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Sensor-based Fertigation Management Research Boosts Efficiency, Profitability

Sensor-based Fertigation Management Research Boosts Efficiency, Profitability

For the past four years, University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers have studied the prospects for using sensor-based fertigation management, or SBFM, to increase the efficiency and profitability of nitrogen use. The latest results are now in from multiple Nebraska sites, and they show that the technology enables major gains in both regards.

“This method allows the sensors and imagery to detect what that crop needs, so that you’re not overapplying nitrogen,” said Taylor Cross, a graduate research assistant who oversaw the project last year. “You’ll really see a lot of nitrogen savings with this method.”

For the project, drones provided weekly updates on crop-condition data by using multispectral imagery that showed nitrogen levels. Analysis of the data via N-Time software then directed specific applications of liquid fertilizer by irrigation equipment in a set of eastern Nebraska cornfields.

At all three on-farm test sites in 2022, the approach produced greater efficiency in nitrogen use than did conventional management, with efficiency measured in pounds of nitrogen per bushel of grain. The two SBFM-recommended approaches produced about 44 pounds more grain per pound of nitrogen than did the growers’ traditional method. The two SBFM-recommended methods also showed the potential for boosting profitability. The increases ranged from $28 per acre to just over $40 per acre, on average, across the three sites.

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