CFQ: Retailers Critical to Nutrient Management Plan Success
Retailers will play a critical role in the success of nutrient management plans across the dozen states along the Mississippi River that must implement them. The 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan requires at least a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loads to the Gulf of Mexico.
Iowa was one of the first to complete its strategy. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Iowa State University (ISU) recently released the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a science- and technology-based approach to assessing and reducing nutrients entering waterways. The strategy—which crafters say will evolve as new information, data and science is adopted—can cost-effectively reduce nutrients from point sources, such as industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, like farms.
Ag retailers and agronomy staff are crucially important to accomplishment of the nonpoint source strategy, says John Lawrence, ISU associate dean for Extension and outreach programs and ISU Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension director.
"Farmers rely heavily on the advice of ag retailers. Practices such as nutrient rate and timing directly impact retailer business," he says. "Retailers need to understand how practices impact a farmer's goal of profitable, sustainable crop production, impact their business, and affect success of the strategy."
Lawrence encourages retailers and staff to become familiar with the plan and recommended practices, and find the value proposition in them for everyone. Practices that work in given areas can then be showcased at field days and through on-farm research, as well as through informational meetings to get both farmers and agronomy staff up to speed.
Possible nutrient reduction practices as outlined in Iowa fall into three categories:
- Nitrogen and phosphorus management practices that involve such things as application rate, timing and method, use of cover crops and living mulches.
- Erosion control and land use practices that include perennial energy crops, extended rotations, tillage methods, grazed pastures, land retirement and terraces.
- Edge-of-field practices that focus on drainage water management, wetlands, bioreactors, buffers and sediment control. (see chart to use as graphic)
Lawrence suggests retailers recommend farmers take a two-prong approach. "First, help them pick one or two practices that make sense on their farms and try them. Maybe it is just on a few acres of cover crops, or it is strip-till or no-till on a field, or perhaps on-farm research to compare application time, rate or placement. Many of the practices are well understood and relatively low cost to try," he says. "Second, encourage farmers to continue to learn. Attend field days, talk to crop advisers and neighbors, do research about what additional practices will fit and make a difference. Encourage them to develop a unique plan about what to implement and when."
Shawn Richmond, Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) coordinator for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, agrees. "Incremental adoption of new practices into farm operations will generate meaningful progress while allowing individual farmers to focus on making those practices work in their operations," he says. "Take things one step at a time so farmers can gain comfort as opposed to biting off more than they can chew. Learning from others is critical, and will help to make new efforts more successful by seeing what difficulties and challenges others encounter and how they are overcome."