By Kelly Els, Key Cooperative Sales & Marketing Manager
The buzz word for agriculture continues to be Sustainability. Are those in agriculture doing the right things to not only produce food for the world, but in a way that preserves the land and water for future generations? While there’s no silver bullet to this, at Key Cooperative, we are advising our growers on practices as part of our SUSTAIN program. These practices help reduce soil and nutrient loss but at the same time, improve yields. Below are a few of the practices we recognize to be the core of any sustainable program and are also part of The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
Protecting your nitrogen investment from volatilization, denitrification and leaching is very important to protecting water quality as well as your bottom line. Much of the nitrogen we use is applied months before the corn crop needs it. Nitrogen that is not stabilized is more subject to loss before the crop needs it. 9% Nitrate-N Reduction & 6% Corn Yield Increase
Nitrogen Split Application
As mentioned before, much of our nitrogen is applied months in advance and before the corn crop needs it. Delaying application of a portion of that nitrogen reduces some of the risk of loss. As part of the SUSTAIN program we recommend only applying 75% of your total nitrogen needs as a pre-plant or pre-emerge application and saving the remaining 25% as a side-dress application. We also recommend using late spring nitrate testing or a nitrogen modeling tool such as Climate Fieldview Pro to determine your actual in-season nitrogen needs. 4-6% Nitrate-N Reduction & 0-13% Corn Yield Increase
The largest portion of nitrogen that we lose to the rivers and streams is not when the crop is utilizing it, but rather when it’s not or when there’s no crop there all together. A means of capturing this lost nitrogen is by using cover crops. Cover crops can capture both excess nitrogen from the previous crop as well as naturally mineralized nitrogen from the soil. They also provide a means of holding soil while a crop is not in place. Therefore, reducing the phosphorus load in our waters. While being one of the effective means of reducing Nitrate-N loss, it is also a practice that can lead to some yield loss in corn if not managed correctly. However, a cover crop ahead of soybeans still reduces Nitrate-N losses, but does not usually have a negative effect on yield. 28-31% Nitrate-N Reduction & 5-6% Corn Yield Loss
As you can see, these sustainable solutions are not new. These are practices that we have been doing for some time. When strategically used, and as part of the SUSTAIN program, they become environmentally beneficial practices that are noticed by our non-farm end users. This is good for our bottom line and the sustainability of agriculture as we know it. For more information on The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy go to www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu. For more information on how you can incorporate these and other sustainable solutions on your farm, please contact your local Key Cooperative Sales Agronomist.