New technologies for improving sustainability of corn N management

2014 Annual Report for LNE13-328

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $219,972.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Aaron Ristow
American Farmland Trust

New technologies for improving sustainability of corn N management


This project aims to enhance N management while also increasing the adoption of cover crop and soil health management practices in corn production. Adapt-N was tested in 104 trials over three years in Iowa and New York and demonstrated that, by adapting N recommendations for corn to weather effects at sidedress time, Adapt-N can increase profits and decrease applied nitrogen in comparison to current grower rates. Use of Adapt-N showed average N reductions of 44lbs/acre and an increase of $30/acre in profit overall. This is a win-win scenario, as applying a more precise rate at each location results not only in producer profits, but also in decreased GHG losses, and reduced N losses to surface and groundwater. Adapt-N was licensed at the end of 2013 and became available for commercial use in the spring of 2014.  Walmart named Adapt-N the top-rated nitrogen management tool, it has been praised by the Environmental Defense Fund and was recently named a winner in General Mill’s Global Innovation Challenge, which aims to reduce the environmental impacts of farming.

We have collected 2014 trial data and are in the process of analysis.  We will be offering new indicators for the Soil Health Test in 2015 and offering a new, basic “starter” test as a simple alternative to the comprehensive test. In 2015, data from soil health tests will be used in a beta version of Adapt-N to better inform recommendations. We continue to make progress educating stakeholders about the importance of adapting N inputs in corn systems to weather impacts by moving to dynamic N rate decisions made at sidedress time, and about the contributions of soil health to nitrogen dynamics through outreach and field demonstrations. 

Objectives/Performance Targets

Planned for this time period:

  • 1500 farmers and advisors gain understanding of dynamic, in-season N management with tools like Adapt-N and multi-purpose/high-clearance equipment for sidedressing and cover crop establishment, through field days, winter meetings, and newsletter articles. (Aug 2013-Mar 2014)
  • 300 farmers and advisors learn the above and also how to use Adapt-N and the new preliminary cover crop module through webinars, and 80 of these will also gain in-depth knowledge of Adapt-N use in 2 intensive hands-on workshops provided by the team (Feb-April 2014)
  • 30 new farmers and 10 new advisors request accounts to use the updated Adapt-N version in 2014 (Jan-June 2014)
  • 12 farmers, working with 8 project collaborators, implement strip trials, comparing current N management with Adapt-N rates, gaining direct experience and training with dynamic, in-season N management (April-November 2014)
  • 15 additional farmers implementing CIG funded cover crop inter seeding trials in MD, PA and NY learn how to use Adapt-N and implement Adapt-N rates using the new cover crop module (April-November 2014).
  • 1500 farmers and advisors learn about Adapt-N performance results from prior growing seasons, and updated cover cropping and soil health indicator input features, through 4 field days and 4 fall/winter meetings (August 2014-Mar 2015).



The number of Adapt-N accounts in the original, Cornell-based interface increased substantially between 2009 and 2014 to a total of 1,038 users on March 31, 2014. On April 1st, 2014 the Cornell Adapt-N research team established a public-private partnership with Agronomic Technology Corporation (ATC) to sustain Adapt-N availability to the public by covering increasing cost through annual license fees ( Since then, there has been increased interests at the state, regional and national levels.  ATC launched an improved commercial Adapt-N interface. Adoption of the new interface has been extensive, with users in 19 states representing a mix of growers, service providers (agronomists) and several enterprises – larger customers with particular service and infrastructure needs beyond a professional agronomist account.  In July 2014, users were modeling ~130,000 acres across ~2,000 fields in 25 states.

To date there has been 2,000 farmers and advisors exposed to Adapt-N performance results through field days and winter meetings, newsletter articles, and webinars as a result of this grant. An additional 2,000 have been exposed through leveraging work from other grants. The highlight of the outreach work was hosting and recording a webinar in April where over 130 people participated. It is now available on our website at Further work in 2014 includes the development of a case study of a New York farmer that used Adapt-N (, publishing Adapt-N results from 3 seasons in Cornell’s What’s Cropping Up ( and other articles covered in various media outlets through featured articles. Walmart named Adapt-N the top-rated nitrogen management tool in 2014, the Environmental Defense Fund has given it praise and recently it was named a winner in General Mill’s Global Innovation Challenge, which aims to reduce the environmental impacts of farming ( Additionally, the Adapt-N Training manual was published and posted on our website ( 

Testing continues in 2015 in the new interface through no-cost accounts provided by ATC for the research team and collaborators. Nevertheless, with the transition of moving the Adapt-N tool from Cornell to ATC in 2014 and realigning management priorities, we were unable to test a beta version of the tool to use data from soil health tests to better inform recommendations. We have worked with collaborators in MD, PA and NY and much of the background work for the module has been completed but we have yet to develop the mechanism within the interface to enter and process the data.  This work is scheduled to be completed by spring of 2015. In addition we have continued to update the industry on cover cropping and soil health indicator input features, through field days, webinars, and other outreach tools mentioned above. One highlight of 2014 was developing and hosting a 4 day soil health train the trainer workshop in Ithaca, NY.  We continue our work to update the soil health manual to include new soil health indicators with a plan date of completion of April 2015, in time for the 2015 sampling season.

Research and Adapt-N Improvements

The tool’s accuracy and precision have been evaluated through on-farm trials and improved in response to performance and user feedback.  We are finding that in dry and normal weather conditions, Adapt-N can decrease N inputs without causing yield losses.  The wet spring of 2013 was interesting because it provided the first chance to test the tool for extreme wet conditions. Adapt-N recommended increased sidedress rates over the grower’s normal practice in 8 out of 11 NY trials. The difference between Adapt-N recommendations and grower practice (A-G) averaged +20 lbN/ac (-60 to +70 lb N/ac). Yield increased on average by +21 bu/ac (-10 to +58 bu/ac; silage reported as grain equivalent: 1 T silage = 8.14 bu grain).  In all cases where Adapt-N recommended a fertilizer increase, higher rates resulted in increased yields and profits. Overall, profits from Adapt-N recommendations increased in 9 out of 11 trials (82%), ranging from -$20 to +$252/ac with an average increase of $94/ac.

Despite significant fertilizer increases, simulated total losses of N over the season averaged only 8 lb N/ac higher in Adapt-N versus Grower strips. Post sidedress losses occur if sidedress N is applied before the crop is large enough to prevent wet soil conditions through high transpiration rates, or if excess N remains at the end of the season. Most of the additional fertilizer recommended by Adapt-N was taken up by the crop after sidedressing, while N applications and losses were reduced in 3 of the trials. In two trials where profit losses did occur, we suspect that the combination of inadequately drained, compacted, poorly aggregated soils and heavy rains caused higher losses than simulated by the model.

Success stories from two growers in particular can be highlighted. Grower Arnold Richardson, working with Keith Severson of CCE Cayuga County, saw significant profit gains of over $100/ac on average from Adapt-N use this year ( Dave DeGolyer of Western NY Crop Management Association established several trials of rescue N applications in July with growers Donn and Chad Branton. The Brantons’ standard N management places nearly all N fertilizer in a deep slot with stabilizer at planting. However, this year demonstrated that such fertilizer is vulnerable to losses during heavy late spring rains despite stabilizer. Adapt-N indicated that more N was needed, even though enough would have been available in a normal year. By sidedressing an additional 60 lb N/ac, the Brantons saw increases of 25, 42, and 58 bu/ac in three trials and profit gains of approximately $79, $164, and $246/ac due to avoided yield loss. The Brantons decreased their preplant N applications this spring, and used Adapt-N-informed sidedress rates provided by WNYCMA.  We are currently finishing 2014 reporting from growers and Ag service providers on 20 trials in NY so we can begin to analyze the results.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The economic optimum N rate (EONR) that a corn crop needs is highly variable from year to year and field to field, and this is heavily influenced by weather, especially by early-season rainfall. The project team recommends that producers and their service providers use the Adapt-N tool to aid in N rate decision making at sidedress time, and as a learning tool to guide more in-depth understanding of N dynamics and management options.

Primary beneficiaries of Adapt-N are Northeast and Midwest corn producers using a variety of management styles and scales (Adapt-N is scale-neutral), but particularly those who already have sidedressing equipment. However, many of our collaborators report that the Adapt-N tool, and associated learning opportunities, are encouraging growers in their area to shift N application toward sidedressing, away from pre-plant application. The project is also benefiting agricultural service providers including consultants, extension personnel, NRCS and SWCD staff, and researchers, who can use the tool to teach about N dynamics and to provide better N management advice. Society is a secondary beneficiary through improved water quality, reduced greenhouse gas losses, and mitigation of climate change associated with better N management on the most common and environmentally impactful crop in the U.S. Using average N savings of 44 lb/ac and an approximate 100,000 acres using Adapt-N recommendations, 2014 use of the tool can be estimated to have reduced the amount of N applied to these fields by over 4,000,000 pounds, saving producers a total of at least $2-3M. 

The updated Adapt-N manual, email list, blog, and recordings and slides from several webinar presentations on Adapt-N are available on our website. According to Google Analytics, our website had 8,416 visits from July 2013 to June 2014, down from 11,263 visits the previous year, due to the shift to the commercial tool for the 2014 sidedress season. Total traffic changed mainly at sidedress time, with an average 57 visits per day in May/June 2013, and only 17 visits/day in the same months in 2014, likely due to the introduction of the commercial Adapt-N tool in 2014, and new commercial website ( through which all tool use is now routed.

The project team concludes that use of the Adapt-N tool for informing sidedress application rates in corn should be strongly recommended and widely implemented in corn systems. New York and New Hampshire NRCS have already written the Adapt-N tool into their advanced 590 nutrient management practice options, and there is potential for the tool’s use to be widely incentivized through cost-shares by NRCS, non-profit, and other organizations. Implementing such additional incentives along with the inherent risk- and profit-related incentives from Adapt-N will aid in improving water quality, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and helping producers adapt to variable early season weather and maintain profitability on broad acreages.  All recent publications are available on our website (


Dr. Jeff Melkonian
Senior Research Associate
Cornell University
1016 Bradfield, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072279172
Dr. Ellen Mallory
Associate Professor
University of Maine
495 College Avenue
Orono, ME 04473
Office Phone: 2075812942
Dr. Thomas Green

Agflex, Inc.
4510 Regent St.
Madison, WI 53705
Office Phone: 6082321425
Dale Dewing
Extension Watershed Team Leader
Delaware County Cooperative Extension
34570 State Highway 10
Hamden, NY 13782
Office Phone: 6078656531
Eric Bever
Consultant and Owner
Champlain Valley Agronomics
10 Train Rd
Peru, NY 12972
Office Phone: 5186432360
Dr. Harold van Es
Cornell University
Bradfield Hall, Room 1005
Crops and Soil Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072555629
Dr. John Spargo
Director, Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory
Penn State University
Tower Rd
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148659155
Keith Severson
Field Crops Resource Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Cayuga County
248 Grant Ave
Auburn, NY 13021
Office Phone: 3152551183
James Cubie

Agriculture Conservation Consultant, Co-owner
Agflex, Inc.
4510 Regent St.
Madison, WI 53705
Office Phone: 6082321425
Dorn Cox
Executive Director
Box 397
Durham, NH 03861
Office Phone: 6037816030
Peg Cook
Cook's Consulting
7042 State Rte 12
Lowville, NY 13367
Office Phone: 3153763302
Paul Cerosaletti
Senior Resource Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension
34570 State Highway 10
Hamden, NY 13782
Office Phone: 6078656531
Dr. Eric Young
Agronomist/Soil Scientist
W. H. Miner Institute
1034 Miner Farm Road, P.O. Box 90
Chazy, NY 12921
Office Phone: 5188467121
Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune
Extension Associate
Cornell University
1001 Bradfield, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Tower Rd
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 3177217645
Dr. Steven Mirsky
Research Ecologist
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory
100300 Baltimore Ave
Beltsville, MD 20705-2350
Office Phone: 3015045324
Sandy Menasha
Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Suffolk County
3059 Sound Ave
Riverhead, NY 11901
Office Phone: 6317273595
Bob Schindelbeck
Extension Associate
Cornell University
1004 Bradfield, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072276055
Dr. Matt Ryan
Assistant Professor
Cornell University
515 Bradfield, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Tower Rd
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072554964
Rebecca Ressl
Project Coordinator
BMP Challenge, Agflex, Inc.
4510 Regent St.
Madison, WI 53705
Office Phone: 6082321425
Dr. Dan Moebius-Clune
Postdoctoral Associate
1007 Bradfield, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14853
Dave Degolyer
Executive Managing Consultant
Western NY Crop Management Association
5242 Curtis Rd
Warsaw, NY 14569
Office Phone: 5857865831
Dr. Heather Darby
Associate Professor
University of Vermont
278 South Main St, Suite 2
St. Albans, VT 05478
Office Phone: 8025246501
Dr. William Curran
Pennsylvania State University
423 Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148631014