Growers – get free nitrogen research on your fields to make better informed decisions

farmer stands next to tractor
Mike Williams, Crop Production Manager at Amana Farms, participates in the Iowa Nitrogen Initiative trial studies. (Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

AMES, Iowa (ISU Agronomy) – Iowa State University (Iowa State), has partnered with agricultural service providers, Iowa farmers and their advisers to launch the Iowa Nitrogen Initiative – a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership that will leverage on-farm data to generate continuous improvements in resource use efficiency. The Iowa Nitrogen Initiative is currently recruiting Iowa farmers to join the network of on-farm trials.

Using the latest advances in precision agriculture, in close collaboration with Iowa farmers, the Iowa Nitrogen Initiative will deploy hundreds of on-farm, scientifically robust trials every year. Data from these trials will enable Iowa State University scientists and engineers to apply the latest advances in super-computing and quantitative modeling to improve nitrogen fertilizer recommendations for the benefit of productivity, profitability and environmental performance.

“Iowa farmers depend on the best science when making decisions about crop inputs including nutrient management,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “I encourage farmers to consider participating in this important initiative that will deliver valuable data and recommendations from experts at Iowa State University.”

Nitrogen fertilizer is among the most critical inputs to crop productivity – and one of the costliest. When applied at the optimum rate, nitrogen boosts productivity and profitability while minimizing losses to the environment. However, the optimum rate is incredibly difficult to forecast and can vary by more than 100% from field-to-field and year-to-year.

Current nitrogen fertilizer recommendations do not address factors that contribute to this variability, such as weather or the multitude of decisions farmers must make each year like seed selection and soil management.

Participation and collaboration with Iowa farmers through the on-farm trials will make this project a success. Approximately 150 preliminary trials were conducted in 2022 and researchers seek to increase this number to over 400 for 2023.

Participating in the nitrogen trials is easy. Farmers commit to reserving a small portion of their farm field (four to seven acres) for a personalized variable rate nitrogen prescription. All other farming decisions, including the nitrogen application for the rest of the field, remain with the farmer.

“My farm participates in the Iowa Nitrogen Initiative trials, because I want to better understand the science behind what my corn crop needs and how I can improve water quality. Participation is easy since we already use yield monitors and variable rate nitrogen application,” said Roger Zylstra who farms in Jasper County and chairs the Iowa Nutrient Research & Education Council.

Researchers are seeking the help of Iowa farmers to meet their goal of 400 trials in 2023. The Iowa Nitrogen Initiative’s network of farmer participants enables researchers to gather data on real-world scenarios, develop decision support tools with input from the people who will use them, and return information to farmers about optimum rates on their farms. The trials can be included in any Iowa corn field – regardless of the management.

Farmers, certified crop advisers, and custom fertilizer applicators interested in participating should contact Melissa Miller, Project Director for the Iowa Nitrogen Initiative, by emailing or calling 515-567-0607. Learn more at

Published on September 14, 2022.