The 5th ‘R’ of Nutrient Management

Education, News, Research, XN Technology

One generation ago, a 180 bu corn crop was considered exceptional. Today, that same 180 bu corn crop is considered below average in many productive regions of the US. This discrepancy is due to several factors, with genetic gains and improvements in crop management practices leading the way.

The importance of crop nutrition is not a new concept. However, certain crops, geographies, and markets have exploited this management tactic disproportionately. Further, recent years have seen an emphasis on the 4R concept of nutrient management – the ‘Right Source,’ at the “Right Rate,’ applied at the ‘Right Time’ and the Right Place.”

As farmers and agronomists dial in the 4Rs in practice to maximize yield potential, a fifth ‘R’ is increasingly recognized as critical – the ‘Right Technology’.

Technology in Nutrient Management

Many people believe the 4Rs pertain only to fertilizer, and more specifically soil-applied fertilizer. There is an important distinction to be made between nutrient and nutrition management. Crop nutrient management generally refers to bulk commodity fertilizers and soil applications. Crop nutrition management generally refers to smaller quantity specialty fertilizers and biostimulants in more intensive management systems. Technologies exist to improve BOTH nutrient and nutrition management.

Let’s take a deeper dive at exactly what this ‘5th R’ entails.

AgX refers to ‘technology’ not as autonomous tractors, herbicide traits, or digital platforms but rather physical or physiological tools to improve the way crops use nutrients.

Biological systems exist in nature that can make the most out of impossible situations. Recent years have highlighted that mankind can also mimic these natural systems to influence the way we raise crops. Enter the era of biostimulants, biological nitrogen fixation, phosphorus solubilization, etc.

Many agricultural soils are stratified physically and chemically. As plant material is returned to the soil, much of the carbon returns at and below the soil surface (crop residue and roots.) In a natural environment, degradation occurs due to microbial populations there. Generally, ample oxygen is also available here. As a result, the upper layers of the soil generally have a higher organic matter content, higher levels of both quantity and function of microbial communities, and higher nutrient content (particularly immobile nutrients.)

As you move deeper in the profile, the relative size of carbon molecules decreases, microbial populations decrease and shift from predominantly fungi to bacteria, and nutrient concentration decreases, at least of plant-available immobile nutrients. Oxygen availability is also reduced. As you move even deeper, carbon sources are depleted, as is microbiological function, and much of the nutrient content is in mineral form or out of plants rooting zone.

Plant roots release compounds called exudates. The area which consists of the root, the exudate, and the immediate soil surface is called the rhizosphere. Exudates consist of many compounds, but the predominant three classes are organic acids, amino acids, and simple sugars. In nutrient management, each class plays a critical role in acquisition and utilization by the plant. The exudate acidifies the rhizosphere to release key nutrients and recruits key microbiology which in turn affects availability and absorption of nutrients. It plays other roles as well in terms of nutrient chelation, lubrication, and water retention. The ag industry has begun to mimic some of these functions to vastly improve the effectiveness of nutrients applied to crops.

Much focus in the past 5 years has been on establishing or re-activating a healthy soil biological presence. It is becoming increasingly obvious that some products can have a positive impact on a crop but have a negative impact on native or applied biology. Recognition of biologically friendly offerings will be imperative to continued, sustainable management improvements.

Current focus of technologies in nutrient management planning includes nutrient retention in soil, nutrient availability in the soil, plant uptake, plant mobility, and most recently biological enhancement in the rhizosphere and phyllosphere. All the technologies promote more efficient nutrient use, less environmental impact, and higher ROI at the farmer level.

The Importance of Plant Nutrition

Application of technology in nutrient management allows the highest impact per pound of nutrient applied. In many instances, a reallocation of input costs from current levels of applied nutrients to offset the cost of the technology also results in higher yields and maximized ROI. When technology allows producers to meet nutritional demands of their crops, particularly at times of critical need, that crop is much more likely to reach the potential yields of today’s modern genetics.

The 4Rs of nutrient management are critical to overall crop production. However, even when these 4Rs are deployed, environmental constraints can limit effectiveness of applied nutrients. By adding the 5th R of technology, AgX begins to tackle those environmental constraints and improve the effectiveness.

AgXplore’s product line contains four key nutrient-optimization technologies.


XN (Xcelerated Nitrogen) – Puts and holds nitrogen in the soil where plants can uptake it.


NET – Increases nutrient availability in the soil for better plant uptake.


nCeption – Carbon sources that increase nutrient absorption via crop residue nutrient cycling, soil applications, and foliar applications.


NTake – Maximizes nutrient mobility inside a plant to critical plant systems.

For more information about nutrient management planning, our plant nutrition technology or our extensive line of fertility nitrogen-management aids, visit www.agxplore.com/products.

Or are you interested in speaking with one of our on-staff agronomists about the right product for your crop nutrition needs? Fill out our assessment form.

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