December 13, 2023

University releases web-based nitrogen management tool for corn growers

Sunshine on cornfield
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing

Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has updated a digital tool to make it easier for ag producers to determine appropriate nitrogen rates for individual fields.

The nitrogen tool allows users to input specifics for a producer’s individual fields, including soil characteristics, soil nitrate sampling data, organic matter, irrigation practices and economic information. The university designed the software to provide easy-to-access information sources to aid in the producer’s decision-making, drawing on decades of nitrogen management analysis and recommendation. Producers can access the tool here.

The tool automates a process that previously relied on paper documents and Excel spreadsheets. Ultimately, the update is intended to help producers increase profitability and environmental stewardship.

“Our goal is to make it really user-friendly for everyone,” said Laura Thompson, a Nebraska Extension ag technologies educator and co-coordinator of the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network. “It will allow people to use a research-based guideline that can result in more sustainable nitrogen management.”

The web-based tool provides robust, user-friendly capability to help producers set a yield goal under the university’s recommendation, said Nicholas Colgrove, an IANR Media software development specialist who was involved in the tool’s design.

“Nebraska growers are becoming more tech-savvy all the time, and they’re hungry for more technology-based solutions,” Colgrove said. “They want the information available to them wherever they are, whether in their tractor or at home. So making sure that the digital ag tool fits the mobile devices, the phones, was very important to us. That’s some of the feedback we received right away, that people want to be able to access it anywhere.”

Andrew Stech, who operates a farm in Osmond, was among the early testers of the digital tool. He described the app as “an easy-to-use tool that will help farmers fine-tune their nitrogen applications and maximize yield while minimizing the amount of nitrogen needed, which increases profitability.

“There are so many factors in farming that can affect nitrogen efficiency,” Stech said. “Lack of time and labor is a major issue in farming, and this app helps address the issue of keeping track of how much nitrogen each field needs.”

Another early tester was Jon Walz, who farms near Stapleton. Nebraska agriculture is “in a whole new era” that requires efficient digital tools such as the new app, he said. He especially liked that the app enables users to save and recall their field data, which enables efficiency and ease of use.

The data-saving feature is one of several capabilities meant to maximize the app’s utility. Another example, Thompson said, are buttons that link to excerpts from Husker field management resources.

Other additional features:

  • A producer can input data for each specific field.

  • Once data is entered and a nitrogen rate is set, the app provides information on a producer’s anticipated nitrogen-use efficiency.

  • In addition to the nitrogen rate recommendation, the software provides breakdowns of product needed per acre, total product needed for the field and product costs.

The app will be adjusted and updated over time. The software will collect limited and generalized user data to support improvements. Producers can opt in to provide more detailed information and help the university better understand user behavior and tool performance.

The university will provide training sessions for interested users.

“Nitrogen management is very challenging,” Thompson said. “There are very dynamic nutrient interactions in the environment, and that makes it very difficult for producers to manage. It’s important that producers have tools to help them do the best job possible to manage nitrogen efficiently. That way, they can meet their crop production needs and help with environmental considerations to make sure they’re not using excess.”

Digital technology provides an important tool for doing that, she said. The new app is part of a range of technologies to support nitrogen management, including variable-rate application tools, sensor-based management, aerial imagery and fertigation.

Nebraska producers “are looking for more of these technology pieces,” Colgrove said. “We’re going to try to keep it moving forward. I think there’s a real need for it.”