Friday, April 13, 2012

The 4 R's - Nutrient Stewardship

If you have been paying attention to nutrient management in agriculture over the past few years then you have likely heard about "the 4 R's". 
Right fertilizer source at the..... Right rate, at the.... Right time and in the..... Right place.

State of the art devices help farmers to monitor nutrient applications.

This is a simple way that reminds us that appropriate utilization of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is more complex than simply how many pounds per acre were applied.  Nutrient management can be a real challenge in agriculture, homeowners, golf courses, any type of entity managing open lands due to weather and climate fluctuations, soil variability, and environmental/social sensitivities.  

Soil nutrient needs are tested and mapped;
this aids with application recommendations.
This is a really important issue that is regularly misunderstood.  Nutrient management is complex and is difficult to summarize into simple soundbytes and requires years of experience to properly implement.  Let's take nitrogen for example, nitrogen changes molecular forms regularly in nature and some forms are what plants(corn, lawn grass, trees, etc.) want, some not; some forms of nitrogen turn into gas easily and simply become part of our air and many forms easily move whereever the water flows.  Tricky isn't it? efficiently nitrogen is utilized in nature, on your lawn, and in the farm field depends on your ability to predict the weather (meteorologist anyone?), determine if your vegetation/plants are/will be at a stage which they need nitrogen (agronomist/plant biochemist anyone?), and what form would be best to select for application based on those previous factors (yikes!).  Did I mention that nitrogen is expensive, so you really don't want to get this wrong or it will be painful on the pocketbook!  And of course an over-abundance nitrogen in our aquatic ecosystems can be detrimental in many ways too.  Lastly, in agriculture without the addition of vital nutrients, crop yields would be poor and declining, leading to serious food security concerns in the future.       
Here are more details about the 4 R's nutrient stewardship initiative:  The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) has been working collaboratively with the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), the International Fertilizer Industry Association and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute (CFI) to advance the 4R nutrient stewardship initiative. Two goals within the initiative include establishing 4Rs as a recognizable strategy for economic, social, and environmental sustainability and expanding the adoption of 4R nutrient stewardship as well as the awareness of these efforts to federal and state program officials.

Some conservation best management practices that Todd Welch, a 4 R's Advocate from Lafayette, IN utilizes on his farm to better ensure efficient use of nutrients.

• Utilize grid soil samples to create management zones
• Use manure nutrients from the hog operation to meet a fraction of fertilizer needs by applying to acres most in need of P and K
• Utilize Phytase in feed rations to improve phosphorus efficiency in the animal diet
• Utilize amendment to increase availability of P and K throughout the crop year
• Account for manure nutrients and adjust levels of commercial fertilizer to meet remainder of plants’ needs
• Utilize variable rate technology to apply commercial fertilizer
• Split apply nitrogen in fall and spring to reduce losses
• Incorporate nitrogen stabilizer with fall ammonia application to reduce losses
• Utilize in-season tissue sampling to obtain a snapshot of plant nutrient needs
• Utilize post-season stalk tests to evaluate nitrogen utilization
• Implement minimum tillage to help build and maintain organic residue
• Plant cover crops to generate organic matter, improve soil tilth, reduce compaction and improve
nitrogen management
• Enhance water management through utilization of waterways and tile control
• Install a precision planter system for better seed placement and spacing

What Todd says about the 4Rs: “Our farming operation firmly believes that the proper use of organic and commercial fertilizer is not only vital to our operation, but also economical and environmentally friendly to our natural resources”.

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