ESN helps ensure crops get the right amount of nitrogen when they need it.

“ESN greatly reduces the risk of nitrogen loss,” explains Dr. Alan Blaylock, Agronomy Manager with Nutrien. Nitrogen losses occur when nitrogen converts to a gas and escapes into the atmosphere or moves below the root zone, out of a plant’s reach.

“A single ESN application feeds a crop throughout the growing season, leading to improved nitrogen efficiency, and reduced leaching, volatilization and denitrification,” Blaylock says.

Blaylock says growers have been very creative in finding ways to make ESN technology effective in different nutrient management systems. “ESN helps them do a better job with their nitrogen, be more profitable, and be better stewards of this important input,” he says.

Brad Burton is one of these innovative farmers, working to create a sustainable crop production system while keeping soil conservation top of mind.

“I take pride in the fact that we as an industry understand sustainability. We understand that there are things we need to do differently with soil and nutrients to utilize them better. We’re doing what we need to do as farmers and stewards of the soil to help feed 9 billion people by 2050,” he says.

Burton and his family grow corn and soybeans, with some pork production on the side, at Delphi, Indiana. He says using ESN helps increase the sustainability of his operation because of its unique slow release properties.

“It’s a great way to deliver nitrogen to the crop. We believe in a split application of nitrogen, so the crop can pick up nitrogen from several different sources. ESN is a tool in our toolbox that we use to get to that,” Burton says.

While farming continues to change at a rapid pace, Burton says growers continually respond to new science and technology.

“Once you have the knowledge to move forward, you use it to create a new situation. You make that change, you adjust. That’s where we’re going with technology in agriculture now,” he says. “And that’s where we’re going with products like ESN – making adjustments that will help conserve the environment.”

Learn more about the International Year of the Soil at