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5 Fields that Demonstrated the Power and Potential of N-Time for Enhancing Profit, Nitrogen Efficiency, and Productivity in 2023

In our last few blogs, we’ve been diving into Sentinel Fertigation’s 2023 results — and how N-Time is helping more and more farmers optimize their resource use, make more money, and keep yields strong. (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

As the first two parts of the series showed, 2023 validated a few things about N-Time: 

  1. N-Time reliably improves nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and profit 

  2. N-Time typically maintains or improves yield

  3. Accurate calibration is critical for N-Time to provide accurate recommendations 

As much as yield is the result of so many different factors other than nitrogen… nitrogen still matters. Results indicate that N-Time maintains or improves yield, while improving profit and efficiency. 

N-Time’s current algorithms were built with that second part in mind: optimizing profit and efficiency. But growers, of course, would like tools that help them increase profits simultaneously. Based on some of this year’s trial results, we believe N-Time can do exactly that with a little more algorithm tuning.

So what has us so excited about this year’s results? Five fields stood out from our 2023 trials — here’s what we can learn from each of them:

Field 1 – Pierce, NE

In a trial conducted on Thurman loamy fine sand with 2-6% slopes near Pierce, a town in northeastern Nebraska, N-Time treatments yielded 301 bu/ac on an average of180 lb-N/ac. Meanwhile, grower treatments yielded 299 bu/ac on an average 202 lb-N/ac. 

With those numbers, this field proved that farmers have the opportunity to improve profitability, efficiency, and productivity — all simultaneously, thanks to spatially variable rates and application timing. These are the exact insights that N-Time powers.

On this field, N-Time use began after the grower had already applied 140 lb-N/ac. N-Time recommended an additional 60 lb-N/ac application on two of four treatment sectors in the southeast corner of the field three days before the grower’s next planned application of 35 lb-N/ac. This was during rapid vegetative growth and these two sectors were in a lower elevation portion of the field. N-Time recommended no additional applications on the other two treatment sectors. When the grower made his application three days after N-Time’s, he accidentally fertigated one of the N-Time sectors (due south), so it was excluded from analysis. N-Time went on to recommend no more fertigation on this field while the grower applied 36 lb-N/ac more to his sectors.

The two N-Time managed sectors that received 60 lb-N/ac ended up being the highest yielding sectors in the field at 305 and 307 bu/ac on average. Based on this outcome, it’s possible the grower underestimated crop nitrogen demand during this time, made the application too late, or both — which ultimately may have cost him yield potential on his managed fields. These two sectors still ended up receiving approximately the same amount of nitrogen as the grower sectors — but they had 25 lb-N/ac more applied for a significant portion of the season (between late June and late July).

These results demonstrate what we believe is the future of nitrogen management with N-Time technology: in-season management adjustments based on real-time crop data. Building on this success story, N-Time can continue to adapt to help farmers simultaneously optimize for profit, efficiency, and yield.

Field 2 – Gibbon, NE

N-Time was implemented on great loamy soil near Gibbon, NE – Hall, Hord, Cozad, and Wood River silt loams to be exact. This field stood out for the WOW factor. With only 102.5 lb-N/ac applied as synthetic fertilizer, this field yielded 266 bu/ac — within 2 bu/ac of the grower’s yield of 268 bu/ac using 130 lb-N/ac. To be clear, this grower is doing a tremendous job managing nitrogen. His two trial fields averaged a 0.445 NUE, which is unheard of under grower management. 

Even with that excellent management, N-Time helped push the average NUE on those fields to 0.39 — also unheard of. And this was all accomplished while staying within 2 bu/ac of the grower’s yield. This is likely a function of this field having a lot of non-fertilizer or “natural” sources of N: good organic matter, functional biology, and nitrates in irrigation water.

N-Time detected these organic nitrogen contributions. So, the software didn’t recommend any nitrogen fertilizer application via fertigation after the base application. 

Interestingly, Adapt-N was also used on this field. Adapt-N’s treatments yielded 266 bu/ac (the same as N-Time’s) while using 138 lb-N/ac, more than the grower’s and N-Time’s management. Ultimately, this resulted in a $58.59/ac profit improvement for N-Time versus Adapt-N management. 

Field 3 – Schuyler, NE

Field 3 in Schuyler was funky. It was a field planted and fertilized with two windshield wiper center pivots positioned on the north half of the field. There were less than 40 total acres under management. It provided a good case study for how N-Time functions in sandy soils with high groundwater nitrates. 

At planting, the field received 50 lb-N/ac. N-Time took over management after an early-season application of 60 lb-N/ac via fertigation around V6. That brought the total application amount to 110 lb-N/ac. After that fertigation event, the grower chose to fertigate twice more: one 70 lb-N/ac application around V7, then a 25 lb-N/ac application around V12. N-Time only triggered one fertigation event under its management, an application of 30 lb-N/ac made to all N-Time managed sectors based on model information following a period of cloudy days. The grower’s sectors yielded 233 bu/ac, while Sentinel’s sectors yielded 235 bu/ac, demonstrating that the same or better yield can be produced with much higher nitrogen use efficiency (0.6 for N-Time compared with 0.88 for the grower). 

Field 4 – Bellwood, NE

Here in Bellwood, Nebraska, this field represented a common commercial usage of N-Time. We often get the question, “Can you help tell me whether or not I need that last fertigation pass of nitrogen at tassel or brown silk?” 

Well, yes, we sure can. 

On this field, N-Time showed we could hold off on a pass of N at silking while the grower put on 34 lb-N/ac on his managed fields. Those 34 lb-N/ac were the only difference in management. And with similar yields in the end (256 bu/ac for N-Time, 255 bu/ac for the grower) that one tweak made all the difference for profitability: N-Time produced $26.42/ac more profit than the grower’s management. 

In other words, for this grower, just one pass of fertigation paid for his N-Time investment.

Field 5 – Stapleton, NE

Of the fields for which N-Time was executed correctly by all indications, the field in Stapleton, Nebraska, was among the most disappointing. 

N-Time’s sectors yielded 226 bu/ac, compared with yields of 232 bu/ac for the grower and 231 bu/ac for Adapt-N management. N-Time only applied 132 lb-N/ac to reach this yield, while the grower and Adapt-N applied 171 lb-N/ac and 162 lb-N/ac, respectively. 

Key differences in the nitrogen application strategies included a large fertigation event of 35-40 lb-N/ac for the grower and Adapt-N during the late vegetative growth stages and a small 15 lb-N/ac fertigation application on some Adapt-N sectors near the R3 growth stage. N-Time was close to triggering at that point but did not quite trigger. It’s likely the N-Time sectors simply ran out of gas with a long grain fill period and were therefore unable to hit the top-end yield potential the other two treatments did. Though N-Time produced a higher nitrogen use efficiency (0.58 compared to 0.74 for the grower and 0.70 for Adapt-N), N-Time produced the lowest profit outcome of all three treatments. With better lookahead, we believe this outcome can be improved in future iterations.

As we continue to evolve the N-Time platform and work with more growers to fine-tune our technology, overall the 2023 results from on-farm trials were extremely promising. Growers who use N-Time are consistently improving their nitrogen use efficiency and profitability — but crucially, often maintaining (or even increasing) their yields. 

We’re excited to use these results to keep perfecting the N-Time software, as we head into a 2024 growing season with more crops and fields under N-Time management than ever.

To learn more about integrating N-Time onto your operation, reach out to our team.

This is Part 3 of a three-part series detailing Sentinel Fertigation’s research results from 2023. You can read Part 1 (about the trials’ design) here, and Part 2 (diving into all results) here.

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