Nitrogen Management on Dairy Farms
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N Deficiency and Excess

N deficiency in crops

When N is deficient in plants, we often see a reduction in new growth and yield, yellowing (chlorosis) of older leaves, and earlier leaf drop in the fall. New growth may have a red to red-brown color and the plant will have a lower crude protein content. The top photo shows a corn stand with symptoms of N deficiency.

What can occur with excess N?

An abundance of N exists on some dairy farms. With too much N in the farm system, we often see crops with very dark leaves and stems as in the bottom photo (e.g. for corn, from soil to tassle). An abundance of N can cause excessive vegetative growth, at the expense of grain or fruit yield. Excess N can also lead to increased lodging (i.e. stalks bending and breaking) and delayed maturity, resulting lower yielding and lower quality crops at harvest.

What else could happen if excess N is available to the crop? Nitrogen that isn't taken up by the crop is more susceptible to losses to the air, groundwater, streams, etc. When N is lost from the root zone and out of reach of the crop's roots, it often represents a financial loss. The investment in additional fertilizer and/or manure applications will only give us a return if it results in a significant improvement in crop yield and quality.

Applying the right amount of N for a crop

The goal is to make the most efficient use of the investment in nitrogen, which means not shorting the crop, but also not applying N in excess. To develop a plan for efficient N use, consider the following factors about each field.

The basics concepts behind this approach are found in the N cycle. Continue to the next page for a tour through the N cycle.