Mark Dorenkamp of the Brownfield Network spoke with Agren CEO Tom Buman about his recent blog post 4Rs Are Not Enough. Tom explains that the 4Rs are a start, but alone they will not reduce nutrient loss to the level required by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Precision conservation practices need to also be considered and applied. Farmers can’t afford to get this wrong.
4 R’S NOT ENOUGH TO ACHIEVE AMBITIOUS WATER QUALITY GOALS
The CEO of a conservation-focused precision agriculture software company says the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Strategy is not enough to meet ambitious water quality goals.
Tom Buman with Iowa-based Agren considers the 4 R’s: right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, and with the right placement, a great starting point.
“But when you look at the overall benefit gained by implementing the 4 R’s, at least in the Upper Midwest, does not get us to the levels that state governments committed to the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force.”
The 12 state partnership aims to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loading in the Gulf 45 percent by 2035.
Buman tells Brownfield farmers will have to go beyond nitrogen management to achieve those results.
“We might be able to get 20 percent of the way there, but we still need those other practices like wetlands, bioreactors, saturated buffers and cover crops. (cover crops) is really a big one in order to achieve the standards we have set out.”
Buman acknowledges the cost of implementing some of these practices without a financial return is a problem.
He says more state and federal incentives are needed, since farmers should not be saddled with the entire responsibility of improving water quality.
Listen to Mark’s full interview with Tom to learn more:
Paul Fixen, Sr Vice President - IPNI
The phrase “4R Nutrient Stewardship is not enough” has become rather popular over the last year or two. In my view much much of this is due to a failure to appreciate the full 4R Nutrient Stewardship framework. From the very early stages of the 4R concept, including what is presented in the IPNI 4R Manual, source, rate, time and place are shown as a circle within a system ring that connects in-field nutrient management decisions (4Rs) with nutrient performance indicators in the outer ring. Within that system ring resides in-field agronomic practices that can greatly influence NUE as well as soil and water conservation practices that can influence soil, water, and air quality impacts. The 4R framework in its entirety does include these factors, but our educational and research focus with 4Rs has been on productivity and NUE within the field as that is where the greatest nutrient payback for farmers resides – to use nutrients for crop growth rather than lose them to the environment. I do believe we need to emphasize this context aspect of the 4Rs to a greater degree than we have in the past. Growing partnerships to do so are critically important. So, points made on the importance of these other factors beyond specific nutrient management decisions are well taken, BUT, they are internal to 4R Nutrient Stewardship, not external.
Great insight! I agree that Cover Crops could/should/will play a big role in Water Quality goals and that we need to be more broadly focused instead of just looking at one piece of the puzzle at any given time. The good news is there are a few of us who have been working for close to 20 years to breed ‘Precision’ cover crop genetics that CAN and DO provide a healthy ROI if used properly. The bad news is, we haven’t told our story very well and don’t have the deep resources the commodity networks enjoy to get the word out and share those successes. Thank you for your great blog – I’ve been enjoying it ever since I discovered it on Twitter! Keep up the great work!!!
When I see comments about the value of edge of field practices being the solution, I ask to see the data. First, I want to see data on performance under high flow/high nitrogen loading. I have yet to see data which says that edge of field practices represents a real solution. Since wetlands, saturated buffers, bioreactors, etc. are all forms of anaerobic nitrogen management systems, I also want to look at the emissions of gaseous nitrogen vs nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas). After all, if nitrate nitrogen is disappearing, it has to go somewhere. Since naturally occurring anaerobic systems preferentially support the conversion of nitrate to nitrous oxide, any proposal to support anaerobic edge of field solutions needs to be ironclad and showing high rates of conversion to N2.
Implementing edge of field practices without first implementing 4R practices based upon measured soil nitrate measurement is a total waste of money – and guarantees failure of edge of field practices. Industrial research has shown that any attempt to control pollution has to start with minimizing the excess load.
One would think that people proposing the use of cover crops would have good data on performance – both from a nitrate perspective and from a practical and economic perspective. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any convincing evidence. One would also hope that the leaders of the cover crop movement would have some knowledge of native (natural) ecosystems which included a bunch of cool season native grasses and forbs. After all, nature abhors bare dirt and native cool season grasses are what created the tall grass prairie. Minimal knowledge of prairie ecosystems might also suggest that one should be considering the role of biochar in binding soil nitrate to keep it out of the ground water but yet available for both plant and microbial populations for absorption and metabolism.
Feel free to provide the data.
We are not seeing what is right in front of our eyes.
Row crops with their intensive management needs are at the root of the soil health and water crisis. The 4R’s are enough if we adapt our production methods to natures definition of precision.
We plant precise spacing in precisely spaced rows because we evolved our equipment and hence our thinking around the width of our horsepower which was supplied by horses and oxen.
Crops do not want to grow in rows! The soil does not want plants in rows!
The sun, wind and rain do not care. We make it easy to abuse soil simply by doing what we have always done and we keep doing it expecting a different result.
The equipment exists to solid seed and harvest all of the commercial cereal and oil seed crops. We can be much more precise in our crop production methods if we simply get away from this insane notion that rows = precision.
Lets work with nature – it is ever so much more environmentally beneficial and profitable for the producer too.
Jim, I agree we you in that we need to work with nature. In doing so the first step would be to fully implement no-till and cover crops. We need to end our obsession with tillage.