What moves farmers to adopt nitrogen use efficiency?
Ag professionals discussed nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) challenges and solutions in a three-day conference in Kansas City, Mo., this summer, but implementation of tactics and programs by farmers is seen as an “uphill battle” that could take years.
A lot of the discussion centered on third-party influencers such as ag retailers, crop consultants and farm managers being champions for change.
The group of agronomists, crop and soil scientists, Extension agents, economists, growers and other agricultural experts gathered to mainly discuss nitrogen use efficiency and the barriers and opportunities for improving implementation. The interesting list of what was learned is below along with proposed solutions.
“We wanted to create a forum where both academics and practitioners from public and private sectors could roll up their sleeves together and figure out why we aren’t currently doing a better job of growing more food with less pollution,” explained the meeting organizer, Eric Davidson, Ph.D., of the Woods Hole Research Center. “We already have the knowledge and techniques to make agriculture productive and environmentally sustainable, but we suspect that several perceived economic risks and traditions make change an uphill battle.”
The event took place in Kansas City so that crop advisors who work in the heart of corn production in the Midwest could share their perspectives, and update their knowledge of nutrient management options. Indeed, crop advisors were able to earn continuing education credits through co-sponsorship of the conference by the Soil Science Society of America.
Though many of the talks featured technical research on the latest advances in NUE, what had everyone talking was the opportunity to discuss frankly what motivates some farmers to adopt best management practice (BMP) for nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) while others don’t. Here’s what conference attendees learned:
Social networks. Farmers are much more likely to adopt practices if they are connected into existing social networks. To that end, it is incredibly important for practitioners promoting NUE to engage with others who the farmer is going to talk to, including input dealers and crop consultants.
Economic signals regarding the cost of nitrogen fertilizers are mixed. While many farmers say nitrogen fertilizer is expensive enough for them to improve use efficiency, most also agree that the economic risk of applying too little nitrogen is high. In short, nitrogen application provides an important economic margin of safety, like relatively inexpensive insurance.