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Farming Begins in the Soil: Nitrogen

Farming Begins in the Soil: Nitrogen

Over-applying N to fields, or not protecting applications, is just as costly to an operation’s profitability as it is to the environment

Shelford’s law of tolerance states that the success of any organism is determined by a certain set of minimum, maximum and optimum environmental factors.

Proper nitrogen management is based on this idea – nutrients work together or compete against one another, and a deficiency by one of them becomes a limiting factor for success.  Farmers know that their crops rely on specific forms of nitrogen to stimulate growth and performance, but in most soils, nitrogen is constantly changing forms.

Understanding nutrient availability, soil mineral interactions and managing environmental factors that impact them can unlock greater profit potential and improve the quality of our land and water.

Solutions to improve nitrogen efficiency and uptake, as well as limit N loss, depend on industry-wide action to address the challenge and collaborative work among farmers, researchers, organizations and governments. Many are passionate about this issue, and some would go so far as to point fingers at agriculture as a root cause. But with advancements in science, we as a farming community have even more opportunities to be a part of the solution.

Listen to episode four of the Groundswell podcast. 



Interview Highlights

Brad Ruden, director of Agronomy Tech Services for South Dakota Wheat Growers, assists 5,000 co-op members by maximizing their field potential and soil health each season. Brad has a background in working with the extension service at South Dakota State University (SDSU). His extensive background and knowledge in plant science, plant pathology and agronomy education benefits the co-op members and agronomy team. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in plant science at SDSU. Learn more about South Dakota Wheat Growers at

Dr. Michael Udvardi is the chief scientific officer at the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Michael earned his doctorate in plant biochemistry from the Australian National University in 1989. He has published more than 150 papers in scientific journals and was an elected fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science in 2012 for his contributions to the research of legume biology, specifically symbiotic nitrogen fixation. Michael’s research focus includes how plants obtain nitrogen for growth, whether as mineral nitrogen from the soil or from atmospheric di-nitrogen via symbiotic nitrogen fixation in bacteria. To read about Michael’s research, visit

Carrie Vollmer-Sanders is the nutrient strategy manager for The Nature Conservancy’s North America Agriculture Program. In this role, she strives to make a difference in soil health and safeguarding our streams and rivers. She works closely with state program staff and partners throughout the region, with a special focus in the Mississippi, Great Lakes, Chesapeake and Everglades basins. In these specific areas, Carrie helps farmers reduce the amount of nutrients entering our freshwater systems and oceans. She earned her bachelor’s in agriculture and biology education and master’s in agricultural economics, both at Michigan State University. Visit for more information about The Nature Conservancy.

Todd Carpenter, technical service manager for Verdesian Life Sciences, is an expert in nutrient management, agronomic production, seed and agrochemical sales and service, and water use efficiency. He earned his bachelor’s in agronomy and master’s in soil science, both at Texas A&M University. To learn more about Verdesian Life Sciences, visit

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