08 September 2023, US: Nutrient management plays a crucial role in sustainable agriculture. It not only enhances crop yields but also reduces expenses and safeguards the environment.
Farmers all over the world are implementing controlled-release fertilizers to mitigate the leaching and loss of nutrients. These fertilizers offer the main benefit of providing a regulated supply of nutrients in the soil over extended durations, providing a sustainable way to manage nutrients and optimize crop yields. Controlled-release fertilizers also optimize nutrient use efficiency, a plus for farmers and the environment.
The definition of controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs) by the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials states that they consist of plant nutrients in a form that cannot be immediately absorbed by plants. This steady release of nutrients allows CRFs to supply available nutrients to plants for an extended period compared to quick-release fertilizers (QRFs) like urea.
Mr. Cristian Filote, International Technical Manager for CRF and Specialty Agriculture within the ICL Agronomy Team tells us “Controlled-release fertilizers have a semi-permeable membrane to prevent nutrient losses and enhance nutrient use efficiency. This technology allows to reduce application rate and maintain yields or increase your yields at similar applications.
To regulate the release of nutrients, controlled-release fertilizers are typically coated or encapsulated with inorganic or organic materials. An example of a CRF is polymer-coated urea. Steered by soil temperature, these fertilizers control the nutrient release over a designated period. The longevity depends on the thickness of the coating and ranges between 1 month and 12 months. CRF fertilizers are designed to work by matching the release rate to the crops’ demands.”
While CRFs are an excellent way to sustainably meet crop nutrition needs, understanding and tracking the nutrient release can be a question. Farmers may ask “How long does it take for controlled-release fertilizer to release?” or “How do I understand controlled-release fertilizer longevity?” A CRF Timer can help track nutrient release and answer these questions, enabling the confident use of CRF fertilizers. In this blog, we’ll dive in and develop a basic understanding of using the CRF Timer.
I. Understanding Release Time of Controlled Release Fertilizers (CRF)
The timing of nutrient release is critical for nutrient uptake to support plant growth and crop production. Nutrients must be available to plants at the critical growth stages. The slow release of nutrients in controlled-release fertilizers matches up with plant needs. This is because this type of polymer coating regulates the release rate based on soil temperature.
“The mode of action of polymer-coated fertilizers is based on osmosis and diffusion. Moisture will penetrate via the coating into the granule in order to dissolve and release the nutrients back into the root zone. This mechanism is steered by temperature. If the soil temperature becomes lower, the release will slow down and vice-versa…” said Mr. Filote. He also describes how the CRFs work by matching the release rate to the crops’ demands.
This is very much in line with the plant’s needs. At colder temperatures, the plants are growing more slowly and they don’t need a lot of nutrients. The moment the temperature rises, the plant needs more nutrients and more water. So, the plant metabolisms are accelerated and therefore the nutrients should be there, as they’re needed. They’re following the plant needs.”
Effective monitoring of nutrient release can ensure there are no gaps in nutrient availability, for this reason, ICL developed a specific software tool
II. Introducing the CRF Timer:
The CRF Timer is an important tool for monitoring the availability of nutrients over time and understanding how many of these nutrients are still available for the crop duration to come.
The CRF Timer should give confidence and understanding to the grower how his CRF is acting under his local conditions so that he possibly can take any additional actions when required, for optimum crop results.
The CRF timer is designed only for ICL’s CRFs coated by E-Max Release Technology. In only a few clicks, indicating the country and the nearest weather station to your field, selecting the product you’ve used, its longevity, and the application date, CRF Timer will show how much of the nutrients have been released so far and how much is still available for the rest of the growing period. The CRF timer uses data from over 400 weather stations and is available in 48 countries throughout seven regions.
Mr. Fillote tells us “Another advantage is that growers can simulate the release of a specific longevity and decide whether it suits the crop they are planning to establish.” Based on these findings, farmers can adjust the product longevity based on crop requirements and local growing conditions.
ICL CRFs are designed for a multitude of crops, but farmers should still work with an agronomist or soil lab to test their soil for nutrient deficiencies and develop a comprehensive nutrient management plan to meet crop nutrient requirements.
III. Monitoring and Assessing Nutrient Release:
Monitoring and assessing nutrient release throughout the growing season is critical for adapting current season strategies for nutrient management as well as planning for future years.
Farmers can use the findings from the CRF Timer alongside other data from their growing season to build a strategy for future crops in their unique growing conditions. They also might find that they can optimize the timing of the re-application of other types of fertilizers throughout the growing season.
Farmers can also employ soil testing and plant tissue analysis to assess nutrient uptake, too. These tests will demonstrate current soil and plant nutrient levels and can be used to adjust the crop nutrition plan as needed.
IV. Best Practices for Nutrient Management:
There are several ways to manage nutrients effectively. First, maintaining soil health is crucial. Healthy soil retains and releases nutrients to plants when they need them. Practices like crop rotation, cover cropping, and no-till farming contribute to enhancing soil health.
Second, adopting proper irrigation practices is essential. While Irrigation can help provide plants with the water they need, efficient usage is important to avoid wasting water and nutrients. Optimal methods, such as drip irrigation or micro-irrigation systems, combined with scheduling irrigation based on plant needs, can significantly impact nutrient utilization.
Third, it is important to increase organic matter in the soil. Organic matter helps improve soil structure and fertility. It can be added to the soil through composting, cover cropping, and a no-till farming approach.
Farmers can seek guidance from agricultural experts and leverage available resources to stay up-to-date on nutrient management best practices. Embracing new technologies and methodologies can help farmers use fewer resources while producing higher-yielding and more sustainable crops.
Regular monitoring and adjusting nutrient management strategies are key to ensuring the long-term health of soil and crops. Soil nutrient levels can fluctuate due to different factors, including weather conditions, crop rotation, and tillage practices. By regularly monitoring soil nutrient levels, farmers can identify any potential problems early on and make necessary adjustments to their crop nutrient management plans.
This proactive approach can help prevent nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, ensuring optimal crop yields and quality. Additionally, regular monitoring can help farmers identify areas of their fields that may be more or less productive, allowing them to adjust nutrient management plans accordingly.
Developing a tailored nutrient management plan is crucial. This plan should include regular monitoring of soil nutrient levels and adjustments to nutrient inputs as needed. By taking the time to develop and implement a nutrient management plan, you can help to ensure the long-term health of your soil and crops.
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