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N - Agronomy Fact Sheet Series Fact Sheet 2 Nitrogen Basics...

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Fact Sheet 2 Nitrogen Basics – The Nitrogen Cycle Agronomy Fact Sheet Series Department of Crop and Soil Sciences 1 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Nitrogen, Crops and the Environment Nitrogen (N) is essential for the development of field crops. When N is deficient, root systems and plant growth are stunted, older leaves turn yellow and the crop is low in crude protein. Too much N can delay maturity and cause excessive vegetative growth at the expense of grain yield. Nitrogen fertilizer is expensive and losses can be detrimental to the environment. Efficient use of N by meeting crop needs while avoiding excessive applications of N is an important goal. This fact sheet provides a brief overview of the important components of the N cycle to aid in reaching that goal. Nitrogen Cycle The N cycle illustrates how N from manure, fertilizers and plants moves through the soil to crops, water and the air. Understanding the N cycle will help you make the best use of manure and fertilizers to meet crop needs while safeguarding the environment. In general, the N cycle processes of fixation , mineralization and nitrification increase plant available N. Denitrification , volatilization , immobilization , and leaching result in permanent or temporary N losses from the root zone. Read on for specifics about each of the N cycle processes. Fixation refers to the conversion of atmospheric N to a plant available form. This occurs either through an industrial process, as in the production of commercial fertilizers, or a biological process, as with legumes such as alfalfa and clover. Nitrogen fixation requires energy, enzymes and minerals, so if a plant available form of N is present, the crop will use it instead of fixing it from the air.
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