Skip to main content

Protect water quality by maximizing nitrogen

Many of us in agriculture – in businesses and producer operations alike – are following the situation farmers are facing in Iowa.

Several Iowa counties are being sued by a downriver consumer group. Like it or not, we expect more such actions in the future. Rather than waiting for legal confrontations or additional government restrictions, growers everywhere have options for reducing runoff.

Reducing tillage helps improve soil health and water absorption. Filter strips and buffer zones reduce erosion along with runoff. Cover crops also help keep soil in place.

Another strategy is to pair a nitrogen management aid with urea, anhydrous ammonia, UAN or manure to keep nitrogen in the ground.

"By using these types of products we can use less nitrogen while maintaining yields," said David Dunn, Supervisor of Soil Testing Lab at the University of Missouri Fisher Delta Research Center, Portageville, Missouri.

"Keeping the nitrogen in the soil prevents nitrogen loss, which can seep into soil or create greenhouse gasses," said Dunn.

Brandon McMillan is Director of Product Development and Research at AgXplore which offers nitrogen management products.

"This year it's been very wet across the corn belt," said McMillan. "At times like this, leaching can become an issue."

According to McMillan, the goal is to keep nitrogen in the root zone, or the top two feet of soil. Because nitrogen breaks down easily, the purpose of a nitrogen management product is to capture the nitrogen in the soil in a stable and available form.

Increasing Yields

McMillan said AgXplore's NZONE nitrogen management aid has shown in research trials to save 47 percent more nitrogen. "When we keep the nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil, they're available to crops. In our trials, NZONE helps increase yields 87 percent of the time."

Dunn said his studies were similar, showing higher yields in crops treated with the NZONE technology.

Decreasing Fertilizer Use

"We've also been able to demonstrate these improved yields with a lower rate of fertilizer usage," said McMillan. Research shows fertilizer can be reduced by 25 percent without affecting yields when the product is used.

"Reducing the nutrient load per acre helps keep it out of the water," said McMillan.

Better Root Systems

"Plants grown with the addition of NZONE also have bigger and more complex root systems," he said. "That means better uptake of water and nutrients."

"This year in wet areas we're seeing a lot of corn roots going lateral instead of deep," said McMillan. That can cause problems with lodging and disease. But with our product, you'll see larger root weight and mass, so the corn is healthier and stronger."

AgXplore research is focused on soil and plant health, as well as developing environmentally friendly products for our growers. To learn more about AgXplore's nitrogen management aids and other ongoing research projects visit