Product cuts nitrogen volatilization, enhancing fertility regimes

02/22/2012 10:59:00 AM
By Jerry Jackson

When crop yield and environmental benefits are enhanced by the same product, it makes for the proverbial win-win situation.

That accounts for some of the marketing success of the nitrogen stabilization product Agrotain.

More farmers have been adding Agrotain to their fertility programs in recent years, particularly in the Midwest and South, as evidence of its benefits spread.

The product has been around for more than a decade, and university research confirms that it can help prevent loss of fertilizer potency to varying degrees, depending on the circumstances.

But now the brand, which was acquired by Koch Industries in 2011, is attempting to make inroads into California, where the wide range of specialty crops and fertilization techniques are significantly different from the typical top-dressed fertilization method used for traditional field crops.

And California has some of the toughest regulatory hurdles for farm chemical use.

Bill Ulrich, regional manager for Koch Agronomic Services in Sacramento, says the market for Agrotain in California has been growing during the past two years.

“We’re still addressing issues and gathering data,” he says. “We have a lot more work ahead.”

Not surprisingly, the product’s best penetration in the state so far has been in wheat, Ulrich says, as California wheat growers follow similar fertilization practices as their counterparts in the Midwest.

Scott Foth, a pest control adviser with Simplot Grower Solutions in Five Points, Calif., says the growers he advises have clearly benefited from using Agrotain along with their urea fertilizer.

“This is the third year, and my growers ask for it now because they’ve seen it work,” Foth says.

The increased yield in wheat, barley, oats and other grains more than offsets the cost of the Agrotain, which averages about $8 per acre, Foth says.

“It’s paying for itself probably 10 times over. You don’t have to time the rains as closely,” he says.

Field trials with some of the state’s specialty crops also prove promising, Ulrich says.

How it works

Fertilizer applied to the surface of fields—traditional top dressing—begins losing potency as nitrogen in the urea essentially floats away as it interacts with air, soil moisture and microbes.

Technically known as volatilization, the process can cause urea-based fertilizer to lose nearly a third of its nitrogen efficiency in less than a week, though more typically the loss is 10 percent to 20 percent.

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