I am pleased to announce the following two meetings:
1. UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis will host a Healthy Soils Program Workshop on compost. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, October 26th from 9:00am to 12:30pm (BBQ lunch provided). The meeting will take place at Rominger Brothers Farm (28800 Co Rd 29, Winters, CA). Presentations topics include how to acquire compost, different types of compost and how it can improve soil health, and nitrogen management in tomato systems receiving compost. At the end of the workshop, there will be a compost spreading demonstration. Attendance is free, but registration is required. Continuing education credits will be offered (0.5 of N management for ILRP program; 0.5 NM and 1.0 SW credits for CCAs). The agenda is available from the registration page.
2. UC Cooperative Extension will host an online workshop on Using N-rich Reference Zones to Guide N Management in Small Grains. The workshop will take place on Thursday, November 4th from 2:00-4:00pm. Presentation topics include how to implement N-rich reference zones, online N management tools, and case studies from local sites. Attendance is free, but registration is required for anyone requesting continuing education. Continuing education credits (2.0 of N management) will be offered for the ILRP program. The agenda is pasted below, and the meeting link is here.
Thanks for your interest in UC Cooperative Extension programming.
Agenda: Using N-rich Reference Zones to Guide N Management in Small Grains
2:00 - 2:15 Overview of concepts and tools related to utilizing N rich reference zones to guide N management in California small grains. (Mark Lundy, UC Davis/UCCE)
2:15 - 2:30 Introduction to The Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Tool for California Wheat and other web tools for optimizing N management in California small grain crops (Taylor Nelsen, UC Davis)
2:30 - 2:35 Questions and Discussion
2:35 - 4:00 Case Studies: Using N-rich reference zones to guide N fertilizer management in diverse California environments. Presentations will discuss specifics of implementing N rich reference zones and using UC decisions support tools to make in-season N fertilizer decisions.
- Yolo County irrigated site N rich case study (Mark Lundy, UC Davis/UCCE)
- Yolo County rainfed site N rich case study (Konrad Mathesius, UCCE)
- Kings County N rich case study (Nick Clark, UCCE)
- Sacramento County Delta N rich case study (Michelle Leinfelder-Miles, UCCE)
- Siskiyou County N rich case study (Giuliano Galdi, UCCE)
- Colusa County N rich case study (Sarah Light, UCCE)
- Wrap-up discussion and survey
UC Cooperative Extension will host the annual Delta field meeting on Thursday, September 30th from 10:00-11:30am, on Tyler Island in Sacramento County. The agenda is pasted below and attached. In addition to providing information on the annual field corn variety trial, this year's agenda includes presentations on nitrogen management in corn and wheat. The attached version of the agenda includes a map and directions to the field site. We have applied for CCA and CDFA INMP continuing education credits. The University is attentive to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Please monitor yourself for Covid-19 symptoms before coming to the event, and do not come if you are experiencing symptoms. While this meeting is outdoors, we will be following University safety precautions for in-person events. Please practice social distancing, or wear a mask if within 6 feet of another person. Thanks for your interest in UC Cooperative Extension programming, and we hope to see you in the field!
10:00am Field corn variety evaluation – preliminary results, Michelle Leinfelder-Miles, UCCE, SJC/Delta
10:15am Variety traits for the Delta, Seed company representatives
10:30am In-season nitrogen management in wheat, Michelle Leinfelder-Miles, UCCE, SJC/Delta
10:45am Development of site-specific nitrogen fertilization recommendations for annual crops, Suzette Turner and Daniel Geisseler, UC Davis
11:00am Viewing of field plots
- Author: Michelle Leinfelder-Miles
- Author: Mohamed Nouri
- Author: Brent Holtz
In 2020, we established a trial to evaluate soil properties and kidney bean yield following whole orchard recycling of a walnut orchard. Whole Orchard Recycling (WOR) occurs after the productive life of an orchard and is the process of grinding or chipping trees, spreading the wood chips evenly over the soil surface, and then incorporating the biomass into the soil. WOR has become more common in recent years because air quality regulations restrict growers' ability to manage biomass by burning. Additionally, half of California's biomass power generation plants have closed, and those that still operate are no longer paying for wood chips.
While the process of WOR came about due to biomass management restrictions, researchers have been evaluating its potential benefits for soil health and water management. This is because the practice incorporates large quantities of organic carbon (C) into the soil, and soil C influences other soil properties. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program (HSP) now recognizes the practice in their incentives program and provides growers with up to $800 per acre for WOR. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District also supports growers who recycle orchards with up to $600 per acre.
While there are benefits associated with incorporating large quantities of C into the soil, there are also tradeoffs. The woody biomass of the trees has a high carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio. The C:N ratio is the mass of C relative to the mass of N. It is an important characteristic of soil amendments because it influences soil biological activity. When the C:N is high, as it would be with woody biomass, the N is primarily used for microbial energy and maintenance. In other words, the N is ‘tied up' by the microbes and not available for plants.
Our understanding of nutrient cycling and availability is most advanced in almond WOR sites replanted back to almond. Previous research at WOR sites that were replanted back to almond found that doubling the N fertilizer recommendation in the first year could help to avoid reduced growth of the new orchard. We established this trial because more research is needed on WOR in other orchard systems, and when annual crops are subsequently planted rather than orchards. Our objectives were to evaluate soil properties and bean yield following WOR compared to a non-WOR control, and to evaluate two N fertilizer rates. We hypothesized that bean yield might be compromised following WOR due to N immobilization but that a higher rate of N fertilizer might overcome the yield gap.
The trial took place on an approximately 35-acre site near Linden, following the June 2019 walnut orchard recycling that incorporated approximately 70 tons of wood chips per acre (Figure 1). At that time, three approximately 0.5-acre plots were kept without wood chips, as ‘untreated controls'. We then identified three 0.5-acre WOR plots adjacent to each control plot.
Figure 1. Recycled orchard site showing wood chips spread over the field and the depth of wood chips applied.
More information about our procedures can be found in the full report, available from https://ucanr.edu/sites/deltacrops/files/352144.pdf. Soils were sampled three times during the season to inform our fertilizer rates and understand C and N cycling. The UC production manual for dry beans indicates that a bean crop that yields 2000 lb/acre needs approximately 80-120 lb of N to grow the crop. While beans are a legume and can fix atmospheric N and turn it into plant-available N, they do not fix enough to satisfy their own N requirement. They fix about 20-40 percent of their need. Nitrogen inputs for the trial are listed in Table 1. The beans were planted on July 10th and harvested on October 19th.
Table 1. Nitrogen inputs in 2020 trial.
Soil samples were evaluated for organic C, total N, and nitrate-N. With the pre-plant samples collected in June, there were no differences in organic C, total N, or nitrate-N between the WOR treatment and control. Total organic C averaged 1.2 percent across all plots, total N averaged 1052 ppm, and nitrate-N averaged 2.78 ppm. In August, prior to sidedress N application, we observed differences in plant size, with plants in the WOR treatments being smaller than those in the control plots (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Bean plants in August 2020, prior to sidedress N application, where plants in the WOR treatment were observably stunted compare to those in the control plots where no wood chips were previously incorporated. A) Plants to the right of the pink flag in the foreground are in a control plot. B) Bean plants in the foreground near the pink flag are in a control plot.
By October, soil organic C, total N, and nitrate-N differed among treatments. (See full report for graphed data.) Organic C and total N were significantly higher in the WOR treatment compared to the control, and neither had differences between the N fertilizer treatments. Nitrate-N, however, had an opposite result. It was significantly higher in the control compared to the WOR treatment, and there were differences between fertilizer rates, with the lowest nitrate being in the grower N rate plots of the WOR treatment. The soil results suggest that, by October, the wood chips were decomposing and contributing to the soil organic C and N pools. The organic N, however, was not yet mineralizing to nitrate. Nitrate was limited in the WOR treatment, where it was possibly tied up by soil microbes, unless boosted by the doubled sidedress fertilizer rate.
Whole orchard recycling and nitrogen fertilizer rate impacted yield in this trial. Yield was statistically higher in the control plots, averaging 2652 lb/ac across replicates, compared to the WOR plots where the average was 1820 lb/ac (Figure 3A). There were also differences in yield among N fertilizer rates (Figure 3B). In the control, the grower N rate and the doubled N rate performed statistically similar. In other words, there was no benefit to applying the doubled sidedress rate in the control. Additionally, the grower rate in the control performed statistically similar to the doubled rate in the WOR treatment. This indicates that while WOR may tie up N – limiting its availability for plant growth and yield – doubling the recommended N rate overcame the yield penalty imposed by WOR. Thus, when coupled with additional N fertilizer, WOR can augment soil health properties, like organic C and N, without penalty to yield.
Figure 3. Bean yield in October 2020 averaged across three replicated blocks. A) Bean yield between WOR treatment and the control were statistically different. B) Bean yield for N fertilizer rates were also statistically different. Bean moisture averaged 10.5 percent across all treatments.
This project evaluated soil properties and kidney bean yield following walnut WOR. By incorporating a large quantity of organic C into the soil, WOR has the potential to improve soil health properties, but a tradeoff may be that N becomes limited for subsequent crops. We found organic C and N to increase with WOR from the beginning of the bean season to the end, but plant-available nitrate was limited by WOR. Bean yield suffered as a result of WOR, but doubling the fertilizer N recommendation mitigated the yield penalty. Under the circumstances of this trial, a total N rate of just over 200 lb/ac maintained bean yield where WOR had been implemented compared to the control plots with no wood chips. It does appear, however, that the yield in the WOR treatment might have benefitted from an even higher rate of N. To our knowledge, this trial was the first of its kind and more research will be needed to develop N fertility guidelines in dry beans following WOR. Other tree and annual crops should also be studied. We will continue this trial in 2021 to evaluate whether the impacts of WOR continue in the second season after recycling.
- Author: Michelle Leinfelder-Miles
- Author: Dan Putnam
- Author: Rachael Long
A question came to me from a crop consultant. His alfalfa grower asked him how he could increase crude protein (CP) in his alfalfa. The buyer of the alfalfa, for the most part, is happy with the hay. For example, the buyer is happy with the total digestible nutrients (TDN), but he would like to see a little higher CP. The consultant said that the grower is generally on a 28-day cutting cycle and is generally cutting the hay pre-bloom. He wondered if nitrogen (N) fertilizer would help to improve CP.
The best way to improve CP is to: 1) cut early, 2) choose a more dormant variety (but give up yield), and 3) manage the harvest to retain the leaf fraction. Since this grower is already cutting pre-bloom, and since the grower is not yet replanting, that would leave option 3. Retaining the leaf fraction is important because the protein content of the leaves is higher than that in the stems. Trying not to rake the hay when it is especially dry might help to retain the leaves.
Let's now focus on the consultant's question of whether N fertilizer could help to improve CP. The UC Irrigated Alfalfa Management production manual states that N fertilizer has resulted in higher CP in some instances but that an equal or higher number of trials showed no improvement to CP with N fertilizer. Dan Putnam, Rollie Meyer, Vern Marble, and other forage researchers have, for a long time, recommended against fertilizing alfalfa with N. This is based upon field data, economics, and logic!
1. Forage Quality. While N fertilizers can (in some cases) increase the apparent CP of the forage by a point or two, this "protein" is not actually well utilized by ruminants. N fertilizer usually results in a higher non-protein nitrogen content (NPN) which is NOT protein, but free N in various forms (e.g. nitrate or free amino acids), which is immediately released into the rumen upon ingestion and forms ammonia. The ammonia must be excreted by the animal at a metabolic cost (ATP), so it is actually costing feed energy. It also results in excess urea in the manure. So, even though it looks like the protein is a little higher, it isn't actually. Remember, CP is measured N content (not just protein) multiplied by 6.25.
2. Economics. Small differences in yield are sometimes (not always) observed with applied N; however, those are rarely economically advantageous. Remember that the uptake levels of alfalfa are very high. A 10-ton Central Valley alfalfa crop will remove about 700 lbs of N, which with losses, one would need to apply close to 1,000 lbs N/year to meet the N needs of the crop. One could never cost-effectively fertilize to satisfy this need.
3. Losing your free N. N applications or high soil N have the tendency of suppressing N2 fixation by making the Rhizobium lazy. Fertilizers would mostly just replace fixed N. Atmospheric N contributions to alfalfa growth are a major environmental benefit, and it's a shame not to take advantage of it.
4. Weeds. N applications encourage weeds, especially grasses. This negatively impacts quality.
5. Trade-off with Energy. Keep in mind that some alfalfa hay crops that have low N and low CP also have high TDN (energy values) such as the well-managed Intermountain spring cut hays grown under cool temperatures. This is due to dilution - if carbohydrates accumulate in the leaves, (e.g. 5-8 percentage points higher), then CP (and NDF/ADF) will be lower. When something goes up, something else goes down. Since energy tends to be more valuable in the marketplace, however, this is a good thing!
Having said all of this, there are some rare situations where N fertilization may be helpful to get the crop going after the roots have been compromised, but even these are unusual. Rachael Long detailed this in the blog When is N fertilization to alfalfa beneficial? Almost Never!
Dan Putnam does have a lingering question about applying N fertilizer in alfalfa and that is whether very small amounts (e.g. via drip irrigation) might be effective at hastening regrowth after each cutting. Growers using drip have done this, and Dan thinks it could work with overhead sprinklers or with buried drip lines where the N can be 'spoon fed' and carefully managed. We need data, however, to prove whether or not this would be effective. Dan suspects the differences would be minor.
- Right source: selecting the fertilizer source that matches the crop need and minimizes losses,
- Right rate: applying the right amount based on crop need and nutrient availability through other sources,
- Right time: applying the nutrient when the crop can use it,
- Right place: fertilizer placement that optimizes the crop's ability to use it.
The four R's address management considerations (e.g. fertilizer program, irrigation), but site characteristics (e.g. soil, cropping system, weather conditions) also influence N recovery in the crop. Also important to improving crop N recovery is understanding barriers to adopting best management practices, such as costs or risks to crop quality or yield.
While the four R's articulate four principles for N management, the N cycle in cropping systems is complicated. Nitrogen can be introduced and lost by various paths. We generally add N with organic matter amendments – such as crop residues, compost, or manure – or with fertilizer. While organic matter amendments must be mineralized before the N is available for plant uptake, fertilizer N is readily available for plants to use. That said, plants generally take up N at different stages during their life cycle, and there is a risk for N loss if the N is applied or becomes available when the plants do not need it.
Technologies have been developed to mitigate N losses from cropping systems. These technologies are collectively known as enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EFF) and include additives, physical barriers, and chemical formulations that stop, slow down, or decrease fertilizer losses. Nitrogen stabilizers are one example and are fertilizer additives intended to improve crop N use efficiency and reduce N losses to the environment by interrupting the microbial processes that change N to its plant-available forms. We developed a trial to evaluate two N stabilizer products with the objective of determining whether the treatments improved corn silage yield or plant N status compared to fertilizer alone. We did not attempt to measure N losses from the system (e.g. leaching, denitrification), as these are very challenging to quantify.
The trial took place in San Joaquin County on a DeVries sandy loam soil. A description of the methods can be found in the full report. Sidedress fertilizer application occurred on June 21, 2018 and provided approximately 105 lbs N per acre (UAN 32). Four treatments were applied at sidedress, when plants were at V3-4 stage of development (Figure 1). The N stabilizers were applied at the label rates, and the treatments were: 1) Vindicate (Corteva Agriscience) at 35 fluid ounces per acre, 2) Agrotain Plus (Koch Agronomic Services) at 3 pounds per acre, 3) combination of Vindicate and Agrotain Plus at aforementioned rates, and 4) fertilizer-only, no stabilizer product (“untreated”). Treatments were randomly applied in three replicate blocks. Aside from the treatments, the trial was managed by the grower in the same manner as the field.
We evaluated soil N status, plant N status, and silage yield. Soil results are available in the full report. There were no statistically significant differences in plant N status or yield (Table 1). Mid-season (i.e. silking, R1) leaf N averaged 2.88 percent across treatments, and aboveground biomass N at harvest averaged 1.12 percent. At mid-season, leaf N from 2.7 to 3.5 percent indicates that the plant had sufficient N to carry the crop to harvest, and at harvest, aboveground biomass N from 1.0 to 1.2 percent indicates that the N fertilization program was adequate for maximizing yield. Thus, it appears that the trial was not deficient in N. Calculated to 30 percent dry matter, average yield across treatments was 38.8 tons/acre, and dry matter was 35 percent. There was a trend for the two treatments with Vindicate to have higher N removed than the two treatments without it, but the difference was not statistically significant.
In summary, N is part of a balanced, natural cycle in the environment and is the most important nutrient in cropping systems. Giving consideration to N management will help ensure that a greater fraction of the applied N is recovered in the harvested crop and not lost to the environment, and keeps growers in regulatory compliance. Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers, such as N stabilizers, have been shown to improve crop yield in regions like the Midwest and the Northeast, and may help to mitigate N losses to the environment. In our trial, we evaluated the efficacy of N stabilizer products for improvements in corn silage yield or plant N status compared to fertilizer alone. Under the management and environmental conditions of this trial, we found no differences in yield or plant N status; however, plant and soil tests indicated that N was not limiting in the trial. If N was lost from the system, the loss was not large enough to result in N limitation in the control. Future study should test these products using different N sources and N rates (e.g. grower rate versus grower rate minus 50 lbs N/acre). It may be possible to reduce the fertilizer N rate without sacrificing yield.
This trial was made possible with the generous cooperation of Hank Van Exel and Van Exel Farms; Carl Bannon and Steven Colbert (Corteva Agriscience); Brad Schrenk (Simplot); Eric Ellison (Koch Agronomic Services); Nick Clark and Daniel Geisseler (UCCE); and Shirley Alvarez, Cheryl Gartner, and Dan Rivers (UCCE technicians). An in-depth report is available from my website. Please don't hesitate to contact me with comments or questions./span>