The Costly Nitrogen Myth

You probably know of farmers top dressing their cereal crops with nitrogen sometimes twice in the season. Sometimes they have improved crops. Sometimes they have to use higher rates yet production remains about the same.

Artificial nitrogen is regarded as a safeguard to get a good finish. Recently we visited a farmer who pools his resources with his brother to crop together a total of 8000 acres, predominantly wheat. The first brother instigated that they both grow their crops using biologically friendly fertilisers, both solid and liquid as well as using a biological seed dressing.

In winter they had a visit from their friendly consultant/salesman who told them that it would be a very good idea to put out 40kg/ha of urea on a crop even though the crop was looking pretty healthy. The first brother, who had been growing cereals much longer than his brother, said no way. The second brother however was insistent that they follow the advice and put out the urea. The first brother then said OK, we will divide the crop in half and you put it out on your crop, I am not putting it on my section. The second brother thought about it and reluctantly did not go ahead with the urea application.

Their crops came up well and looked good right through the growing period, in fact better than most crops in the district. At harvest they were stripping their wheat at approximately 4 tonnes to the hectare which was considerably better than the district average. They both now consider the application of urea would have been a waste of money.

The first brother has been farming biologically for quite a few years now. Not only have his crops consistently outperformed the district average even in adverse years, he has had reasonable crops when others just get their seed back. He also supplies some of his biologically grown grain to dairy farmers and is fast developing a trade with keen, astute buyers. They see a difference. On one particular dairy farm the dairy farmer found when feeding the biologically grown grain that the production went up, metabolic problems decreased, cows become more docile where they had been know to stampede. This same farmer started to learn and has now reduced the amount of artificial nitrogen he puts on his pastures as well.

The experts in the know will tell you that artificial nitrogen produces artificial protein known as “funny protein” that is detrimental to animal health. On top of that the crops are less resilient in particular to frost. When farmers realise and farm biologically they will find that they DO NOT need to buy artificial nitrogen. They will produce a more productive, reliable crop that has more nutrients and energy in it where all end users, human or animal, benefit.