The Carbon Penalty: Will Your Crops Pay the Price in 2015?

Soil Microbes

Soil Microbes

Until recent years not much agronomic attention has been given to the carbon to nitrogen relationship but increased corn acres and emphasis on biologicals has driven many people to pay more attention to these interactions and ask questions about how they are affecting yields. Here at Novus Ag we strive to provide expert advise on all nutritional issues and see 2015 as a year with high carbon penalties for growers which may result in potential yield losses.

Why is the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio important?

Having a balanced C:N ratio helps increase crop residue decomposition, crop nutrient cycling and overall soil health. Nitrogen is predominantly affected by this balance, however, all nutrients have relationships with each other and can be influenced as well.

What is the Carbon Penalty?

The Carbon Penalty occurs when the C:N ratio in an environment is not balanced and begins to affect crop yields. Soil microorganisms have a diet that needs a C:N ratio of 24:1 and this ratio governs all soils. Any natural elements that have contact with the soil are consumed and broken down by the microorganisms. This is why wooden fence posts decompose at soil level and also how crop residues on the soil surface are broken down. When a microorganism encounters a substance with a low C:N ratio, it is consumed quickly with relatively no excess carbon or nitrogen leftover. However, when organisms try to break down something with a high C:N ratio, such as corn stalks (57:1) or wheat straw (80:1), they have to scavenge additional nitrogen to go with the excess carbon when consuming that substance. As these microbes immobilize  nitrogen, a temporary nitrogen deficit can be seen in the soil until some of the microbe populations die off and release the nitrogen and other nutrients they have been converting.

Microorganisms also preform under specific environmental conditions. If the soil is too wet or too cold, the microbes will stay dormant until the weather improves. Therefore, a wet and cold fall harvest will likely result in early microbe dormancy. These conditions force microbe populations to do their stubble decomposition in half the time during the spring, working faster and tying up more nitrogen to get the job done.

Any acre with high amounts of liter on the soil surface can see potential nitrogen deficiencies related to the C:N ratio. Particular scenarios to watch this spring are beans after corn, corn after corn, and anything planted after a cover crop. Nitrogen deficiencies may be observed early in the season as soils warm up and microbes complete their process. Zinc and boron levels should also be considered as they play a direct role with nitrogen uptake in the plant.

Early foliars can be applied with post-emergence chemicals to correct this deficiency and boost plant nutrition. NutriMaxx and Hype are two exceptional foliars, carried only by Novus Ag, that provide the plant with additional nitrogen and more nutrients during this stressful period. Novus Ag also has a stubble digester available for fall applications that aids microbes in their digestion process and has proven to increase yield due to additional nitrogen availability in the following spring, among other benefits.

As the old saying goes, “Everything that happens to a seed once it leaves the bag reduces yield potential.” Considering our lack of a normal Indian summer and high yields (with high residue) in 2014, growers would be wise to keep an eye on this situation and be prepared to supplement their corn or beans with additional nutrients as needed.

Feel free to contact myself or any of the Novus Ag Associate Partners with questions regarding this or any other agricultural issues.

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