The 4Rs – Doing Right in a Changing Fertilizer Environment

We all seek to minimize nutrient losses to surface waters. No farmer wants to lose purchased nutrients.  Whether you are farming in the highly regulated Lake Erie watershed or not all in agriculture play a role in nutrient management.  Regulation is intensifying in Ohio and other states as well.  What do we do?

What farmers always do in the face of adversity? Learn. Adapt. Improve production so more nutrients find their way into our grain tank and not our streams. In industry lingo, we will embrace the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship.

1. The Right Rate. Start with timely and accurate soil samples. Match soil nutrient levels to historical yield levels and future yield goals. We will better match nutrient application rates to crop needs, using the Sunrise Precision Solutions team and other services for variable rate applications. Sunrise Cooperative customer-owners interested in variable-rating their nitrogen can work with our Precision Solutions Specialists to precisely map areas where nitrogen should and should not be reduced.

2. The Right Source. We will deliver balanced plant nutrition to our crops, in forms that are most efficiently recovered by plants. Recent research conducted at Purdue University shows that modern corn and soy genetics use mineral nutrition different that older genetics.  Modern genetics are primarily selected based on yield, as trend line yield for both corn and soy increases plant nutrition needs change as well. Additionally, these nutrients must be properly formulated; soil elements and spray tank ingredients will tie up several micronutrients unless they are properly formulated with stable chelates such as EDTA.

3. The Right Time. We will time fertilizer availability for quick uptake and maximum crop benefit. In cases where we cannot apply nutrients exactly when crops require them, we will use nitrogen stabilizers and chelates to ensure nutrients remain in the root zone in forms available to the plant. We will also time nutrition to weather conditions that can challenge plant nutrition, whether that is cold soils at planting that limit phosphorus or hot, dry temperatures later that limit potassium, manganese or boron.

4. The Right Place. Where appropriate, we will physically place nutrients where they are most available to the plant. In soil, this includes bands in, below or beside the furrow. Because nutrients are vulnerable near the soil surface, we will concentrate them in areas where they are more resistant to loss and closer to plant roots. In the case of some nutrients, like manganese and boron, the best way to feed the plant may be through the leaves, using foliar fertilizers.

For some farms a cover crop system can be managed successfully. Research shows that grass cover crops can help to reduce nitrate release into tiles from our fields. However, recent research shows that cover crops have the opposite impact on phosphorous leaching from our fields. Root channels created by aggressive root systems help create channels through soil where Dissolved Reactive Phosphorous can more easily move. In addition, all crops recycle plant material – thus minerals – to the soil surface where they decompose over time. This results in higher concentrations of minerals at the surface.  Cover crops can also reduce erosion and build soil organic matter. In some cases, they may reduce survival of seeds from hard-to-control weeds.

Sunrise Cooperative is committed to supporting and recognizing the stewardship of our customers and will continue to deliver new technologies compatible with nutrient regulations and eligible for conservation awards.

“Where danger is, grows the saving power also,” wrote Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher. We have challenges ahead, but also incentives to produce more food, with better quality and fewer nutrients than ever before. We will continue to improve, and help the public understand just how far we have come.