Sunday, January 4, 2015

Busting some anhydrous ammonia myths

Last year we applied anhydrous ammonia to our fallow fields in preparation of seeding. Many people misunderstand the use of chemical fertilizers, so let's bust some myths.

The first myth is that farmers drench their fields, because conventional farmers don't know their land.

Nothing is further from the truth. Before we apply any fertilizer, the soil is tested. Soil tests include the existing nutrients in the soil, the organic material content, the pH, and salt. Samples are taken at the twelve inch, twenty four inch and thirty six inch depths.

Then a recommendation is made based on the desired yield, expected moisture, and soil properties. If we apply too much fertilizer, it will burn up the crop before it can produce anything. Over fertilizing is bad for the farmer and the soil. We only apply what is needed. An onboard computer is used to apply the precise amount desired. Newer technology can create a prescription based on yields and soil tests. Yields increase while using the same amount of fertilizer, but applied more accurately where it would best be used.

Another myth is that chemical fertilizer causes salts to build up in the soil and large amounts of water is wasted to flush them from the soil.

On our farm, the soil samples showed effects of salt were negligible. It would be impossible for us to flush salts from the soil since we are dry land farmers and apply no irrigation. It is also unlikely rain is a huge factor in salt reduction, since we receive less than ten inches of rain a year.

I have also heard the myth that chemical fertilizer kills the soil.

Initially anhydrous ammonia inhibits the microbes in the soil, but five weeks after application soil bacteria populations had returned to normal. Anhydrous ammonia can also increase organic material in soil and increase the amount of carbon stored in the top twelve inches.

Overall, anhydrous ammonia is a valuable and useful fertilizer that is used safely to increase yields and productivity on the modern farm.


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