Friday Feature:  Corn that Acquires Its Own Nitrogen

Friday Feature: Corn that Acquires Its Own Nitrogen

This week’s featured video was published by the University of California – Davis to share the results of a remarkable scientific discovery.  Researchers from UC Davis, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Mars, Incorporated have identified a native variety of Mexican corn that can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, instead of relying totally on synthetic fertilizers.

A public-private collaboration of researchers have identified varieties of tropical corn from Mexico, that can acquire a significant amount of the nitrogen they need from the air by cooperating with bacteria.  To do so, the corn secretes copious globs of mucus-like gel out of arrays of aerial roots along its stalk. This gel harbors bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable by the plant, a process called nitrogen fixation. The corn can acquire 30 to 80 percent of its nitrogen in this way, but the effectiveness depends on environmental factors like humidity and rain.  Scientists have long sought corn that could fix nitrogen, with the goal of reducing the crop’s high demand for artificial fertilizers, which are energy intensive, expensive and polluting. Further research is required to determine if the trait can be bred into commercial cultivars of corn, the world’s most productive cereal crop.  Source: Corn that acquires its own nitrogen identified, reducing need for fertilizer

Thanks to Judy Biss, UF/IFAS Extension Calhoun County, for sending in this video to share.


If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video, or a new product innovation related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo


USDA Researching New Test to Determine Nitrogen Levels in Soil

USDA Researching New Test to Determine Nitrogen Levels in Soil

Surface soil is sampled in a field in Virginia while in winter cover crop, but that will be planted to corn in the spring. Photo by Alan Franzluebbers, USDA/ARS

Sharon Durham, ARS Office of Communications

Nitrogen is the main nutrient added to cereal crops like corn, which makes them grow faster and stronger. But too much of a good thing could sometimes have negative outcomes. Too much nitrogen can run off with rainwater or leach through to soil and contaminate groundwater. Now, a simple, rapid and reliable test can determine the nitrogen amount in soil.

For corn growers, the current assumption is that corn grain requires 1.2 pounds of nitrogen applied for every bushel produced. This works for some soils, but not exactly for others, as the assumption doesn’t factor in nitrogen from soil organic matter. Knowing the soil’s potential to mineralize nitrogen from organic matter, making it available to plants, would help improve nitrogen fertilizer recommendations, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ecologist Alan Franzluebbers, lead investigator of this research.

A series of experiments published in Soil Science Society of America Journal studied the effectiveness of this quick and inexpensive approach that can tell a farmer prior to the growing season how much nitrogen will be available by testing a soil sample. In the first experiment, Franzluebbers, with Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his colleagues illustrated how soil nitrogen mineralization can be predicted with a three-day analysis of soil-test biological activity (STBA).

Soil is not an inert, dead plot of dirt; it contains many living organisms that enhance the soil’s ability to make nutrients available to plants. Insects, bacteria and fungi play a part in making soil valuable for crop production. The STBA measures how much “life” is contained in soil and how much usable nitrogen is in soil.

In the second experiment, Molly Pershing, a graduate student under Dr. Franzluebbers’ guidance, conducted greenhouse trials to determine if higher levels of STBA actually equated to plant uptake of nitrogen from soil. The researchers found that indeed greater STBA was associated with greater plant nitrogen uptake. Greenhouse-grown plants were not supplied any nutrients other than what was present in soil. More than three-fourths of the plant nitrogen uptake was from organic nitrogen that had to be mineralized, which was well predicted by the STBA level.

In the third experiment, Franzluebbers asked farmers to participate in the research. Forty-seven fields were sampled in the spring for STBA. On those fields, different rates of nitrogen fertilizer were applied to test which was most effective in optimizing corn yield. The higher the STBA level—indicating a large amount of “life” in the soil—the lower the need for additional nitrogen. The lower the STBA level, the greater the need for additional nitrogen.

Adding too little nitrogen can lead to a smaller harvest—costing farmers the opportunity to make more money. Adding too much nitrogen costs farmers money in unnecessary input to soil. Applying nitrogen at the correct levels can optimize yield and profit while keeping excess nutrients out of rivers, lakes and groundwater. Using STBA, corn growers now have a preseason test that can more accurately determine the proper amount of nitrogen to apply for economically optimum yield.

Financial Assistance for Farmers Who Implement BMPs

Financial Assistance for Farmers Who Implement BMPs

Producers in the Florida Panhandle can receive financial assistance from multiple agencies to defer the cost of implementing Best Management Practices on-farm, such as improving irrigation efficiency. Photo credit: Ethan Carter.


Farmers and ranchers have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) that maintain or improve water quality, quantity and soil conditions on their lands for many years. Although BMPs are designed to be technically feasible and economically viable, implementing BMPs can be expensive for producers, and some practices may not be financially viable for all. Multiple agencies in our region recognize this and offer financial assistance to defer the cost of implementing BMPs.

In most areas of the Panhandle, implementation of BMPs is still voluntary, but for producers in an area with a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), such as the Jackson Blue Springs/Merritts Mill Pond Basin, BMP implementation and verification is required.

Financial Assistance to Implement BMPs

The following agencies continually offer financial assistance for producers in our region to implement agricultural BMPs.

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

NRCS offers financial assistance for farmers through two programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Staff at NRCS work with farmers and ranchers to develop a conservation plan to address particular on-farm resource concerns. Depending on the objectives of the farmer, these plans can include ways to reduce erosion and improve soil conditions, improve nutrient management and water quality, increase water-use efficiency and/or improve wildlife habitat.

The conservation plan outlines activities or practices to reach these objectives and NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help carry out these practices.  For example, NRCS will provide financial assistance for exclusion fences for cattle around streams or wetlands as well as assistance for alternative watering systems, such as watering tanks, pipelines and solar wells. Other examples of what they help finance include cross-fencing for improved grazing management, soil sampling for improved nutrient management, irrigation retrofits, waste storage facilities for dairies, tree planting and forest stand improvement, and nesting boxes for wildlife. These are just a few examples – there are many more!

Financial assistance is provided at a flat rate for a particular practice (for example, per foot for fencing, per acre for weed treatment, per item for a well or a nesting box, etc.). In general, they do not offer financial assistance to purchase equipment.

Contact information:

For more information on available NRCS funding and how to apply, contact your local NRCS office. In the Panhandle, these contacts are found on the Florida Area 1 Directory.   Applications for financial assistance are accepted year-round with batching deadlines in November.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)

FDACS also offers cost-share funds to producers so that they can effectively implement BMPs on-farm. Unlike NRCS, funding is largely (but not exclusively) for equipment purchases. They will fund up to 75% of the cost of equipment, which they then reimburse the producer once an item is purchased.

Funding falls under three broad BMP categories: (1) nutrient management, (2) irrigation management and (3) water resources protection. Examples of equipment and other items that FDACS will cost share include no-till grain drills and GPS guidance systems to reduce soil loss and improve nutrient management. To improve irrigation efficiency they provide funding for irrigation retrofits, nozzle packages, smart irrigation control panels and soil moisture sensors. To protect water resources, they, like NRCS, provide financial assistance for cattle exclusion fences and solar wells so ranchers can have alternative water sources for their animals.  These are just a few examples of the equipment that can be purchased through the FDACS  cost-share program.  It is important for producers to work with their local FDACS field technician to determine which BMP practices are feasible on their operation. To receive cost-share funds, producers have to have been in production for at least one year and they must be enrolled in the BMP Program.

Contact information:

Contact your local FDACS field technician for more information on available cost-share funding and how to apply. Applications are accepted year-round.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD)

The NWFWMD’s cost-share program for producers is focused on improving water quality and increasing water-use efficiency in the Jackson Blue Springs Basin. To be eligible for funding, farming operations have to be located within the spring basin and producers must be enrolled in the FDACS BMP Program. Under the current BMP grant program, the district is accepting cost-share applications year-round, through September 2019.

Funding is available to cost share up to 75% of BMPs such as irrigation system retrofits, pump upgrades (high to low pressure), remote control systems for irrigation, control panel upgrades, endgun controls, fertigation systems, and other precision agriculture tools.

Contact information:

For more information about the NWFWMD’s cost share program, please contact Linda Chaisson by phone at (850) 539-5999 or by email at To find out if your farming operation falls within the Jackson Blue Springs Basin, the district’s BMP website provides links to a street view map and an aerial view map of the basin, as well as additional information about the BMP program.

The three agencies listed above are not the only entities offering financial assistance for BMP implementation in our region. Interested producers can also receive cost-share funds from the FDACS’s Office of Energy to improve energy efficiency on-farm. Other organizations may also receive grants to help producers defer the costs of BMPs, and as we at UF/IFAS Extension hear about these opportunities, we will work to get that information out to you.


Boron Deficiency:  A Rare but Serious Issue in Peanut

Boron Deficiency: A Rare but Serious Issue in Peanut

Figure 1. Boron deficient Tifguard, more than 100 days after planting. Field composed of well drained sand in Jackson County. Confirmed by soil and tissue tests.

Authors: Ethan Carter, UF/IFAS Regional Crop IPM Agent, and Michael Mulvaney, UF/IFAS Cropping Systems Specialist (WFREC)

Now that it’s early June, peanut fields across the Panhandle range in age from freshly planted to nearly 40 days after planting. Within the past two weeks, many areas have had consistent rainfall and overcast days. The recent weather has left fields saturated, complicating late plantings and spray applications. It also presents the opportunity to discuss potential issues associated with a nutrient that leaches like boron.

Boron is highly mobile and can rapidly leach from the root zone. Along with manganese, it is one of the most commonly deficient micronutrients on sandy soils. When tissue testing is done to evaluate boron levels, the entire above-ground portion of plants are collected. The desired range is 20-60 ppm, with less than 20 ppm being a critical level for deficiency and 100 ppm or more being a critical level for toxicity. Deficiency can occur when little or no boron is applied with the crop fertilizer. In our region, typically well to excessively-drained sands are most susceptible to boron deficiency. In peanut, boron deficiency is associated with hollow-heart, which lowers grade. This condition presents itself as discoloration within the kernel. However, severe boron deficiency can present itself in a manner similar to zinc toxicity- with split stems and roots, compacted branch terminals, and few developing pods (Figures 1, 2, and 3).

Figure 2. Split stems and roots on Tifguard plants suffering from boron deficiency in Jackson County. Confirmed by soil and tissue tests.

Figure 3. Split branches in Tifguard suffering from boron deficiency in Jackson County. Confirmed by soil and tissue tests.

When these types of  symptoms are found, a tissue and soil test are important to determine if the field has issues with either boron or zinc.  Boron can be added in with the initial crop fertilizer, or applied with early herbicide and fungicide applications. Foliar applications of 0.5 lb/ac elemental boron can be made during mid-bloom to correct boron deficiency.

Fertility should always be monitored after prolonged rain events or heavy irrigation. Nutrient leaching can result in unexpected field problems. More information regarding boron in peanut can be found in the following articles:

  1. Field Symptoms of Boron Toxicity and Deficiency in Florida Peanuts

  2. Management and Cultural Practices for Peanuts

  3. Boron and Other Minor Elements for Peanuts


Early-Season Considerations for Peanut & Cotton Production

Early-Season Considerations for Peanut & Cotton Production

It’s only February, but it will be April before you know it. That means it is time to start planning for peanut and cotton planting season.

Variety selection


If you’re a peanut grower, you’re placing your orders for GA-06G now. Which is great – it’s a cultivar that sets a high bar for disease resistance and yield potential. You probably should continue to plant most of your acreage to GA-06G. But consider planting some acreage with other cultivars as well, just to test them out. There are a few promising cultivars on the market, such as GA-13M and GA-12Y. 12Y has excellent tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) resistance with high oleic oil, and although it may be susceptible to Rhizoctonia limb rot, it has yielded nearly as high as 06G. Consider planting smaller acreage to newer cultivars to see how premiums play out, and test if they work well in your situation.

Some growers int the area say they don’t like the high oleic cultivars, because of their reduced disease resistance, but in the end, they may yield as well as 06G, even if they don’t retain leaves as well. Be smart. Don’t let looks fool you. Keep your eyes on the ledger sheets. Even if they don’t look as good in the field, they may improve your bottom line – but you won’t know unless you try them. The key here is to start with small acreage, essentially doing your own variety testing on your farm. It really doesn’t cost that much to plant a few passes of different cultivars. Just make sure you keep records of what you planted where, and have a weigh wagon at the end of the season. Check out the reulsts from the variety and fungicide testing trials conducted in Jay for more information. (Remember that propiconazole restrictions are still in place for exported peanuts.)


The same applies to cotton cultivars. In this area, we’ve seen an increase in planting of “stovepipe” varieties that have more erect growth and lap the middles later in the season, which may reduce target spot incidence, an increasingly problematic disease in the Southeast. In some fields in west Florida, I didn’t see lapping of rows until early August last year, which may present weed control challenges, but also increase airflow in the canopy – corresponding with very low target spot incidence last year. I would encourage growers to try small acreage of different cotton cultivars to see which cultivars work best for their conditions – and let me know what works for you. Be sure to check out the 2017 cotton variety trial data, as well as previous years’ data for cotton variety selection. And again, start with small acreage first to see how cultivars respond in your microclimate and soil conditions.

Early-season conditions for cotton and peanut

Current predictions call for a 40-50% chance of above normal temperatures in the next 6 weeks.

They also call for a 40-50% chance below normal precipitation probability over the next 6 weeks.

If those predictions become reality, higher temperatures coupled with lower precipitation, that means you cannot afford to delay planting. Make sure you have your seed ordered early and plant in the early part of the planting window, to take advantage of warmer temperatures, but try to time planting ahead of rainfall, if you don’t have irrigation. If you’ve had white mold issues, make sure you have a good white mold control program in place to get the product to the crown of the plant where it is needed. This might mean night spraying, or trying a “canopy opener” spray rig that increases product application where it’s needed at the soil-plant interface.

Production Costs

Urea prices remain near 5-year lows, but it’s usually worth a phone call to your local suppliers to see who has the best prices in your area. This year I am finding that differences in nitrogen prices are smaller than in previous years, hovering around $400/ton for bulk urea.

Even though nitrogen (N) is relatively cheap right now, fertilizer is still the highest operational cost for cotton and corn production. Use it wisely. Split applications of N. Incorporate urea with water or tillage. A 2×2 placement of N with phosphorous (P) will increase P uptake, particularly during the early season when temperatures may be cooler, because the roots won’t have to “look” for it.

Average operating costs for cotton in the South:

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Average operating costs for peanut in the South:

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Average operating costs for corn in the South:

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Now is the Time to Soil Test Crop Fields

Now is the Time to Soil Test Crop Fields

Your peanut fields are harvested and you’re probably waiting for those last few bolls to bust open to finish cotton harvest. After that, it’s time to soil test!

Fertilizer expenses are 46% of your total operational costs in corn in the South. That number is 24% for cotton, and 15% for peanuts. Fertilizer is the single greatest operational cost for corn and cotton in the South, so it’s worth soil testing to manage your soil fertility carefully.

If you had nematode problems this year, you should consider submitting samples for nematode analysis as well. If you wait until winter or early spring, nematode populations will decline, and won’t provide an accurate estimation of populations in your fields. More information on nematode sampling is at this link:  Sampling Instructions for Nematode Assays.  

[important]Not sure what crop you’ll plant next year? You can still soil test. If you change your mind about crops, you can call the lab and they’ll re-run the recommendations using your soil test values for whatever crop you decide to plant next year. There is nothing to be gained in waiting to soil sample. You can download the UF/IFAS soil test form at this link: Commercial Producer Soil Test Form[/important]

When to zone your fields

Not all fields are uniform. If you have a non-uniform field, consider zoning it. Zoning only pays when there is significant variability in your field. Wet areas, low-yielding areas, sandy parts of the field are all factors when you’re considering zoning your field. If you pay a contractor to grid sample your field, take the time to pencil in areas that you feel should perform better. Many contractors or fertilizer suppliers will be able to spread fertilizer for you and help you design a zoned field, if needed. When they zone, you should be at the table to make sure the zones make sense. No one knows your fields like you do.

Field A is uniform and should not be zoned. Field B is highly variable. It makes sense to consider zoning Field B. Be at the table when zones are created to make sure the zones make sense.

Some contractors and fertilizer suppliers have air-boom applicators they can use on your fields.  These increase uniformity and limit overlap, and can even spread cover crop seed as well. Often, these come with GPS guidance and section control. You may find that it pays to have them spread your fertilizer for you, saving you time and diesel.

An air-boom applicator available for hire can spread fertilizer and cover crop seed, and may save you time and diesel. An air boom applicator limits overlap and increases uniformity.

Don’t just focus on lime & macronutrients

Plants need more than just the macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK). When is the last time your soil tested for sulfur?

Don’t ignore the secondary or the micronutrients. When applying micronutrients, it is recommended to use a liquid formulation, because the spread is more uniform than if they are applied as a granular fertilizer. For example, if you apply two lbs./acre of boron as a granular, you’ll end up with one granule here and another way over there, which won’t help your crop much. A liquid application ensures more uniform application of the micronutrients.

For more information, please read the following UF/IFAS publications: