Improving Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Sustainable Corn Production Through Use of Remote Sensors to Direct Site-specific Nitrogen Application

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Stevens Farms
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Debra Stevens
Stevens Farms

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: nutrient management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research


    Applying a portion of the N fertilizer during the growing season, alongside the growing corn crop is one way to improve N management. In-season N applications allow N fertilizer availability and crop N uptake to be more closely matched and allow for N management which is responsive to current growing season conditions. Active crop canopy sensors have been used during the growing season to direct in-season N application and have been found to  reduce N application and increase profit. This sensor technology is most commonly used on high clearance applicators, where sensing and application take place simultaneously. In southeast NE and other regions of the corn-belt, in-season N application by ground-based applicators is not common due to excessive crop damage in the rolling topography where contour and terrace farming practices are used. Some farmers in these landscapes rely on airplanes for in-season N applications. Additionally, small, passive, multi-spectral sensors can be carried on drones, enabling crop sensing to occur from the air. This study uses drone based sensing and aerial N application to demonstrate in-season N management which is conducted without vehicles on the ground in the field.


    Project objectives:

    The goal of this research project is to:

    1.  Evaluate the use of a passive crop canopy sensor to direct variable-rate, in-season N fertilizer recommendation rates on corn and apply this recommendation using variable-rate aerial technology.
    2. Evaluate different nitrogen pre-plant base-rates in combination with an in-season, variable-rate fertilizer system.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.