Tonight we went out to see Matt for a bit, because we haven’t seen him much at all the last few weeks. He finally finished up calving heifers, but just in time to start field work!
It has warmed up enough to start the first phase of spring planting, applying anhydrous ammonia. Matt and his Dad apply for their farms as well as custom apply, meaning they are hired to put it on for other farmer’s as well.
Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is a synthetic form of nitrogen, used in corn and milo production because when we harvest a crop we take nitrogen from the soil that must be replaced. Nitrogen is a naturally occurring chemical that makes up 78% of the earth’s atmosphere.
NH3 (meaning simply its one part nitrogen to three parts hydrogen) is the most cost effective and efficient (therefore the most environmentally friendly) source of synthetic nitrogen. It’s stored in the nurse tanks you often see being pulled slowly down the road by a truck or out in the field behind a tractor. In the tank the anhydrous is in liquid form and kept under high pressure to keep it as a liquid.
The tank is pulled behind a tractor and a combination of high tech computer system and application system work to inject the chemical into the soil about 8-10 inches deep where it comes into contact with moisture and instantly turns into a gas. It is then absorbed into the soil moisture. At this point, there is no difference between the synthetic nitrogen and natural nitrogen.
Corn, a grass, requires nitrogen to grow. Our other most common row crop, soybeans, are a legume and actually generate their own nitrogen.
The internet is full of bloggers who like to tell you that all farmers should switch to use of natural nitrogen (manure) and using synthetic fertilizers are a hazard to our environment.
There is one big problem with that idea – the amount of manure we would need. If we were to replace the 11 million tons of anhydrous used each year with manure, this would require 1 billion more cattle! Even more shocking, those cows would require an estimated 2 billion more acres of land!
We simply cannot meet the world’s corn demand without using synthetic fertilizers. Anhydrous ammonia has the highest efficiency (meaning more of it is absorbed by the plant) than any other source, making it not only the most cost effective option – but the safest option for our soils and health as well!
Farmers are very concerned with applying fertilizer using the best practices to keep cost and waste low, and profits and overall safety high!
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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