Turf & Ornamental
Cob Products
Contract Manufacturing
Turf & Ornamental
Industrial Cob Products
Lab Bedding
Contract Manufacturing
Close Map

Update from the Field: Make Bread Out of Air

Posted by Dave Dyson, Agronomist on May 27, 2021

At the turn of the twentieth century, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch created a way of extracting nitrogen from the air and using it to make a stunningly good fertilizer. In one of my favorite books, “The Alchemy of Air”, Thomas Hager says, “They discovered a way to make bread out of air.” That stunningly good fertilizer was nitrogen in a usable form created from the N2 in the atmosphere. Converting nitrogen from N2 to a form that plants can use is a difficult process but losing nitrogen to the environment can be as easy as a rain event or sunshine.

Nitrogen can leave the root zone and get lost to the surrounding environment in three main processes: leaching, denitrification, or ammonia volatilization, Figure 1. Leaching is when nitrate moves out of the root zone and becomes an environmental concern. This process can contaminate surface water and contribute to the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Leaching can also contaminate ground water causing “Blue Baby Syndrome”. If drinking water contains too much nitrogen and gets ingested, the nitrogen can replace the oxygen in the blood, causing the skin to turn blue. This can affect smaller children at a higher rate, thus the “Blue Baby” name.  

Figure 1: The nitrogen cycle showing components, inputs, losses, and transformations to soil nitrogen pools. UltraMate LQ will stop denitrification, leaching, and volatilization, preventing the nitrogen from leaving the root zone. https://www.agry.purdue.edu/CCA/2008/Proceedings/Schwab.pdf 

Denitrification occurs when nitrate is converted into a gas and escapes into the atmosphere. This usually happens after a major rain event when the soil becomes saturated. After nitrogen is applied to the ground, it will convert into the nitrate form. In the nitrate form, it will either be taken up by the plant or undergo denitrification if the soil is saturated. During this process, the nitrogen will bubble up into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, you can literally see your nitrogen investment bubble up and float away, and yields start to decrease.

Ammonia volatilization, through the urease process, can occur if UAN is applied to the surface of the ground. The urea portion is converted to ammonia that can then escape back into the atmosphere. This is an important consideration with sidedress and Y-drop season quickly approaching. Most sidedress applicators apply UAN with a rolling cutter, using less power and minimally disturbing the soil. Unfortunately, rolling cutters and Y-drops leave the UAN exposed and subject to ammonia volatilization.

The Andersons’ UltraMate® LQ liquid humate improves the efficiency of applied nitrogen by sequestering metals and carbon chelating the nitrogen molecule with humic and fulvic acid. UltraMate LQ has 12% humic acid and 4% fulvic acid. The humic acid in UltraMate LQ will sequester nickel, preventing the urease process from occurring, thus preventing ammonia volatilization. The leaching and denitrification will not occur due to the carbon chelation.

When UAN is applied during sidedress, consider adding 1 gal/acre of UltraMate LQ or UltraMate Zn. The carbon in these products will protect the nitrogen from leaving the root zone, thus increasing overall yield. Our nitrogen investment, yield potential, and the environment all need to be protected. Utilizing The Andersons’ UltraMate LQ or UltraMate Zn will help protect your stunningly good fertilizer and the environment. 


Please complete the form, and we’ll get you in touch with your Territory Manager from The Andersons. 

David Dyson

Dave Dyson is a regional agronomist for The Andersons’ Farm Centers which are located throughout Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He is an Indiana native and grew up on a dairy farm in Miami County. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Crop & Soil Science, Dave has a deep knowledge of various agronomic topics and is committed to helping growers improve their crops. If you have any questions, Dave can be reached at david_dyson@andersonsinc.com

© 2021 The Andersons, Inc. All Rights Reserved. UltraMate is a registered trademark of The Andersons, Inc.

Hey: market_feed - 1199