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View from the Cab: Keeping it for the crop

Farmers continue their efforts to reduce nutrient runoff and keep those nutrients for the crops.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has released results from the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. The findings indicate many producers are using some type of professional recommendations as they decide how much nitrogen to apply on corn acres.

The NASS survey showed that 14 percent of the 2019 corn acres, that are tiled, were fertilized in the fall or winter with a nitrification inhibitor. For non-tiled acres, that percentage is 5. Producers also used nitrification inhibitors when applying fertilizer in the spring.

Since 2011, many farmers have reduced the amount of phosphorous they apply on cropland. Results show that producers made those reductions on 7.4 million acres of tiled cropland and 3.8 million acres of non-tiled land. Also, many have changed their phosphorous application methods from broadcast to subsurface, or banding.

Reasons for reducing phosphorous applications include: an update on the Illinois Agronomy Handbook removal rates, soil test results and cost. When it comes to cover crops, growers seeded 930,000 acres on tiled fields and 480,000 acres on non-tiled acreage.

The state developed the long-range plan known as the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy to reduce the loss of nutrients from agricultural fields and also to address urban runoff. The ag portion of the plan was focused on reducing loss of nitrogen and phosphorous through leaching and runoff. The plan recommends a list of cultural practices which producers are encouraged to adopt or expand in order to preserve nutrients in their fields.

NASS was asked to design and conduct a survey that would establish a set of statistics for some of those practices in the 2011 crop season. In addition, the initial survey was designed to measure those same cultural practices for the 2015 season. The survey has been repeated to gather updated statistics for 2017 and 2019.

The Illinois Nutrient Research Education Council, or NREC, provided the funds for the most recent survey project as part of its research and education outreach. NASS mailed out questionnaires to producers this past January. The 2019 season was the reference year for nearly all of the survey questions.

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