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4 ways Sentinel is challenging the status quo in nitrogen and nutrient management

To trace the beginning of chemical fertilizer usage in agriculture, you have to rewind more than a century. Potassium fertilizers were developed in Germany dating back to the 1860s. The first synthetic nitrogen fertilizer came onto the scene in 1903.


Of course, we can’t have crops without nitrogen. The nutrient is a major key to plant processes and a critical component of chlorophyll, amino acids, and more. So once scientists figured out how to transform nitrogen gas into a digestible form (in 1909) — and as demand for food increased alongside the population — the nitrogen fertilizer industry took off.


With something that’s been around for that long, the practices for how to manage those nutrient applications are deeply embedded in agriculture today.


Management practices have been passed down from generation to generation. And they’ve certainly increased overall farming productivity, which is great news for farmers’ yields and the overall food supply.


But some conventional nutrient management practices, especially those based on guesswork, have largely failed to adjust to changing environmental conditions. Farmers have typically had to rely on “what’s worked previously” to make plans for next season.


That status quo has its limitations. Standard nitrogen management practices haven’t empowered growers to increase their efficiency, simplify their operations, or make in-season adjustments. Today’s growers are, more than ever, searching for a way to do all those things, on top of maintaining high yields.


These days, the nutrient management status quo is being pushed forward: both by technological innovation, and by farmers embracing that technology to take their management practices to the next level.


Here are a few long held beliefs about nutrient management — and how these ideas are evolving to create a better future for farmers.


Status quo #1: There are no win-win solutions for farm profitability and environmental stewardship.


For too long, farmers have been forced into a choose-your-own-adventure way of management. Maybe they increase productivity, but sacrifice on profitability — or vice versa. Or they manage to have both, but their environmental stewardship suffers.


To this point, it’s been difficult for growers to achieve both farm profitability and do what’s best for the environment.


And it makes sense why: As you scale up your acres and productivity, this usually means scaling up nitrogen use. There’s no way around the reality that healthy crops require supplemental nitrogen in nearly every geographic region. So if you add more planted acres, you’re likely going to need more nitrogen.


But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your profitability or environmental stewardship.

How Sentinel is challenging this


Sentinel was born out of the idea that farmers should be able to win on both fronts.


The key to doing that? Nitrogen Use efficiency.


When you implement a fertigation system — and use supplemental tools like N-Time — you boost your NUE. And the better your NUE gets, the more you can improve your profitability and environmental stewardship — without sacrificing productivity.


More efficiency means fewer wasted nitrogen applications. That certainly helps your pockets, because you spend less on nitrogen you don’t actually need.


But efficiently applying nitrogen isn’t just a boost to your bottom line. It’s a boost to the land itself. Fewer unnecessary applications means less harmful runoff into waterways.


With the right tools, it turns out a win-win is possible.


Status quo #2: There’s no reliable way to adjust nitrogen management practices to crop potential during the growing season


In the past, it’s been difficult for farmers to find a happy medium between over- and under-applying nitrogen or other nutrients. There haven’t been reliable sources of data or imagery they could use to make application decisions. So it’s natural that many just stick with what they’ve always done.


But what was helpful last season might not create the same impact this season. Environmental conditions like rainfall change — sometimes rapidly — and growers have long needed a reliable method to adapt their practices to specific in-season conditions. Traditionally, many have had to rely on guesswork.


How Sentinel is challenging this


Our technology is empowering farmers to increase their use of variable rate fertigation. With this precision ag technique, a grower can apply fertilizer to specific zones of their fields, based on specific crop needs, field conditions, shifts in weather, types of hybrids planted, and more.


We use high-res satellite imagery to deliver fertigation scheduling recommendations — all throughout a growing season. This means that no matter what changes during a season, you’ll get updated recommendations based on those factors. This means better, more informed decision-making — and at the end of the season, better results.


Imagery-based solutions to nitrogen management like N-Time are also more precise and timely than other methods like leaf tissue sampling.


Status quo #3: It’s rare that data is used to make a change during the growing season (instead of saving for next year)


You can’t change what you can’t see. So visibility over what’s going right and wrong in your fields is crucial. But it’s especially helpful if you can actually get your hands on that data in real time.


Too often with nitrogen management, farmers aren’t aware of crop nutrition issues until it’s too late. Those issues are still helpful data points for the future. Maybe you’ll adjust your late-season nitrogen applications next year based on what happened to your crop last year.


But what about making adjustments within a growing season?

How Sentinel is challenging this


We believe in giving farmers the tools and info they need to make the best decision for their operation — in real time. Our N-Time software provides insights and recommendations (via text or push notifications) based on imagery that’s captured almost daily.


With that data at their fingertips, farmers are able to make in-season fertigation adjustments to maximize their yield, improve their nitrogen use efficiency, and ultimately enjoy better yields (in quantity and quality).


Status quo #4: Yield is the only and/or most important goal


We know how crucial yield is.


But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few other stats growers should keep their eye on to maximize their operation. As more data and technology become available to help measure more on the farm, the status quo of just paying attention to yield numbers is evolving quickly.


How Sentinel is challenging this


Giant yields are great. But as someone who wants to maximize longevity of your operation, you don’t want those high yield numbers to come at the expense of efficiency, profitability, or quality. Those are the metrics that will keep your farm thriving for years to come.


Sentinel technology helps farmers improve their nutrient management efficiency, improve their profitability, and even increase crop quality. When crops get the nutrients they need when they need them, you don’t just end up with higher yields. During the 2022 growing season, our N-Time insights helped farmers improve their Nitrogen Use Efficiency by 23%.


Push the status quo at your operation


If you want to learn more about implementing fertigation on your acres — and how this technology can elevate your operation to the next level — reach out to our team today.


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