Protect your nitrogen investment

March 19, 2024
Ryan Hageman, an agronomy and fertilizer expert with CHS, offers insights on how nitrogen loss can occur and how nitrogen stabilizer products help keep more of the vital nutrient in the root zone so it’s available when crops need it the most.

Nitrogen is a key nutrient to grow corn and other crops but is susceptible to loss in air and water. Nitrogen stabilizers can help protect your investment by holding nitrogen in place until developing crops are ready to use it.

“Nitrogen is an essential nutrient and any green, growing crop needs it,” says Ryan Hageman, an agronomy and fertilizer expert with CHS. “Crops need to have nitrogen, or a supplemental source of nitrogen, added to maximize their production and efficiency.”

How Nitrogen Loss Happens

Dry or liquid forms of nitrogen – urea, UAN or anhydrous ammonia – are all susceptible to loss through naturally occurring biological processes. 

How nitrogen loss occurs depends on where it’s positioned in the soil, Hageman explains. If nitrogen is deposited in the top 2 inches of soil, it’s at risk of volatilization. This process is caused by enzymes that break down nitrogen and convert it to ammonia gases that are released into the atmosphere. 

Nitrogen deposited deeper in the soil can experience loss through denitrification. Nitrogen can also move with water through the soil profile, which is called leaching.

“One thing that can be a really detrimental when leaching occurs is the environmental impact of that process,” Hageman explains. “We want to prevent nitrates from potentially entering water supplies.”

Use a Nitrogen Stabilizer to Prevent Loss 

To prevent nutrient loss, there are different types of nitrogen stabilizer products available.

Hageman explains urease inhibitors protect nitrogen above ground by stopping the urease enzyme from breaking nitrogen into its ammonium form. He says one of the most commonly used urease inhibitors is N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT).

To protect nitrogen below ground, dicyandiamide (DCD) is a common denitrification inhibitor that stops Nitrosomonas bacteria from breaking nitrogen into its nitrate form, which makes it more prone to denitrification or leaching. NBPT and DCD can be found in CHS N-Edge® nitrogen stabilizer products.

“Corn plants take up their maximum amount of nitrogen in late June through July,” Hageman says. “We have to make sure that nitrogen does not volatilize, experience denitrification or leach in that period.”

To learn more about nitrogen stabilizer products, contact your local cooperative agronomist. Read more about nitrogen protectors.