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Blue Bags Grow Better Crops


Ben Atkinson N-Min



Testing fields to assess the level of Nitrogen which they contain allowed J. E. Atkinson & Son in Lincolnshire to reduce Nitrogen applications on winter wheat by as much as 120kg/ha last year, reducing N costs by up to £90/ha.


When the results of soil Nitrogen tests recommended that he apply less than half the normal rate of N to one field of winter wheat Ben Atkinson could not believe the advice. Even though he had come to rely on CF Fertilisers' N-Min® and N-Calc services for five years, and had proven their accuracy, it was still difficult to accept.


Having previously grown winter oilseed rape, the field had been drilled with Santiago winter feed wheat in the autumn of 2014. The N-Min samples taken in January highlighted 76kg/ha of Soil Mineral Nitrogen together with 74kg/ha of Additional Available Nitrogen, giving a total N reservoir of 144kg/ha.


Advised to apply just 100kg/ha of Nitrogen instead of the normal 220kg/ha, Ben decided to compare the two rates by splitting the field in half, both of which were otherwise equal in terms of soil type and subsequent treatments. At harvest, both yielded slightly over 11 t/ha, but using the lower N-Min rate resulted in an additional gross margin of £90/ha. Ben comments:


"In 2015 the first Nitrogen was applied to winter wheat on 25 March and consisted of Sulphur Gold at 172kg/ha on the half where we followed N-Min advice, and 345hg/ha where the normal farm rate was used. Then, on 27 April, a further 145kg/ha of Nitram was applied on the N-Min side and 232kg/ha on the farm-rate side, which also received a further 115kg/ha on 14 May.


"Throughout the growing season there was no visible difference between the two halves of the field and both achieved the same yield, which proved what N-Min had told us had been correct, namely that there was enough Nitrogen in the soil to support the high yield. The saving in Nitrogen use amounted to £90/ha, or 15 per cent of the profit margin.


"We monitor all inputs precisely, so we know our costs of production and returns on investment down to the last penny. I believe that we have a moral as well as a financial obligation to use only the amount of inputs which crops require to deliver their optimum potential, which is why N-Min testing has become so important. It represents what I would term 'smart agronomy', namely using science to precisely tailor application rates to suit particular circumstances rather than using standard recommendations."


"Much of our land has the potential to achieve very high yields so it is critical that we optimise inputs. N-Min provides information that is both environmentally and financially beneficial, so now I have twelve fields sampled every year to build a picture of how much Nitrogen we should be applying."


"When it comes to fertiliser, our objective is to use the right product, applied through the best spreader, in the right conditions. We are not prepared to run the risk of using lower quality urea-based products and losing significant Nitrogen to the atmosphere because there is so much at stake, so we use Ammonium Nitrate from CF Fertilisers because of the quality, consistency and accuracy of application.




David Towse, the Senior Farm Adviser for CF Fertilisers UK Ltd who carries out N-Min testing for J. E. Atkinson & Son,  states:


"Most farming businesses are 20kg to 30kg/ha out in terms of the Nitrogen that they apply, either above or below the optimum level, while those that have never checked their soil Nitrogen could be up to 50kg/ha out. Either they are applying too much Nitrogen, thereby risking the local environment and wasting money, or are using too little and missing out on additional performance, either of which will make a big difference to profitability."


Find out more about our N-Min service by watching our video: