With the aim of helping farm producers manage nutrients and protect water quality, the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council (ANPC) sponsored a drought and nutrients webinar  for 800 crop advisors, farmers and others this past Wednesday. The webinar was developed and hosted by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA). Webinar participants heard from experts about successful strategies and methods to employ this fall and next spring to manage nutrients successfully for crop production and water quality. A podcast of the webinar featuring presentations from top nutrient management science experts and practitioners is available free of charge until Oct. 12, 2012, on the ASA website.

Helping farmers keep nutrients in the soil and crops and otherwise preventing nutrient losses from farm fields can add value for farmers while helping to protect water quality. The ANPC asked the ASA to conduct the webinar because the 2012 drought creates especially challenging conditions for farmers as they make nutrient management decisions this year and next.

The drought of 2012 has been devastating for many in agriculture. Farmers without crops to sell and livestock and poultry producers having to cull their herds know this first hand.  Consumers will soon feel the effects in the grocery store through higher prices for many months to come. But there are many other effects, and one of these is how the abnormally dry conditions have made the already complex job of managing nutrients even more complex and difficult this fall and next year. 

“The purpose of this webinar,” said Don Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation and Chair of the ANPC, “was to get good science and practical advice into the hands of crop advisors and farmers quickly since many of them are already making fertilization decisions for next year. Depending on the field, crop and local weather there can be a lot of nutrients left over in the crop residue or soil that didn’t get harvested in crops this year,” Parrish added.  “We want to help farmers use as many of those nutrients as possible for next year, saving them money and reducing the chance that nutrients will move into our waterways.”

This year’s drought highlights the effect of weather as the core challenge that farmers always face in trying to properly apply agricultural science to fertilizing crops. Farmers and ranchers study and know their land intimately. They know what their crops need. They know how to find and apply the right amount of nutrients, the right place to put them, the right time and in the right form. But every year, whether there is too little rain or too much rain, farmers and ranchers must ensure that enough nutrients are present in the soil to optimize food production. The degree to which the weather cooperates is completely beyond their control, and if it rains at the wrong time, or too much, or not at all, nutrients can be lost and crops suffer.

Adding to the complications that weather creates is the basic complexity of nutrient management itself. “Every farm or ranch, every field, every acre, every patch of ground can be and often is distinct and different,” said Rod Snyder of the National Corn Growers and ANPC member. “This makes nutrient management for crop production equal parts science and an agricultural art,” he added. “We hope that this webinar, and the host of good information that the agricultural universities and our private partners are providing to farmers about managing nutrients after a drought, will help farmers succeed at this very challenging task.”

The topics covered in the webinar included an overview of the drought and its effects, principles of nutrient management, and a review of specific conditions and practical advice applicable to nitrogen, phosphorus and postassium management. The session closed with a review of the role of cover crops and the contribution they can make to help conserve nutrients.

Presenting at the webinar were Dr. Jim Camberato, Department of Agronomy at Purdue University, Dr. John Grove, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Scott Murrell, North Central Director of the International Plant Nutrition Institute, Dr. Antonio Mallarino, Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University , and Mike Plumer, Coordinator at the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices. The materials that they used can be found at www.agronomy.org/education/managing-nutrients-drought-resources/.

The ANPC was formed two years ago and has approximately 40 farmer, agribusiness and research organization members. These include many of the major crop, livestock, poultry, general farm and research organizations. The ANPC was formed to assemble technical, legal and policy expertise to support the development and implementation of sound federal policies on agriculture, nutrients and water quality, and to advance best practices and practical solutions that work.