Commercial Nitrogen Optimization Pilot Grant Program

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Introduction to P​​​​​r​​ogram​​

The a​pplication period for the 2024-2025 Nitrogen Optimization Pilot Program (NOPP) grant cycle​​ ​is now closed.

NOPP is designed to encourage agricultural producers to develop innovative approaches to optimize the application of commercial nitrogen for a duration of at least two growing seasons. The producers must collaborate with a UWS institution, which will monitor the grant project on-site. The total award to an applicant cannot exceed $40,000.

Under 92.14(1​6), Stats., grant recipients must meet all of the following eligibility requirements to be considered for funding:

  • Project must include two growing seasons.
  • UWS institution should monitor the grant project on-site.
  • Priority will be given to innovative projects not currently funded through state or federal programs.
  • Priority will be given for longer-term projects.

 NOPP Spotlights ​ ​

Multi-specicies Cover Crops after Wheat
Michael Fields Institute​

Jeff Gaska, Charlie Hammer, and Marty Weiss, in collaboration with the Division of Extension Educator Will Fulwider, are 2023 Nitrogen Optimization Pilot Program grant recipients! Their project is designed to estimate nitrogen credits from multi-species cover crops planted after wheat. Will had this to say about the topic: “While the university has worked to dial in nitrogen crediting for frost-seeded red clover and late-summer planted legumes, farmers planting cover crops after wheat are often doing so with diverse mixes. The rationale is multifold: 1. Diverse mixes are better for soil health because of different root systems and microbe/fungus-plant associations, 2. Nitrate-scavenging grasses in mixed with legumes help to prevent nitrogen loss, 3. Flowering species support for pollinators, and the list goes on…. However, the jury is still out if these diverse cover crops planted after wheat can provide reliable nitrogen credits to corn the following season. To do so, 6 different farmers across Dane and Dodge counties (3 funded by NOPP, 3 funded by SARE) planted their own cover crop mixes after wheat this past summer, leaving no-cover crop control strips. This spring, corn will be planted across all the fields and a nitrogen rate trial overlaid on the cover/no cover strips in order to determine how much additional nitrogen and corn yield response we are seeing at different rates of nitrogen fertilizer. ​

N Rate for best Winter Triticale  
Tracy & Tom Novak

Nitrogen Optimization Pilot Program grant recipients Tracy and Tom Novak are evaluating Pivot Bio PROVEN40® over four nitrogen rates.

When asked about the inspiration to design an on-farm trial around this product, Novak had this to say: “Over my career, many products, like Pivot Bio, come and go. The end result, every time, is the company extracts money from farmers' pockets for the product and after a few years, there's no measurable yield or monetary gain for the farmer. We never hear from the rep or company again. I used to test many of the products on my own dime and about a decade ago, I said 'No way, I'm done.' It literally cost me several thousand dollars in yield loss on the last product - and I have the data to show it! Pivot Bio has made a similar splash without any yield information that I could find and only testimonials talking about the product.

So, with NOPP funding available, I'm back at it using paired 12-row plots with and without Pivot Bio applied in-furrow with four different N rates. If there's promise after two years, I would like to continue the project."

Corn Nitrogen Rates​InDepth Agronomy

Soaring Eagle Dairy and Majestic Crossing Dairy are 2023 Nitrogen Optimization Pilot Program grant recipients and are collaborating with InDepth Agronomy on their project to evaluate corn nitrogen rates. The soils in some areas of Eastern Wisconsin contain a higher clay content than most other areas of Wisconsin which can make nitrogen difficult to manage. This soil characteristic is what inspired these two farms to fine-tune nitrogen rate recommendations and evaluate several in-season nitrogen measurement tools. A goal was set on this multi-year research project: for the research design and execution to fit in seamlessly with each farm’s day-to-day operations. To meet this goal, the farms leveraged precision agriculture technologies that were already being used on their operation. The randomized complete block design research plots were installed using variable rate fertilizing prescriptions either as a single pre-plant application, or as a several applications throughout the year. These large plots allowed for normal planting and combining operations without specific regard to the location of the plots. The yield data is currently being analyzed and we look forward to sharing the first-year results. In addition to determining optimum nitrogen rates for corn yield, the research design also evaluates several in-season nitrogen management tools such as: NDVI, GreenSeeker, PSNT, PPNT, Tissue Testing, and Stalk Nitrate sampling. The farms hope to narrow in on several tools that have a strong predictive measurement of corn nitrogen needs to scale this research across their farm.

N Rate for best Winter Triticale

Jim Hebbe is a 2023 Nitrogen Optimization Pilot Program grant recipient evaluating a biological nitrogen product in maintaining corn yield. When asked why he chose to apply for a grant to study this topic, Jim said it had a lot to do with lack of available research: “My normal source of info for a lot of farm decisions starts with UW. So, I contacted our local Extension Educator, Natasha Paris, and asked what the university is saying about Pivot Bio PROVEN® 40. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any university research to help make a good decision. All of a sudden, the NOPP grant was announced, and we thought this would be a wonderful thing to do. Natasha provided the support and confidence that we could do this together.” 

The responsibility of using nitrogen efficiently is something that Jim takes very seriously.

“I’ve worked with Matt Ruark through the years on nitrogen plots on our farm and always thought this was a good thing to do. We drink our groundwater, too, and we certainly don’t want to be overapplying nitrogen. ​It’s exciting to think that, if a product like [Pivot Bio PROVEN® 40] can and will work, I love the idea of 40 units of nitrogen that isn’t needing to be produced with fossil fuel. We want to have confidence that things are done correctly. With myself being the consumer of nitrogen, I’m going to be critical of decisions and use of nitrogen because I’m the stakeholder.”​​​​​​

To read more NOPP project updates, visit the NOPP Project Spotlight Archives. ​