The cold, hard truth on nutrient stewardship? Voluntary state programs will likely transition into some form of an EPA-driven federal mandate.
Whether hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and Lake Erie; or the pending lawsuit involving Des Moines Water Works, agriculture is facing increased calls for regulation and restrictions on nitrate use. “I think it’s time for everybody to step up to the plate and get educated together: farmers and our city cousins,” said Farm Journal field agronomist Ken Ferrie, at Corn College 2015, in Heyworth, Ill. “Agriculture must be prepared if the nutrient rulebook becomes mandated.”
Nutrient stewardship focuses on the four R’s: rate, source, timing and placement. Ferrie placed heavy emphasis on timing and says growers must place consideration on when nitrate applications are needed. Instead of putting out fertilizer according to convenience, splitting applications and feeding crops at key points of need avoids a huge surplus of nitrate that is conducive to runoff. Essentially, application should be made close to uptake. “Don’t put it all on in the spring. Use a portion and then follow up as the crop requires.”
Nitrate regulations will apply to cities and force change – a relief to agriculture at first glance. “If city numbers tied to nitrates change and ours in agriculture don’t, we’ll be in trouble,” Ferrie warned.
He advised growers to prepare for regulations to stay competitive fertilizer management. “The reality is we’ve got to learn to farm with more regulation. Staying competitive in this storm will take more management than money.”