Agronomists at the University of Missouri have received a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to refine the application of essential crop nutrients.

The goal of the four-part project is to identify economically viable technologies that maintain crop productivity while reducing environmental risks associated with nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, says Peter Scharf, MU associate professor of agronomy and principal investigator.

The first two parts of the project involve developing systems to manage nitrogen application to corn based on the crop's color. Previous MU studies have shown that color is a reliable indicator of the amount of nitrogen needed.

By varying the nitrogen application rate based on the corn's color, Scharf says the amount of unused nitrogen can be reduced. "This is both good for the environment and more economical for the producer."

The MU agronomists will evaluate two systems for predicting corn nitrogen requirement by color. One uses a radiometer, a device that when mounted on a fertilizer applicator, measures the amount of light reflected by the corn. Another system uses aerial photos.

The project's third part will evaluate the effectiveness of Agrotain, a product designed to reduce losses of surface-applied urea. By coating urea with Agrotain, Scharf says much of the nitrogen loss can be eliminated.

The final part of the project will focus on creating software for comprehensive manure management. John Lory, environmental nutrient management specialist with the MU Commercial Agriculture Program, will lead this effort.

University of Missouri