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The Nutrient Efficiency Triangle

Our planet presents many challenges to the Agricultural community. Areas of the world face
a food shortage as populations increase, but also as developing populations dietary
requirements for protein change.

The Agricultural Community continues to face significant Economic and Financial
challenges every day. And of course, Farmers want more yield, better crops and increased
profitability.

From an Agronomic standpoint, the Agricultural Community has historically been slow to embrace new or unproven technologies.

Environmentally the Agricultural Community faces challenges in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching. Not addressing these challenges leads to Air quality issues, algae ridden waterways, high nitrate levels in our water systems, and poor water quality.

These issues come together in the politics of our culture, and become a complex set of issues. We are a divisive society with a “white hat, black hat” mentality. But does the
Economic profit motive have to be a mutually exclusive issue from Environmental Stewardship and Agronomics?

 

I would submit that they do not need to be separate conflicting issues, but rather can be interrelated synergistic issues. But where does the message go wrong or not resonate?

Some say that those controlling the messaging, might not have the Financial motivation to deliver an Agronomical or Environmentally Responsible solution on a broad scale. Some
say the Agronomic solution is too expensive or is not scientifically sound. Or possibly the solution they offer is worse than the problem they solve, and is not a responsible
Environmental solution.

The issues are complex but revolve around Economics, Agronomics, and Environmental responsibility. We will explore some specific issues and offer some possible solutions.

 

According to William R. Raun and Gordon V. Johnson from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, nitrogen use efficiency worldwide “is approximately 33%”. “The unaccounted 67% represents a $15.9 billion annual loss of N Fertilizer from gaseous plant emission, soil denitrification, surface runoff, volatilization, and leaching”.

The industry universally agrees that we need more food and more efficiency in farming, particularly nutrient efficiency. But can this be done with Economic Benefit, Sound
Agronomics and in an Environmentally Responsible way?

Economic Benefit, Agronomic performance, and Responsible Environmental Stewardship is what Presidion Ag refers to as the “Efficiency Triangle”.

The “Efficiency Triangle”, is the triangular balance of Economic Benefit, Agronomic
Performance, while exercising Responsibility to the Environment. It is a simple philosophy,
and for those familiar with Stephen Covey’s work could be referred to as “our lighthouse”.
Eco Agro Resources is dedicated to making Economic, Agronomic and Responsible
decisions. It is literally what EAR stands for.

The Key to understanding the “Efficiency Triangle” relative to Nitrogen efficiency is
complex, but it starts with understanding the Nitrogen Cycle in Agriculture. The Nitrogen
Cycle is the cycle of nitrogen conversion that feeds the plant that becomes our food or is
used to produce our food. Through this process nitrogen is either absorbed by the plant or
lost to the environment.

The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) has a platform they are dedicated to that they have
implemented and are in the process of imprinting, which is the concept of the “four R’s”.
The four R’s refer to the Right Source, Right Time, Right Place, and Right Rate in Fertilizer
Management.
The biggest question we hear asked by growers from a nutrient perspective is found in one
of the four R’s. What is the right rate? This is a legitimate question and this paper attempts
to review that question with specificity relative to above and below ground nitrogen
protection. But the question being asked is an incomplete question.

We will examine this question in more detail.

Efficient Nitrogen Management gives growers better yields, better soil quality, better return on investment and a better environment. And yet we can still optimize efficiency even more through the use and adoption of developing Technologies.

Ineffective nitrogen management, means losing nitrogen to the Environment and potentially manifests itself in poor water quality, algae blooms, hypoxia and/or, in the form of
Greenhouse gases. Documented and known cases range from Gulf of Mexico hypoxia, Chesapeake Bay Water Shed Issues, The Raccoon River and ozone air quality issues. Inefficient Nitrogen management means growers absorb unneeded costs, plants do not achieve maximum yield potential, poor quality plants, and profits are lost.

 

 

The question to ask oneself is given the relatively low adoption levels why have Farmers not adopted more efficient or developing technologies. The answer may lie with any one of the sides of the Efficiency Triangle.  So, let’s examine this further.

As stated earlier the nitrogen cycle takes Nitrogen from its original form to a form that can be either “eaten” by the plant, or lost to the environment in the form of volatilization, and
nitrate leaching or denitrification. The most powerful example of nitrogen delivery in Agriculture is urea. Urea is 46 percent nitrogen.

There are two primary modes of losing Nitrogen in Urea. Above ground loss due to volatilization and below ground loss due to denitrification and leaching. So, the key to providing the plant as much nitrogen as possible, and ultimately crop yield, is protecting your nitrogen from loss. As Nitrogen protection has evolved, it has become clear that optimum protection, requires two forms of protection. It requires Above Ground and Below Ground protection, since there are two distinctive modes of loss.

 

Unfortunately, most of the early Commercial products are single component products that do
not offer three-way protection, and only offer one form of protection. Some Products have
high costs due to the needed chemical protections having to be added inefficiently at
production, and/or at unneeded dosage levels. Some products are not customized to address
specific local weather and soil conditions and are being offered as a “one size fit all”. One
size does not fit all.

Given that the Agricultural Community is traditionally slow to embrace new technologies
and needs sound Agronomics, lets focus on two specific, scientifically proven chemistries,
with long histories of reducing nitrogen loss, NBPT and DCD.

Above ground losses have a long and proven history of being positively affected by the
Chemical NBPT. Below ground losses have an even longer history of being treated by
Dicyandiamide (DCD). While there may be other chemical treatment options, the historical
Agronomic results of NBPT and DCD are proven and products containing these chemicals
should be easily embraced by the Agricultural Community given their long performance
history, if proven Economically Sound and Environmentally Responsible.

Now the catalyst for adoption has arrived, not in the form of new Active Ingredients, but in a
significant improvement and development in the delivery of active Ingredients and the
ability to combine these historically proven performers.

Until very recently, DCD could not be delivered in a liquid form that provided enough active
ingredient on urea, to provide Agronomic benefit. The “optimum level” of DCD delivered
had not been defined until recently. Because DCD could not be delivered efficiently in a
liquid, NBPT and DCD could not be combined at the local level. DCD had to be added at
the production of urea or in an expensive re-granulation process.

However, recently Presidion Agriculture has developed technologies (patent numbers 9,637,420, and patent number 9,650,306) that allow DCD and NBPT to be combined where authorized, in a
liquid form, deliver them at valuable Agronomic rates, at an economic price point that
positively impacts a grower, and is environmentally responsible.

We refer to these products as “Neon”, from the Latin word Neo meaning “new”, and the chemical symbol for Nitrogen, “N”.

But what is the Neon Family all about?

As stated earlier the key is understanding the Efficiency Triangle starts with understanding the nitrogen cycle.

Where urea is your nitrogen source the first potential loss mechanism in the nitrogen cycle is above ground loss. This is referred to as volatilization. Neon Air and Neon Laser both address above ground loss by including the chemical NBPT in the formulation. The second and a separate potential mode of loss is from below ground De-nitrification and leaching.

Now that you are aware of the loss mechanisms and two of the proven methods of controlling Nitrogen loss to the Environment, let’s look at the other two key components of the Efficiency Triangle to growers, Economics and Agronomics.

For adoption purposes, this requires an understanding of the relationship between Economics and Agronomics. So, we will look at these questions together. For reference, let us assume Untreated Urea today costs $300 per ton. Pretreated Urea with both NBPT and DCD to protect against the three modes of loss generally costs around $140 per ton (give or take) above untreated urea, so let us assume those economics for pretreated urea.

The Neon family has three products that address nitrogen loss both above and below the ground by treating locally. They are customized for specific climatic conditions depending on your specific risks relative to potential mode of loss.

 

The general economic expense to treat is around $75 per ton (give or take).

A $65 per ton difference (potential savings) in protecting your Urea costs, warrants further close examination, as this could lead to extremely large profits for a grower, and ultimately massive market adoption.

Let’s look at how the products are put together to address the potential modes of losing
nitrogen separately, with the understanding that each Neon product is designed for a specific
challenge. Let’s also look at Pretreated Urea versus custom local Neon treated Urea
Protection.

Test results from many sources over many years align in their agreement that the comparable
levels of NBPT in both the pretreated urea, as well as Eco Agro’s Neon Products that can be
treated locally, at suggested rates, are at levels that protect Urea for around 7 days, likely
slightly longer.

We know both methods of treatment contain virtually the same amounts of the chemical
NBPT to protect against above ground loss. This allows us to make reasonable assumptions
that both methods provide full protection (or at least the same relative to each other) against
Nitrogen losses above ground.

So, we know the Agronomics and Environmental Stewardship are equal and now we can
look at the economics.

It is estimated that 35% to 45% of Nitrogen in urea is lost due to volatilization in the first 7
days. Given Urea is 46% nitrogen, in either method of treating your urea, a Grower can save
approximately 320 to 415 pounds of potentially available nitrogen, that would have been
lost if left unprotected. So, both products save the same amount of nitrogen from above
ground losses, but at far different costs ($140 per ton versus $75 per ton).

The Economics’ becomes the question when comparing above ground protection with
Pretreated Urea versus locally treated urea. At a cost of $300 per ton of urea and by saving
320-415 pounds of nitrogen as N, which is equal to 700 to 900 pounds of urea we know the
following; the grower has potentially saved $105 to $135 of his urea investment in either
treatment option, against above ground losses.

Depending on the whether the Grower purchased Pretreated Urea or invested in locally
custom treated urea, the grower spent approximately either $140 or $75, to save that $105-
$135 in urea. This is an easy decision if this were the only potential loss variable considering
the Economic value, equal Agronomics, and proven Environmental benefit.

Assuming equal protection against Volatilization, we can now evaluate how both treatments
address the potential of lost Nitrogen from below ground losses. When assessing risk to
denitrification and leaching; climate, and soil conditions are key variables to accessing risk.
Eco Agro customizes against risk and pretreated urea is produced on a mass scale far in
advance of your specific weather conditions.

Dry conditions offer more loss risk from volatilization and wet conditions offer more risk
loss potential from below ground loss. Understanding the nitrogen cycle we now know we
have an additional 320 to 415 pounds of nitrogen that potentially could have been lost that
has been protected and now is subject to the second potential mode of loss in the nitrogen
cycle, denitrification and leaching.

Logically we can assume the same basic Agronomics and we are exercising the same responsibility to the Environment whether a grower uses pretreated urea or treats their urea locally when evaluating above ground comparisons.

The difference in Pretreated Urea versus Custom Local Urea Treatment is in the high rate of DCD in the pretreated product. So now we can look at the Economics of this. But we must understand the Agronomics simultaneously.

A grower would now be evaluating the Agronomic portion of a pretreated urea versus treating locally, relative to below ground losses. Logically we can assume 920 pounds per ton of nitrogen is available if it is assumed zero volatilization loss (for comparison purposes only). This calculation is 2,000 pounds (one ton) times 46% nitrogen equals 920 pounds of nitrogen available.

In order to properly evaluate the nitrification and leaching side of the product debate it is logical to assume since both methods of treatment have the same relative amount of the same chemical (NBPT) that the above ground protection is comparable. However please note is is highly unlikely that you will incur zero losses from volatilization from either method of treating your urea.

The two methods of treatment have differing levels of DCD. Growers have asked the question does this “low” amount of DCD in Neon’s work and is this the “right amount” of DCD when compared to Pretreated urea? This is a legitimate question that needs exploration, analysis, evaluation and ultimately, understanding.

One producer of Pretreated Urea stated that their pretreated urea “reduced cumulative combined nitrate leaching to the ground by 30% or nitrogen loss to the soil by 30%”.

Presidion through multiple University Studies and has defined the response curve for DCD delivered in a liquid, and therefore has been able to define the equilibrium between Economic and Agronomic Value when delivering DCD in a liquid. Agronomics and Economics cannot be mutually exclusive in this evaluation, and now the Agronomics have some definition.

As stated above, multiple studies referencing the potential for below ground loss protection
based on the DCD levels in Neon Surface have shown that 50% more nitrogen is available
in the ammonium form than in untreated urea. This means that the DCD in Neon Surface
provides protection against below ground loss, of at least 460-pounds of nitrogen.
Economically these 460 pounds of Nitrogen saved is equivalent to 1,000 pounds of urea.
The value of below ground protection from Neon Surface based on $300 urea is $150.00.
So, for consistency purposes as with the Volatilization evaluation, a growers $75 investment
in Neon Surface is very likely to provide a $150 return in nitrogen savings from below
ground loss as the University performance curves indicate, based on Neon Surface used at
the recommended rate.

This value of DCD in the Neon Surface is scientifically proven, and the value in the DCD in
pretreated urea can logically be assumed to be the same, up to the rate of DCD in Neon. The
unknown is what value is there in the additional DCD in pretreated urea above the DCD in
Neon.

So, THE key question is not what value is provided by Neon Treated Urea, but what value is
in DCD above the amount of DCD in Neon Pretreated urea?

Despite any mathematical gymnastics, again one can assume the same rate of Nitrogen
protection in Pretreated urea, up to the rate of DCD in Neon, which is 460 pounds. So,
assuming $300 urea it is logical to assume, $75 per Neon treated ton of urea provides $150
value in below ground protection. That is 460 pounds of Nitrogen in the form of $300.00
Urea. The pretreated urea would provide that same benefit of $150, but at a cost of $140.
It is further logical then that increased DCD rate and significantly higher cost in pretreated
urea, must provide an additional savings in the form Nitrogen savings.

This leads to the much better question, which is; Is the amount of DCD in Pretreated Urea
“the right amount?” Does the additional DCD provided in Pretreated Urea, provide sufficient
Agronomic benefit to compensate for the significantly higher Economic costs to the grower?
However, lets dive a bit deeper. Let’s look at the forest and not the trees in the form of math.

Many grower’s concerns are economic. There is another way to capture the Nitrogen a
grower needs. That is to simply apply more urea. Fortunately for urea producers, and
unfortunately for the Agronomic and Environmental sides of the Efficiency triangle, and
given the market adoption, it appears many growers have not protected their urea and done
just that.

The fact is that given the Price assumptions made for comparative purposes of $300 per ton
for urea, the maximum protection value for a Grower to protect his Nitrogen, is $138 per ton
at a $300 Urea price which is the equation of $300 urea times 46% (N content) equals
$138.00.

A grower’s investment is in protecting their nitrogen, and not in losing their nitrogen.
However, urea is the mechanism to deliver Nitrogen. Any Economic evaluation relative to
Nitrogen Protection should be done on the probability of a product performing, and not on
the economics of failure. Therefor adoption is hampered when a grower must pay $140.00,
when their maximum protection is $138.

The simple fact of the matter is that Urea is the delivery vehicle for nitrogen and urea is 46%
nitrogen, so saving ALL a grower’s nitrogen, means the maximum a grower is “protecting”
by treating, is $138 … or 46% of $300 per ton.

As stated above, multiple studies referencing the potential for below ground loss protection
based on the DCD levels in Neon Surface have shown that 50% more nitrogen is available
in the ammonium form than in untreated urea. This means that the DCD in Neon Surface
provides protection against below ground loss, of at least 460-pounds of nitrogen.
Economically these 460 pounds of Nitrogen saved is equivalent to 1,000 pounds of urea.
The value of below ground protection from Neon Surface based on $300 urea is $150.00.
So, for consistency purposes as with the Volatilization evaluation, a growers $75 investment
in Neon Surface is very likely to provide a $150 return in nitrogen savings from below
ground loss as the University performance curves indicate, based on Neon Surface used at
the recommended rate.

This value of DCD in the Neon Surface is scientifically proven, and the value in the DCD in
pretreated urea can logically be assumed to be the same, up to the rate of DCD in Neon. The
unknown is what value is there in the additional DCD in pretreated urea above the DCD in
Neon.

So, THE key question is not what value is provided by Neon Treated Urea, but what value is
in DCD above the amount of DCD in Neon Pretreated urea?

Despite any mathematical gymnastics, again one can assume the same rate of Nitrogen
protection in Pretreated urea, up to the rate of DCD in Neon, which is 460 pounds. So,
assuming $300 urea it is logical to assume, $75 per Neon treated ton of urea provides $150
value in below ground protection. That is 460 pounds of Nitrogen in the form of $300.00
Urea. The pretreated urea would provide that same benefit of $150, but at a cost of $140.
It is further logical then that increased DCD rate and significantly higher cost in pretreated
urea, must provide an additional savings in the form Nitrogen savings.

This leads to the much better question, which is; Is the amount of DCD in Pretreated Urea
“the right amount?” Does the additional DCD provided in Pretreated Urea, provide sufficient
Agronomic benefit to compensate for the significantly higher Economic costs to the grower?
However, lets dive a bit deeper. Let’s look at the forest and not the trees in the form of math.
Many grower’s concerns are economic. There is another way to capture the Nitrogen a
grower needs. That is to simply apply more urea. Fortunately for urea producers, and
unfortunately for the Agronomic and Environmental sides of the Efficiency triangle, and
given the market adoption, it appears many growers have not protected their urea and done
just that.

The fact is that given the Price assumptions made for comparative purposes of $300 per ton
for urea, the maximum protection value for a Grower to protect his Nitrogen, is $138 per ton
at a $300 Urea price which is the equation of $300 urea times 46% (N content) equals
$138.00.

A grower’s investment is in protecting their nitrogen, and not in losing their nitrogen.
However, urea is the mechanism to deliver Nitrogen. Any Economic evaluation relative to
Nitrogen Protection should be done on the probability of a product performing, and not on
the economics of failure. Therefor adoption is hampered when a grower must pay $140.00,
when their maximum protection is $138.

The simple fact of the matter is that Urea is the delivery vehicle for nitrogen and urea is 46%
nitrogen, so saving ALL a grower’s nitrogen, means the maximum a grower is “protecting”
by treating, is $138 … or 46% of $300 per ton.

Secondly, despite the complexities of evaluating both sides of the potential nitrogen loss, (either Volatilization or denitrification and leaching), at the end of the day they are separate mechanisms of loss and you cannot lose your nitrogen twice. It is also very unlikely that
ANY treatment will protect nitrogen 100% from loss. The treatment comparisons are about evaluating protections against two modes of loss individually, despite the fact one builds upon the other as shown by the Nitrogen Cycle.

Math, Science, University studies and field performance, tell us that Neon Surface provides a high probability of a $135 Return on a $75 Investment as it relates to volatilization protection. Further there is highly likely, and a scientifically supported probability that Neon Surface will provide a $150 return on a $75 investment relative to Nitrification and Leaching Risk.

Again, as TFI suggests and we agree, that correct Rate is one of the “four R’s”, and is an obvious question, when evaluating which type of Treatment to pursue. The rate of DCD is a key question, but I think we can see by this analysis the better question is; what is the Economic value of additional DCD in Pretreated urea? Right “Return on Investment”, may be the missing fifth R.

Presidion Agriculture is strongly of the opinion that Growers should have insurance for their Nitrogen Investment. In our opinion there is no better insurance than protection against multiple potential modes of loss when Nitrogen is such a key input to a grower. But we do highly recommend protecting the valuable commodity of Nitrogen, either in pretreated form or localized treatments.

There is however an additional step of evaluation and that is the practical side of yield increases using Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers, in this case Nitrogen Fertilizers.

Ultimately, growers return on investment when evaluating a treated urea, or which method of treating urea, is determined by the input costs, crop price, yield increase, and the cost to +5 attain such yield.

Presidion has multiple yield studies done with the Neon Family of Products, that indicate yield increases depending on variables such as pounds of urea per acre to be consistently
above 12% to 21% above single component treatments, and significantly higher than that against untreated Urea. Eco Agro studies are limited versus pretreated Urea, however, Neon Surface has outperformed pretreated urea in some specific additional studies.

There are more questions to be explored and more technological advancements coming from Presidion. We will continue to innovate, evaluate, test and develop new single and multi-component products, advance known technologies as well as develop new delivery mechanisms for existing technologies. We will provide information to the market for
growers to make an informed decision on which products to use to protect their fertilizer investment.

There are many other questions to be asked and pondered.

Another question to consider is can overall urea and nitrogen volume be reduced while maintaining yield? This an intriguing question not often asked by Urea Producers. We hope this has given you the basis to gather all the right information and ask more tough informed questions when deciding which treatment method to pursue. But regardless of your decision please protect your Urea.

Stay tuned and we will ponder many other questions in the coming months.

Questions? Contact the Presidion Ag. Team Today