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Corn School: Determining most economical rate of nitrogen for 2022

By: RealAgriculture Agronomy Team

November 19, 2021

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It’s November and Ontario corn growers continue to push through a harvest that will likely smash the provincial yield record.

But there’s also lots of talk about the 2022 season, especially when it comes to fertilizer prices and what impact the cost of nutrients will have on growing corn when the calendar turns to next year. Many growers are considering reducing or pulling back nitrogen rates as the cost of fertilizer pushes past $1,000 per ton.

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On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Corn School, we’re joined by University of Guelph associate professor Dave Hooker to crunch some numbers and determine the most economical rate of nitrogen (MERN) for 2022. Hooker kicks things off with a typical corn MERN and what it cost growers to feed their crop nitrogen this year. He notes that 2021 was pretty much a typical year for nitrogen with a price ratio of 6 (price of nitrogen divided by the price of corn). With nitrogen priced at $0.64/lb and corn at $6/bu, the MERN for 2021 was 184 lbs of actual nitrogen per acre, based on Hooker’s calculations.

Hooker also notes that in this scenario growers didn’t have to hit the 184 lb target to realize a good economic return. From a cost perspective, an application range of 167 to 198 lbs N/ac would land growers within $5.00 per acre of the maximum net return.

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In the video, Hooker then looks at the implications that higher nitrogen prices could have on MERN in 2022. If the price ratio doubles to 12 (N priced at $1.30/lb and corn at $6/bu), the MERN drops to 170 lbs N/ac. Hooker says many growers would expect that rate to be even lower, but here again, he notes there is a significant range that growers can target; 151-180 lbs N/ac will land within $5.00 per acre of the maximum net return. (Story continues after the video.)

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“There really is a lot of flexibility around the MERN rate. You don’t have to hit it straight on to be within that five dollars per acre,” says Hooker. He also notes that the most economic rates of nitrogen really don’t change much whether growers are dealing with 2021 nitrogen prices or a potential doubling of the cost in 2022.

Click here for more Corn School episodes.

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