This was the year in the Eastern Corn Belt where nitrogen losses should have been horrific. Yields should have suffered big time, especially where there was no sidedressing to put N on later in the season. Sandy soils should have not been able to hold onto nitrogen and should have been hurt with yield loss.
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Instead, reports are coming in, and plots where application methods comparing sidedressing vs. pre-plant N application, or split applications of N, are nothing short of shocking. In all trials reported so far, there was no significant difference favoring sidedressing over just applying N at planting time and not saving any to apply later.
Jim Camberato, Purdue University Extension soil fertility specialist, confirms that they have seen it in several plots. They have also seen some of their highest yields on sandy soils, and have heard reports from other areas where farmers on sand and gravel, even if they didn't have to irrigate much, are reporting some of their biggest corn yields ever. If we were talking sports, gambling junkies might say 'the fix was in.'
It's not sports, it's Mother Nature and plant processes at work. The smartest thing, it appears, is to not bet or even try to second guess where Mother Nature is involved.
Camberato doesn't have any answers that he can back up, but there are some theories. For one, many farmers reported that it started raining immediately after they applied preplant nitrogen. Losses that were expected didn't happen.
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Camberato points out that oxygen is needed to convert nitrogen into the form most easily lost by denitrification. If the soils became waterlogged quickly, it's possible that there wasn't enough oxygen left for the processes that lead to N loss to work. By the time that soils dried out, plants were using the N.