JenREES 3/1/21

March is here and it sounds like we’re in for a beautiful week temperature-wise! The following website may be helpful for those wondering about frost layer depth: It’s updated on Thursday’s and is saying about 4” now. The snow greatly insulated the soil with the cold temps!

UNL Nitrogen Equation: There’s several ways nitrogen recommendations are figured. Often nitrogen removal from the grain is factored and varies by the entity figuring it from 1.0-1.3 lbs N per bushel of grain. One difference between the UNL equation and soil test labs is that the UNL one takes into account organic matter. Some don’t like this and feel the equation mines nitrogen while the UNL soil scientists feel they’re conservative with the way the remainder of the equation is built.

The UNL N recommendation for corn grain (lb/ac) = [35 + (1.2 × EY) – (8 × NO3-N ppm) – (0.14 × EY × OM) – other N credits] × Priceadj × Timingadj where:

EY = expected yield (bu/ac) which should be about 105% of the five-year yield average
NO3-N ppm = average nitrate-N concentration in the root zone (2–4 foot depth) in parts per million
OM = percent soil organic matter (with a minimum of 0.5 and a 3 percent maximum)
Other N credits include N from previous legume crop, manure and other organic material applied, and irrigation water N.
Priceadj = adjustment factor for prices of corn
N Timingadj = adjustment factor for fall, spring, and split applications

The UNL nitrogen equation uses a weighted average soil nitrate test for the ppm Nitrate. A minimum depth of 2 feet is required. Thus, with a 0-8” soil sample, one needs to account for a weighted average. If ones doesn’t, the equation will overestimate the amount of soil nitrate and result in a lower requirement than what may be needed. If one doesn’t have a deep sample, use a default of 3 ppm for silt loam/silty clay loam soils or 1.5 ppm for sandy soils in the 2 foot depth. The Extension circular “Fertilizer Recommendations for Corn” ( explains this in detail with an example. There is also an excel spreadsheet that does this when the depth of soil samples taken is inputted. A more visual excel spreadsheet is also available at the following website by scrolling to “Corn Nitrogen Recommendations Calculator”

Other nitrogen credits include N from previous legume crops, manure applied, and irrigation water. The UNL equation credits soybean as the previous crop for 45 lbs of N due to nitrogen scavenging abilities and the increased mineralization from their low carbon to nitrogen ratio. On-farm research studies in this part of the State found, in irrigated soybean, we could credit more: 1 lb of nitrogen for every bushel of soybean raised up to 60 bushels (so up to 60 lb N ‘credit’ from soybean).

Irrigation water often contains a significant amount of nitrate-N (and other nutrients including sulfur) that is readily available to corn. Dr. Charlie Wortmann shared, for every 10 acre-inches of water applied, one can take ppm in the sample X 2.265 to determine lbs of the nutrient applied via irrigation. Irrigation amounts vary from year to year, so one could take a three-year average for irrigation amount.

I use the equation without the price and timing adjustment. Higher corn prices will show that one can apply more nitrogen economically. However, the research curve will show little to no yield increase for that additional nitrogen. The timing adjustment assumes nitrogen loss in the fall, building in N for that, and assigns a small reduction if applying nitrogen in-season. You can look at this in more detail for your own operation and the spreadsheet makes it more visual to look at these effects.

About jenreesources

I'm the Crops and Water Extension Educator for York and Seward counties in Nebraska with a focus in irrigated crop production and plant pathology.

Posted on March 1, 2021, in JenREES Columns and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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