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Surface Urea- Some Good News, and Some Not So Much (05/27/21)

A great deal of urea was applied to the soil surface in North Dakota and the region this spring. A good portion of this was applied over a month ago.

A great deal of urea was applied to the soil surface in North Dakota and the region this spring. A good portion of this was applied over a month ago. Most areas, except in Richland and parts of Sargent counties in North Dakota received very little rain during this period. This weekend, all NDAWN stations received rain from ¼ inch to nearly 5 inches across the state. From the time that the urea was applied, the soil has been so dry that no water movement of urea to urease or urease to urea was possible. If the soil stayed in place, as it did for no-till fields, those fields with cover crop, winter cereals or significant residue, the urea was urea all through the dry month and the rain we just experienced likely moved it into the soil, resulting in little if any loss of N.

In fields without cover, and particularly fields that were rolled, soil has been eroded from the surface by wind in several events; the most recent event happening on May 24 and particularly on May 25. There are reports in some areas that wind erosion has been so severe that seeds placed in the ground over an inch in depth are now exposed directly to the air. That means that in many fields at least part of the field experienced serious surface soil loss from these repeated high-wind periods amounting to an inch or more loss. With the surface soil blown away, any surface-applied fertilizer went with it. Some of the coarser particles went to neighboring fields or into the ditch, fence-row, tree-rows, or riparian areas around rivers, streams, ponds, lakes. The finer particles have moved and are currently (7PM May 25) moving in a very long journey hundreds or thousands of miles away; wherever the upper air currents take them.

The good news is that fields with residue probably have the surface N and other nutrients that were applied. The not-very-good-news is that at least parts of fields where significant wind erosion has occurred have also lost their N and any other nutrients that were surface-applied. These fields will need to be monitored closely during the next month or so, and paired plant analysis from areas of green foliage compared to those without as green a foliage should be obtained to determine if supplemental N needs to be applied, and to which areas of the field it will be needed. If yellow/green differences in foliage are present, then drone imagery, satellite imagery, or active-ground sensors will help determine what areas will be in need, and which are not.

 

Dave Franzen

Extension Soil Specialist

(701-799-2565)

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