Sara Hessenflow Harper
Sara is the Director of Sustainability & Supply-Chain Solutions for Vela Environmental, a division of Kennedy and Coe, LLC where she leads the firm's Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) On-Demand Services. This blog explores the topic of agricultural sustainability. Follow Sara on Twitter: @SustainAg. Views expressed are solely those of Sara Harper.
Online Tool Helps Reduce Input Costs and Impacts for Corn
May 22, 2013
It is that time of year when producers like you have hit the planters and are crossing your fingers: Will this late Spring planting season pummel trendline yields for yet another year? Will this summer bring yet another round of challenges such as drought, market volatility, high land prices, high input prices (and on and on)? With so much outside of your control, I am pleased to at least have some good news. There is now an exciting new tool that can better help you zero in on at least one farm cost variable—nitrogen use.
The great leap forward. I admit I was pretty excited when I first learned about Adapt N, launched in trial version several years ago by Cornell University. This new tool helps ensure that you only pay for the amount of nitrogen your crops needed to realize their potential – and no more! Adapt N is recognized as a significant leap forward in producing more accurate nitrogen recommendations by incorporating weather, soil and other field-specific data. And this year, it is now available across most of the Corn Belt.
But apparently I wasn’t the only one who took note of this promising new development. Adapt-N also was selected as the Best New Product of the Year 2012 by AgProfessional magazine, the leading publication related to agronomic and business management for agricultural retailers/distributors, professional farm managers and crop consultants.
You can find out more about Adapt N at www.FineTuneNitrogen.com. This website was developed by my company (Vela Environmental) with support from Environmental Defense Fund and help from Cornell and other partners. It provides a wealth of information and links about Adapt N, as well as information about participation and how other farmers have used it to create nitrogen use efficiencies.
What makes this tool so valuable is that it is one of the few out there that accounts for very localized weather variables -- utilizing error corrected data to generate a recommendation that is accurate within three days of running the tool – and able to be re-run any number of times to account for changing weather or planting schedules. As farmers know well, weather changes everything – and especially when it comes to getting an accurate read on how much nitrogen fertilizer and optimal delivery systems for providing it to crops in a way that maximizes value. Beta testing of the tool in 2011 yielded some impressive results: N reductions ranged from 15-150 lbs/acre and the average grower savings was $35/acre while maintaining yields or profitability in nearly all cases.
But in addition to this tool’s ability to save farmers money and reduce environmental impacts, Adapt-N could play a pivotal role in closing the gap between growers, the supply chain and consumers. How? First, it provides a mechanism for farmers to increase their efficiency. Second, because it is a head to head comparison with what farmers have been doing on their fields in the past, it provides the opportunity for direct comparison. Finally, if farmers were to report their usage of or the aggregated outcomes from using a tool like Adapt-N, it could help reassure regulators and the food supply chain that Nitrogen fertilizer is being used as wisely as possible. It could even be used to demonstrate how increasingly efficient a given state or region is by reporting such results.
I hope as well that this tool will become another step to help producers tap into the food retail supply chain that is so often talking about wanting to assess and promote "sustainability." After all, isn’t sustainability really about putting in place practices and measures that are specifically tailored to the situation at hand and increase the efficient use of resources for maximum output and minimum negative impact?
There are some who may frown on any reporting or categorizing effort, but they are not paying attention to the far worse sustainability assessment proposals that are currently being floated by many in the supply chain.
The bottom line is that the food supply chain and potentially state and federal entities are increasingly concerned about the run-off and GHG emissions created from applying more fertilizer than is needed on the nation’s corn crop. One answer may be to get the word out about tools like Adapt-N and the amazing success that farmers are having with it – before any counterproductive requirements are put on the industry!