How to Manage Nitrogen Fertilizer When it Pours?

Learn effective strategies for managing nitrogen fertilizers during rainfall to optimize plant growth and soil health in this comprehensive guide.

Table of Contents

Having effective nitrogen management can help you attain better crop and soil balance. And a nitrogen-rich fertilizer plays an important role in this. It aids in addressing the problems related to the lack of nitrogen content in the soil. But when it rains, it is hard for the sprayed nitrogen to stay intact, which leads the soil back to square one- nitrogen deficiency.

Even though moderate rainfall does not have a big impact on N-loss, heavy rainfall can ruin it completely. So, managing nitrogen fertilizers is a must. In order to reduce nitrogen losses, let’s discuss how to manage nitrogen fertilizer when it pours. 

How Do High Nitrogen Fertilizers Help Plant Growth?

Nitrogen is an important nutrient that aids in various physiological processes in plants, such as growth and development. Plants take up nitrogen from the soil in the form of nitrates and nitrites, which are further used to make amino acids (a building block for proteins).  

Let’s understand how nitrogen-rich fertilizers function. 

Chlorophyll production

Nitrogen Fertilizers Chlorophyll

Ammonium-based fertilizers provide the required amount of nitrogen content in the chloroplasts (where chlorophyll is present). The higher amount of nitrogen improves chlorophyll synthesis, and this allows plants to absorb more light. This also helps in maintaining the color of green leaves. 

Nitrogen fixation

Nitrogen-rich fertilizers add N to the nitrogen pool in the soil. The nitrogen-fixation bacteria easily convert it into simple compounds that plants can absorb and use for their overall growth.

Promoting growth 

It enhances the ability of plants to obtain essential nutrients from the soil. For instance, as the meristematic tissues get the right amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients, a better cell division can be seen.

Enzyme activation 

Most of the enzymes required for photosynthesis and plant growth depend on nitrogen. Fertilizers optimize nitrogen levels to optimum levels, supporting enzyme activation. For metalloenzymes (the enzymes that form metal ions), the higher amounts of “N” serve as ligands to metal ions.   

Threats Posed by Heavy Rainfall

Heavy or intense rainfall can wash away the nitrogen, which can lead to a number of problems, such as poor soil health and even pollution. Note that its consequences may vary on factors such as soil composition, duration of rainfall, and climatic conditions. Let’s take a look at the potential problems that can occur after a rainfall. 

Leaching 

Nitrate and ammonium are water-soluble compounds of nitrogen, after coming in contact with water, these compounds flow away from the plants, leading to the problem of reduced nutrient uptake. To date, this poses a great challenge to farmers. 

Eutrophication in water bodies

The rainwater takes the nitrogen & phosphorus compounds from the soil with it and can transport them to the nearby water bodies, leading to water pollution. As the water bodies become overly rich with these nutrients, algae and plankton form. This affects the aquatic ecosystem. 

Ammonia volatilization 

Rainwater hydrolyzes urea in the urea nitrogen fertilizers, which leads to the release of ammonia gas in the atmosphere, which degrades the air quality. Plus, volatilization withdraws the nitrogen content from plants, affecting nutrient uptake. 

Denitrification 

Excessive rainfall causes waterlogging, which then triggers microbial processes such as denitrification. The nitrites undergo a reduction reaction to form N2 and N2O. This occurs as an alternative terminal electron acceptor process under anaerobic conditions. 

Overcoming the Issues Related to Nitrogen Management During Rain

Nitrogen Fertilizer Management During Rain

When you have applied nitrogen fertilizers into your field already and are anticipating rain, there are some measures that you could take. Let’s discuss the pre and post-measures on how to manage nitrogen fertilizer when it pours. 

Immediate actions

As you are short of time, the quicker you act, the better you can save the soil in certain conditions. Here are some steps that you can take:

Add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil

As mentioned, rainwater takes away the essential nitrogen compounds and causes N deficiency in plants. Pushing nitrogen into the soil is one of the most effective ways to deliver nitrogen into the root zone of plants. Use a tiller to add 3-4 inches of fertilizer into the soil. The idea is to ensure efficient nutrient uptake and minimize the levels of nitrogen loss. 

Divert the water flow 

You can redirect the water flow by creating physical barriers, berms, and terraces in front of the areas that are prone to nutrient runoff. Further, you can make grassed waterways to prevent the water from reaching your crops. This way, you can filter out the sediment and even stop it from entering the water bodies. 

Soapy shield

When you apply a soapy shield on the soil, a thin film is formed between the soil and water. Remember, the fewer the points of contact are, the fewer the chances of infiltration are. By doing this, you allow nitrogen to get absorbed into the soil effectively before it can be washed away. However, make sure to use only biodegradable materials to enhance the soil’s overall health. 

Post-rain actions

Once it stops raining, check the soil and plants to develop the next course of action in nitrogen management.

Examine soil moisture

Start by grabbing some soil in your hands in case the soil is wet and there are chances that you are facing issues related to leaching. You must not add any nitrogen to this soil for some time. In case the soil dries up quickly, the leaching is not a concern. Then, visually inspect the plant for color and leaf burn. The whitening and yellowing of the leaves suggest that nitrogen deficiency is there. Otherwise, it is less affected. 

Applying foliar and cover crops

If the plant growth seems to be hindered, consider foliar application of your fertilizer on the surface of leaves. This way, the leaves will get the required nutrition, and at the same time, the soil is untouched. Moreover, cover crops should be implemented to avoid such problems in the near future. Not only can cover crops help you sustain the nitrogen amount in the soil but so can nutrient recycling. Additionally, this could help you regulate the moisture content, prevent erosion, and even assist in pest management. 

Adding nitrification inhibitors 

Adding nitapyrin or DCD (Dicyandiamide) can help you slow down the conversion process of nitrogen into nitrate in the soil. These elements can easily inhibit Nitrosmous bacteria and even reduce the movement of these elements into water bodies. This helps the soil to retain nitrogen for longer and reduces the risk of leaching. 

Rainwater irrigation

If the intense waterfall has washed away the nitrogen-rich fertilizers, the chances are the water has moderate nitrogen content. Harvesting this water can get you a long way. This water can be stored for the drier months of the year and used for irrigation. Note that water with a higher concentration of nitrogen can cause denitrification and runoff, hence, do a proper check before using it. 

Long-term Plans for Nitrogen Management

Nitrogen Fertilizer Management

Having a long-term plan for managing N-fertilizers can lead to both increasing crop yield and reducing the probability of such situations. It can promote better nutrient uptake and enhanced agricultural sustainability. There are a couple of steps you can take to manage liquid nitrogen fertilizers during rain.

Crop Diversification

Instead of relying on your main crop, go for a variety of crops that can serve as a shield to it. Planting leguminous crops such as peas and clover can naturally fix atmospheric nitrogen. Also, growing high nitrogen-demanding crops regularly causes an imbalance in soil and affects fertility. In such cases, you must try planting crops that are less nitrogen-demanding. Not just that, having a variety adds up to the growth of microbial population in the soil, ensuring enough nitrogen availability for the crop. 

Precision agriculture 

Upgrading to precision farming can help attain overall efficiency. Specifically for liquid nitrogen fertilizer management, it can provide farmers with deep insights into whether they have used more or less than the required amounts. With features such as image sensing, the farmers can see how healthy a crop can be and how much nitrogen it needs. Plus, with its weather forecasting mechanisms and data analysis capabilities, farmers can make informed decisions. So, overall, it would be a great investment. 

Using VRT (Variable Rate Technology)

This can be a more customized solution for any field. With the help of VRT (Variable Rate Technology) systems, a farmer can gain valuable data such as soil texture, nutrient content, organic matter, and much more. It comes with customized prescription maps that can be created based on satellite imagery and soil type. The best part is that it accurately directs the users in spraying the right amounts of fertilizers to reduce wastage. In short, the Variable Rate Technology system is a personalized solution. 

Closing Comments 

So far, it has been discussed how you can manage nitrogen fertilizers when it pours. Taking the right steps at the right time can be beneficial in saving your crops. Make sure to adhere to both immediate and post-rain measures. A post-rain analysis is a must-do thing to ensure whether your crops have undergone any N-loses. Incorporating cutting-edge tools and technologies in your agriculture practice can help you find a better solution to this problem. 

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