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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbia, Missouri » Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #234355

Title: Economic and Environmental Benefits of Canopy Sensing for Variable-Rate Nitrogen Corn Fertilization

item Kitchen, Newell
item Shanahan, John
item Sudduth, Kenneth - Ken

Submitted to: ASABE Annual International Meeting
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/15/2009
Publication Date: 6/22/2009
Citation: Kitchen, N.R., Shanahan, J.F., Roberts, D.F., Sudduth, K.A., Scharf, P.C., Ferguson, R.B., Adamchuk, V. 2009. Economic and Environmental Benefits of Canopy Sensing for Variable-Rate Nitrogen Corn Fertilization. In: Proceedings of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting, June 21-24, 2009, Reno, Nevada. Available:

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Nitrogen (N) available to support corn production can be highly variable within fields. Canopy reflectance sensing for assessing crop N health has been proposed as a technology on which to base top-dress variable-rate N application. The objective of this research in Missouri and Nebraska was to evaluate the economic and environmental benefit of active-light crop-canopy reflectance sensors for corn N rate decisions. In Missouri, a total of 16 field-scale experiments were conducted over four seasons (2004-2007) in three major soil areas. Multiple blocks of randomized N rate response plots traversed the length of the field. Each block consisted of 8 treatments from 0 to 235 kg N/ha on 34 kg N/ha increments, top-dressed between V7-V11 vegetative growth stages. Canopy sensor measurements were obtained from these blocks and adjacent N-rich reference strips. A sufficiency index calculated from the sensor readings correlated with optimal N rate, but only in 50% of the fields. While soil type, fertilizer cost, and corn price all affected our analysis, a modest ($25 to $50/ha) profit using canopy sensing was found. Fertilizer savings of 10 to 50 kg N/ha could be expected in most situations, but savings also varied by reflectance readings, soil type, and fertilizer and grain prices. In the Nebraska studies, canopy sensing for one site resulted 39% savings in N applied compared to the traditional N management strategy, while producing similar grain yields. These results affirm using crop-canopy reflectance sensors for detecting corn N fertilizer needs that vary spatially within fields.