Peter Scharf, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO, Newell R Kitchen, USDA-ARS, Columbia, MO, Kenneth A Sudduth, University of Missouri, USDA-ARS Cropping Systems & Water Quality Research Unit, Columbia, MO, D. Kent Shannon, University of Missouri Extension, Columbia, MO and David Dunn, University of Missouri, Portageville, MO
Nitrate in soil after harvest represents the most vulnerable pool of N for transfer to surface waters and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Applying precisely as much N fertilizer as the crop needs reduces the pool of vulnerable post-harvest soil nitrate. Achieving this precision requires intensive diagnosis because optimal N fertilizer rate varies widely from field to field and from place to place within a field. Canopy reflectance sensors offer a promising tool for diagnosis of optimal N rate and simultaneous control of variable-rate N applications. This approach can be used in a range of crops. In 55 on-farm trials, using sensors to guide N rates in corn reduced N use by 16 kg N/ha while increasing yield by 110 kg/ha relative to N rates chosen by cooperating producers. In 6 on-farm cotton trials, sensors reduced N use by 7 kg/ha while increasing cotton lint yield by 40 kg/ha. Additional cotton trial outcomes will be added before the meeting. Canopy sensor-based N management appears to be a cost-effective way to precisely meet crop needs while reducing the pool of post-harvest soil nitrate that is vulnerable to loss.