Can New Microbes Lower Nitrogen Rates in Corn?

Recent high fertilizer prices have prompted huge farmer interest in the possibility of lowering nitrogen (N) rates with commercial microbial supplements that claim to fix N from the atmosphere. Environmental concerns about N losses in corn production only add to the impetus to apply less N per unit of yield.

In this presentation, Dr. Tony Vyn will highlight his team’s experiences, and that of other universities in the Mid-West United States, from the results of recent public-institution trials with corn produced with commercial microbial products like Envitaä, PROVENâ and PROVENâ 40. In each case, the preliminary public institution trials were conducted with a full range of nitrogen (N) fertilizer rates. Public data on possible reductions from the economic N rate when farmers utilize microbial supplements are, unfortunately, limited.  Nevertheless, Dr. Vyn addresses some of what is known from public replicated trials in Indiana and other Corn Belt states. He also provides perspectives on the daunting challenges in conducting field research to arrive at a reliable number for a N fertilizer rate reduction, if any, with N-fixing microbial supplements.

The title of his presentation is “Finding Proof for Recommending Less N with Microbial Supplements: Research Challenges in Corn”. This talk was first presented at the Indiana Certified Crop Adviser Conference in mid-December, 2021, and then modified. However, even then, these tentative conclusions are based on a public-data set that is too small. New financial resources, and considerably more private-public cooperative research, are needed to expand research station and on-farm trials with present and evolving microbe strains that may help meet corn’s N requirements with less N fertilizer per bushel.

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