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Precision technology to optimize nutrients and protect the environment

Fabián Fernández has history in Midwest ag research, having worked in Illinois before moving to the University of Minnesota, and he’s seen the challenges of improving nutrient practices.

“When we make nutrient decisions, we don’t always think about availability,” Fernández said to a room full of precision agriculture professionals at the Info Ag conference in St. Louis this year.

That means considering the area where corn or other crops have active roots—where there’s water, and therefore the ability to uptake nutrients.

His research has focused more on phosphorus than nitrogen because there’s more nitrogen in soil.

Fernández tries to answer questions such as “If we apply P and K in a band, can we reduce the rate?”

Most phosphorus is absorbed at the surface level, Fernández said.

His team also discovered that in terms of the organic matter there was a significant increase in strip till versus no-till.

On the other hand, they also saw lower soil penetration resistance at 5 inches for strip till—meaning tillage made it easier for corn to spread its roots through the soil.

“Planting no-till, there was a more stressful environment going in and not only was there more stress to produce that system, but it was kept in place for the whole season,” Fernández said. “You see that for both P and K, strip till was much more efficient. These plants were able to take what they needed with less (energy) expenditure needed.”

In that case, he said, the application’s success didn’t have to do with the placement, it had to do with the tillage.

“When we focus on applying P and K, we should be focused on availability, not how we apply the nutrient,” Fernández said.

Eliot Caroom

Eliot wrote about AgTech, aerial images, and other farming topics for Ceres Imaging. His past work includes local newspaper reporting, oil market news, and covering sustainable investing.

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