October 14, 2009
Contacts: See list below

Northern NY Research Helps Reduce Farm Fertilizer Costs

Northern New York - Northern New York farmers and Cornell researchers are identifying ways to reduce the use of fertilizer and associated costs without sacrificing crop yield. The result is better use of existing on-farm nutrient resources (manure, cover crops, crop rotation), lower fertilizer costs, and environmental benefits.

This research and extension work is co-funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program and New York Farm Viability Institute, and responds to needs and opportunities identified by farmers responding to a survey conducted by the Institute in 2007. That survey gave priority ranking to reducing high production input costs, crediting the nutrient value of manure as an input asset, and improving nitrogen management in crops.

“Fertilizer prices have increased dramatically in the past four years. This project helps farmers identify opportunities to reduce the need for fertilizer with resulting cost savings,” says project leader Quirine M. Ketterings, an associate professor and leader of the Nutrient Management Spear Program in the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University.

The research encourages farmers to use a combination of tests to precisely target fertilizer use on corn crops. Over past years, the research team has investigated two plant tests and three soil tests for their usefulness in fine-tuning nitrogen management for corn. The two tools with the most promise for NY farmers are the late season Corn Stalk Nitrate Test (CSNT) and the Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test (ISNT).

The CSNT is an end-of-season plant test that basically allows farmers to assess if corn had insufficient, optimal or excess nitrogen available during the growing season.

The ISNT is a soil test for potentially mineralizable organic nitrogen that allows for assessment of soil organic N supply potential. If the ISNT is above a certain level, research shows that field is highly likely to supply enough N through soil organic N mineralization and there is no need for additional fertilizer N. An ISNT below the critical level indicates that additional nitrogen is needed.

Ketterings says the combined use of the ISNT and CSNT has the potential to save farmers $50 to $100 per acre.

“We are evaluating the potential for nitrogen fertilizer savings on six farms in Northern New York and we estimate that those farms will realize a savings of 20 to 40 percent in their fertilizer budgets upon implementation of the use of the ISNT and CSNT-based nitrogen management,” Ketterings says.

Cornell researchers are working with farmers, Cornell Cooperative Extension educators, and crop consultants to compile field history data for the participating farms. They will use the tests and field histories to determine nitrogen needs for crops and to determine where reducing the use of N fertilizer and/or redistributing manure application can lead to lower N fertilizer costs and lower crop production costs.

“Corn growers independent of size or management style will benefit from this project through the continuing validation of the use of the ISNT and the CSNT as effective tools for corn nitrogen management, and through the cost savings for fields which the tools show have sufficient nitrogen through organic sources,” Ketterings says.

She adds that the project results will also be of use to livestock farmers and cash grain producers.

In addition to the whole-farm ISNT and CSNT assessment at six NNY farms, a field trial was established at the E.V. Baker Research Farm in Willsboro, NY, to investigate the performance of enhanced efficiency fertilizers under Northern New York growing conditions. The two fertilizers being compared to conventional N sources are Environmentally Smart Nitrogen (ESN) and Nutrisphere-N with urea.

“ESN is a polymer-coasted controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer. Nutrisphere-N is a polymer that can be added to urea (dry) or urea ammonium nitrate (liquid) fertilizer,” Ketterings says. “Many farmers have asked about the use of these products and their ability to eliminate sidedress application, but there is very little university research on these products in the Northeast. We initiated this two-year study in 2008.”

A fact sheet titled “Enhanced Efficiency Nitrogen Sources” is found on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org under Agricultural Environmental Management.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program also funds annual corn grain and corn silage variety trials to provide farmers with yield and quality data for corn hybrids grown under NNY farming conditions.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is a farmer-driven initiative to ensure the long term economic vitality of Northern NY’s agricultural production sector and agriculture’s important contributions to the protection and enhancement of the region’s environment and rich natural resource base and to communities in New York State’s six northernmost counties.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program awards grants for practical on-farm research, outreach and technical assistance and is supported by funds from the New York State Legislature through the long term support of the North Country’s State Senators, and with the support of NYS Assemblypersons from the region and other areas of the state.

The program receives support (funds, time, land, expertise, etc.) from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, the six Northern New York Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations, the W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, cooperating farms, agribusinesses across the region, and others.

Additional funding from the New York Farm Viability Institute (www.nyfvi.org) and Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (www.cuaes.cornell.edu) supports projects being conducted across the entire six-county NNY region in 2009. Learn more at www.nnyagdev.org.  # # #

ISNT/CSNT Project Leader:
Quirine M. Ketterings, Cornell University, 607-255-3061, qmk2@cornell.edu

Cornell Cooperative Extension Field Crop Educators for Northern NY:
• Clinton County: Peter Hagar, 518-561-7450
• Essex County: Anita Deming, 518-962-4810
• Franklin County: Carl Tillinghast, Stephen Canner, 518-483-7403
• Jefferson County: Mike Hunter, 315-788-8450
• Lewis County: Joe Lawrence, 315-376-5270
• St. Lawrence County: Stephen Canner, 315-379-9192

Northern New York Agricultural Development Program
Co-Chair Jon Greenwood: 315-386-3231
Co-Chair Joe Giroux: 518-563-7523
Website: www.nnyagdev.org

New York Farm Viability Institute: www.nyfvi.org