Although some would say it “takes more to make more,” meaning more nitrogen and more phosphorus, new technologies and tools, such as yield mapping and monitors, are revealing that added nutrients may not be delivering an increased return on investment.
The complexity of the relationship between soil biology and nutrient chemistry could lead to 50 percent of nitrogen and 75 percent of phosphorus being unavailable for crop uptake, and therefore more susceptible to offsite movement into local waterways.
As farmers evaluate nutrient loss reduction strategies across numerous states, the question becomes how can a nutrient management program be developed to provide a strong return on investment while also addressing environmental concerns?
Mike Wilson, certified crop adviser (CCA) and specialty product marketing coordinator with Wabash Valley Service Company, has a strong record of developing nutrient management programs that successfully address both economics and the environment. Mike says there is no need for the two objectives to be mutually exclusive.
“For a long time, if we wanted to improve corn yields, we added more nitrogen – but that’s not economically or environmentally acceptable,” says Wilson. “It’s a balancing act, and there’s no point in putting out more than we need, especially in the current economic climate.”
The process starts with a good soil test, says Wilson. Farmers should also factor in crop removal, current practices, and in the case of phosphorus, amount of nutrient build-up.
“We have to know where we are at before we can go forward,” says Wilson. “Once we do that, we can start looking at ways to make our applications more efficient and more readily available to the plant.”
Wilson says this is where products like humates and nitrogen fertilizer managers come into play, as well as micronutrients such as sulfur, calcium and iron. By adding these to a total fertility package, growers can increase their overall nutrient use efficiency – adding bushels without adding extra nitrogen or phosphorus. This program could include products like fungicide as well – anything that increases yield by utilizing the nutrients that are already available.
“We have to get beyond just thinking about nitrogen and phosphorus application and start thinking about how we can increase uptake out of soil,” says Wilson. “Once these nutrients are out of the soil and into the grain, we can have control of where they go – to the grain elevator, instead of into the waterway.”
For Wilson, helping farmers get the greatest return on investment isn’t just a personal goal. It’s an example of the level of service that Wabash Valley Farm Service delivers to its growers.
“For 20 years, we’ve been teaching our nutrient specialists that this is part of the process,” says Wilson. “We use the 4 R’s – right product, right rate, right time, right place.”
And while his fertility program might not lead to a chance to retire early, Wilson says the benefits are easy to see and payoff in the long run.
“It may not look like a home run immediately,” says Wilson, “but it makes farmers more profitable, more efficient and more environmentally friendly – and those are keys to the success of any operation.”