With best management practices already under way, Illinois soybean farmers are well-positioned to meet the requirements of new federal rules to improve on-farm nutrient efficiency and water quality, according to Illinois Soybean Association Sustainability Vice Chairman Ron Moore.

The revised nutrient management standard recently announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is based in part on three recently released cropland studies of critical waterways, which each identified erosion, nitrogen leaching and phosphorous runoff as areas of critical concern. The revised standard aims to reduce erosion and encourages more efficient use of crop nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus by January 1, 2013.

According to USDA, proper application of nitrogen and phosphorus can reduce costs for producers while protecting ground and surface water and air and soil quality, and ensure agricultural sustainability.

"Protecting America's supply of clean and abundant water is an important objective for USDA," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "This precious resource is the foundation for healthy ecosystems and sustainable agricultural production. USDA provides voluntary technical and financial assistance to help producers manage their nutrients to ensure a clean and abundant water supply while maintaining viable farm and ranch operations."

Illinois soybean farmers have already been taking steps to keep nutrients in the field through years of reduced tillage and precision nutrient application. However, in seeking continued improvements, ISA is participating in a program to promote best management practices called "Keep it for the Crop by 2025" (KIC by 2025). KIC provides education, support and resources to assist growers with adopting the latest technology and techniques to minimize run-off and leaching of crop nutrients, keeping vital inputs on site to protect a grower's bottom line.

"Illinois soybean growers are committed to practicing good stewardship by minimizing water quality impacts," says Moore. "We continue looking for better and smarter ways to manage our acres and to be good stewards. Keeping nutrients in the field can increase profitability while protecting the environment. The KIC by 2025 program, along with other local efforts, helps Illinois farmers to continue making improvements in water quality protection."

Recommendations for both KIC by 2025 and the new USDA standard fall into four categories, referred to as the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship: Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place. Some specific recommendations include stabilizing all fall-applied nitrogen, moving toward split applications, regular soil testing and proper nutrient placement among others.

"Illinois farmers have made tremendous improvements in recent years thanks to reduced tillage practices, increased use of buffer strips and other conservation efforts," says Moore. "Continued progress, with guidance from local and national experts, is key to ensuring our continued success."

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has identified six priority watersheds for nutrient reductions including Lake Bloomington, Lake Vermilion, Lake Decatur, Vermilion River (Illinois Basin), Salt Fork Vermilion River (Wabash Basin) and Mauvaise Terre Creek, although all growers throughout the state are encouraged to adopt practices that make sense on their farms. A map of the priority watersheds can be accessed at http://www.ifca.com/media/files/iepa_priority_watersheds_for_nutrient_reduction.pdf.

For more information on the KIC by 2025 program, the 4R framework and recommendations for nutrient stewardship, please visit http://www.kic2025.org/ or http://www.nutrientstewardship.com/.