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What this spring’s wet conditions mean for nitrogen loss

What this spring’s wet conditions mean for nitrogen loss

By: Extension specialists Fabian Fernandez and Dan Kaiser
Over the last several years, we have noticed that wet springs are becoming the norm. In addition to keeping us out of the field at a critical time, these wet conditions also create anxiety about nitrogen loss. 

Wet conditions in the spring are normally bad news for nitrogen management. However, wet conditions accompanied by cooler temperatures reduce the potential for nitrogen loss. Nitrogen loss pathways are driven by water and are dependent on nitrogen being in the nitrate form. Nitrate is formed in the soil from ammonium by bacteria through the nitrification process. Nitrification slows when soils are cold, keeping much of applied fertilizer N in the ammonium form. Since ammonium is a positively charged molecule, it is held by the soil and will not readily leach with excess water. On the other hand, nitrate has a negative charge and is repelled by soil particles, so it moves freely with water.

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Source: University of Minnesota Extension