BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The severe drought of 2012 prevented the
Illinois corn crop from fully utilizing plant-available nitrogen due to lack of
water and extreme heat.
In an effort to inventory and track the unused nitrogen in
the soil remaining after harvest and determine best management practices to
address this residual nitrogen, the Illinois Council on Best Management
Practices launched a new soil testing program called N-WATCH.
Working in conjunction with University of Illinois Extension
crop production specialist Emerson Nafziger, the council provided training to ag
retailers and farmers on the N-WATCH procedures and importance of the program.
The industry responded and took more than 300 N-WATCH soil
samples throughout the state following the 2012 harvest. The council, with
funding assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources
Conservation Service, paid the cost of the shipping and analysis of the soil
Nafziger’s summary of the data collected from the fall
sampling effort can be found online at http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu/?p160.
Samples collected after harvest revealed that the remaining
nitrate still was in the upper soil profile and potentially available for the
2013 corn crop.
However, with recent rains, N-WATCH samples collected in
March and April now show a significant amount of the drought-related residual
nitrate has moved deeper into the soil, making it unavailable to the 2013 crop
and susceptible to loss. As a result, there is increased potential of elevated
nitrate levels in water.
To provide timely information about nutrient movement, the
council shared the N-WATCH results with the ag industry, the Illinois
Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
In addition, the council recently hosted a webinar to
discuss the results with water supply officials in priority watersheds in
central and eastern Illinois.
“The N-WATCH program is a new tool and gives ag retailers
and farmers the ability to estimate plant-available nitrogen and adjust
application timing and rates accordingly to minimize environmental impact and
maximize nitrogen efficiency,” said Mike Plumer, CBMP coordinator.
The Illinois Council on Best Management Practices represents
the combined efforts of Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Corn Growers
Association, the Illinois Soybean Association, the Illinois Fertilizer and
Chemical Association, the Illinois Pork Producers Association and Syngenta Crop
For information about how to participate in N-WATCH, contact
local ag retailers or phone (309) 827-2774.