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December 2013 Archive for Inputs Insights

RSS By: Davis Michaelsen, Pro Farmer

Inputs Monitor Editor Davis Michaelsen adds his perspective into the happenings of the inputs markets.

Synchronization, Utilization & Conservation

Dec 20, 2013

The 2013-14 Pro Farmer Profit Briefing Seminar Series kicked off this week in Mankato, Minnesota. As always, the good folks who showed up had questions on their mind, and were more than willing to share their experiences with us.

DSC 0028I had the dubious distinction of speaking last, right up to the reception hour and as I climbed the stairs to the podium, I admit I had my own drink ticket in hand. Nonetheless, we had a lot to cover. We talked about the influence of corn futures over nutrient pricing and I had charts to show where and when we had sent advice alerts in the fall.

We spent some time talking about Russia, Ukraine and Egypt as all three of those fertilizer producing nations have the power to impact the global supply situation.

But on the topic of "what it means to you", three words emerged... Synchronization, utilization and conservation. The deeper agricultural states dig into nutrient reduction strategies, the more these concepts emerge.

It all goes to best practices. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working for nearly 20 years to reduce the flow of Nitrogen and Phosphate through the watershed from agricultural land. (By the way, commercial industry is under the same kind of scrutiny with reduction strategies of their own to deal with.)

As I have researched the topic, I have attended seminars and conducted interviews and from the 'what can farmers do' perspective, synchronization, utilization and conservation continually boil to the surface. As EPA tries to wrap its mind around how to motivate growers to alter their management practices, USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has joined the discussion, noting that long-term incentives cannot come from the outside... the incentive must be built into the new practices themselves. There is an understanding at high levels that if the new practices are not only good for the watershed but can also help save growers money on fertilizer without compromising yield, adoption rates will soar.

Synchronization -- Much is known about how modern corn hybrids take up nutrient. There are certain times in the growth cycle of plants when nutrient uptake spikes. Between those times, nutrient applied to the soil is subject to loss. If growers can nail down the 'perfect time' to apply nitrogen, based on the biology of the particular hybrid planted, that timing will lead to better uptake and maintain yields while potentially using less fertilizer. Your seed dealer can provide the specifics on your preferred hybrid.

Incentive -- use less nitrogen and trim fertilizer expenses.

Utilization -- This is not far from synchronization and really, these two work together. Improved utilization is part of the benefit of nutrient uptake synchronization. Considerations here include plant population and soil type. In some sandier soils, the risk of loss may be higher and in order to encourage utilization, foliar applications may have to be experimented with. Emmerson Nafziger from the University of Illinois has been doing work on the relationship between plant population and nitrogen applications. His work suggests a plant population of 34,000 and N rates around 175lbs/acre as the sweet spot to maximize crop growth and yields.

Incentive -- a greater understanding of your soil and increased yields.

Conservation -- Farmers have always been conservationists and its a little off-putting that the EPA suggests this as a new focus. As I sat in a Butler County, Iowa deer shack last weekend, this idea became clear to me. The shack is located at the edge of a wooded creek in the middle of a section of cropland -- basically a riparian strip through the middle of the section. Not an uncommon sight in farm country, and not a bad idea. Not only does my pal Dave have a natural way to filter the nutrient and sediment out of runoff water, he also has a private spot where he and his children -- and his buddies -- and grandchildren can hunt and enjoy the

Incentive -- riparian strips and other buffer strips do a lot of good whether they support wildlife or not. Nutrient removal from runoff increases with the introduction of particular grasses, small trees and shrubs, which encourages wildlife. This ultimately can lead to something of a private hunting, camping and fishing mini-preserve.

The best ideas for agriculture come from agriculture. Will fall anhydrous be outlawed? Will crop insurance one day be tied to documentation of conservation compliance? Will your grandchildren have a place to learn to hunt and to love the outdoors, just walking distance from grandma's house? All of these are possibilities, and at present, nutrient reduction is up to volunteers. In the coming year, we will look at these and other means of reducing N&P pollution in greater detail, but for now, let these ideas roll around in your head. EPA, USDA ERs and your local Detpartment of Agriculture understand that solutions will have to come on an individual basis according to the resources and practices on individual farms.

Synchronization, utilization and conservation have the power to help eliminate the perils of spray and pray applications, can encourage healthy row crop growth while boosting yields and give you a private little piece of heaven for you and your kin in your own waterways.

Catch the Pro Farmer Profit Briefing lineup in Lincoln, Nebraska in January and Peoria, Illinois in February. Check your Pro Farmer website under the 'events' tab for all the details. Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year from your Inputs Monitor, and always remember... safety first.


TFI: New Best Practices in Action

Dec 06, 2013

Nutrient reduction is changing the definition of best practices. It seems that, anymore, where two or more farmers are gathered, there is someone on hand to discuss reducing the flow of N&P to the watershed. In fact, I cannot remember the last gathering of farmers I attended where nutrient reduction was not on the agenda. Thankfully, USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) is part of the discussion and has presented realistic expectations regarding the adoption of new practices.

Adoption rates for programs like this are high when incentives are offered, but growers need a little bang for their buck, and when incentives dry up, so does participation. ERS expressed at IPNI's Soil Fertility Conference in Des Moines a few weeks ago that a solution to the nutrient runoff crisis would have to lend some kind of benefit to growers' operations. They believe this can be achieved through increased synchronization of applications to plant uptake. The result, according to ERS, would be increased nutrient efficiency leading to improved yield and decreased N&P loss. This can save on fertilizer input costs and, if timed right, leads to increased yield.

The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) reported yesterday on a farm in the Chesapeake Bay Region where nutrient reduction has been an imperative for some time now. Targeted applications, greater reliance on technological advances, nitrogen stabilizers and cover crops are paying dividends for one Maryland corn, soybean & wheat producer, and updated best practices are working to help shrink hypoxic zones in the bay. I have pulled an excerpt from the report that gives details on specific practices the Maryland grower has put in place.

From the TFI report: "Along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, farmers like Temple Rhodes, of Centreville, Md., prove farming can be productive and profitable while preserving the Bay. Few regions of the country are more closely scrutinized, and Rhodes is not alone in his efforts to reduce nutrient losses from his crop land.

Rhodes has multiple reasons for intensively managing the nutrients he applies to the soil his family depends on to grow corn, soybeans and wheat. As a businessman, he doesn’t want to spend his fertilizer dollars ineffectively. As a grower, he relies on fertilizer to enrich the productivity of the land. And as an avid outdoorsman, Rhodes is serious about the responsibility of taking care of the soil and water resources that enhance his life as well as the lives of the non-farm public.

Rhodes’ farming practices offer insight to the types of practices being implanted in the Chesapeake Bay. To reduce nutrient loss, he never applies fertilizer on the soil surface. A modified strip-till planter enables him to place nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium eight inches below the surface for corn and soybean production. That gets nutrients right into the root zone where they’re readily accessible to plants while helping to eliminate runoff and volatilization. Nitrogen is further protected with a stabilizer added to the fertilizer to prevent loss to groundwater. This strip-till strategy puts the right source of nutrients in the right place resulting in better crop yields.

“The question for us was - can we use the same amount of fertilizer in a smarter way and grow a better crop?” Rhodes said. “We’ve proven that we can. The big bump in yield we’ve seen comes from putting the right fertilizer in the right place — right in the strip, right below the seed.”

Rhodes has measured an 18.6-bushel per acre advantage to the system compared to standard no-till production.

Timing is also important. Using his strip-till rig, Rhodes split-applies fertilizer on his corn ground, placing the nutrients about four inches beneath surface just prior to when the crop approaches its peak nutrient demand.

“It’s a matter of fertilizer efficiency,” he said. “We want to apply only what the plant needs, when it needs it.”

Nutrient application at Rhodes’ Chestnut Manor Farms is site-specific, guided by GPS-linked soil maps that enable Rhodes to match the right fertilizer and seeding rates to reflect the potential of specific productivity environments. GPS guidance systems utilizing RTK provide pinpoint accuracy for fertilizer, chemical and seed placement.

Tissue sampling during the growing season is used to assess plant nutrition status at each stage of development so that Rhodes can further fine-tune fertilizer applications.

In addition to high-tech techniques for managing nutrients, the Rhodes plants forage oilseed radishes as a cover crop to retain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium through the winter, reduce soil compaction and prevent erosion. Buffer strips and waterways are also relied on to help protect soil and water."

Click here for the full TFI report...


As the imperative for cleaner water spreads westward across the United States, what once seemed an overwhelming task that could all too easily become tangled in enforcement and regulations now looks more like an opportunity to take modern agriculture to the next level. Many believe the result will be a new focus on sidedress and UAN solutions at the expense of fall anhydrous applications, and the grower above has had good luck with the new practices.

Amid lagging corn prices, efficiency is key and every nickel counts. If these new practices aimed at reducing nutrient runoff deliver better yields without adding expense to the mix, they will catch on. As larger operations upgrade from today's technology to tomorrow's, implements designed with efficiency in mind will make their way to more and more operations and increase synchronization and improve nutrient utilization.

With careful consideration, forethought and a little liquid N, nutrient reduction can have a measurable impact not just on water quality, but also on growers' bottom line. If the practices outlined above catch on, USDA ERs believes the incentive to growers will be in increased nitrogen efficiency, limiting NPK spending and maximizing uptake by crops throughout the season.





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