Agronomists at the University of Missouri (MU) have received a $1 million federal grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to refine crop applications.

The four-part project aims to identify economically viable ways to maintain crop productivity, while reducing environmental risks from nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, says Peter Scharf, MU associate professor of agronomy.

“Nutrient management isn’t just an issue for the Midwest,” he says. “It’s a national environmental issue affecting water quality in lakes, rivers, oceans and drinking water supplies. While we’ve made major strides during the past 60 years, there’s still room to be more efficient, to supply crop nutrients only where and when they’re needed.”

The first two parts of the study involve developing systems to manage nitrogen application to corn based on the crop’s color. Previous MU studies suggest color is a reliable indicator of the amount of nitrogen needed.

“There’s a lot of variability in the amount of nitrogen that’s required for a crop across a field,” explains Scharf. “Some areas require no additional nitrogen, while others may require 200 lb. or more per acre. Current practices that apply a uniform rate often leave unused nitrogen in the field, which is then subject to leaching into the water table.”

By applying nitrogen to corn based on its color, the amount of unused nitrogen can be reduced, which is better economically for the producer and good for the environment.

The project’s third part will evaluate the effectiveness of Agrotain, a product that reduces loss of surface-applied urea.

The final part of the project involves creation of software for comprehensive manure management. The software will help producers develop spatial management plans for proper manure application, and prepare environmental reports required by state and federal agencies, says Scharf.