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CCFB News» November 2022

At The Farm GateFarmers feed the need for nutrients

11/02/2022 @ 9:05 am | By Joanie Stiers


Like humans, crops have dietary needs. And just as food prices have soared, fertilizers that provide nutrients for crops have nearly tripled since 2020.


Farmers take great responsibility in managing the land under their care, including the need, timing and placement of fertilizer that provides essential nutrients for crop growth and development. Skyrocketing costs accelerate the motivation to use them effectively to maximize profitability and minimize environmental impact.  


The goal: Make the desired nutrients available and accessible when crops need them yet keep those necessary nutrients out of groundwater, lakes, streams and rivers. On our farm, we drink from the former and play in the latter.


Improving nutrient retention in the soil is the premise of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, a statewide, voluntary effort to improve water quality. The science-based initiative uses research, technology and industry experience to assess and reduce nitrogen and phosphorous losses to Illinois waters, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.


Armed with generations of experience, evolving research and modern technology, today’s farmers have more tools than during Grandpa’s farming career to finetune management of soil nutrients. A significant part of that effort focuses on the 4R strategy, or placing the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, right time and in the right place. Success combines these specific fertilizer targets with agronomic and conservation practices.


Cover crops grow on a larger base of Illinois land, including our own, to provide a groundcover to hold nutrients between growing seasons. Grass waterways and buffer strips in our fields filter nutrients from water that moves across the land. Reduced tillage and no-tillage practices inhibit loss of soil and nutrients.


Global-positioning technology allows us to variably apply nutrients across soils based on defined, site-specific needs, which vary by crop, by field and soil types within a field. Our tests with the evolving market of biologicals shows promise to use soil microbes to enhance fertilizer’s availability to plants while supporting yield.


Nutrient retention proves the right decision both economically and environmentally. Illinois Farm Bureau believes so, too, and since 2015, the organization has committed more than $2.4 million of its own funding through county-level Nutrient Stewardship Grants and other efforts to support implementation of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.


Illinois is blessed with some of the best soil and water resources in the world, and farmers assume great responsibility to protect them as they feed the soil that helps feed the world.


About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in west-central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and farmkids.

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