When Joe Nester speaks, farmers listen. With previous experience in the fertilizer industry, the crops consultant now operates a consulting company that's well-known in the eastern U.S. — Nester Ag LLC, Bryan, Ohio. Nester's client list includes Mike Starkey, Brownsburg. Recently, he visited a farm clinic Starkey hosted in his shop.
The subject of fertilizer came up early and often. “We’re located in northwest Ohio and work with many farmers in the Lake Erie Basin,” Nester said. “Ohio has responded to algal blooms where toxins impacted city water supplies. The result has been efforts to reduce levels of nutrients, particularly phosphorus, in water supplies.”
As a result, when Nester looks at the future of fertilizer application, he has a somewhat different view than other people might have. Here are five areas where Nester believes fertilizer use will change in the future, and what some of those changes might look like.
1. Blanket applications. The blanket application of nutrients like phosphorus will not be as common in the future. Look for more efforts at getting farmers to apply fertilizer based on soil test levels and/or crop needs.
2. Rate and timing. The future will bring regulations on the rate and timing of applications of certain fertilizers, Nester said. The goal will be minimizing the amount of nutrients that could be susceptible to moving into streams and lakes instead of staying in fields.
3. Recordkeeping. Expect to be required to prove what you did — what you applied where, Nester said. But instead of looking at this as all negative, he believes there may be a positive side to better recordkeeping. It could open up opportunities to net more profit by managing nutrients more carefully, and applying them where there’s a better chance for return.
4. 4R nutrient management. Expect the 4 R's to become standard management practice, Nester said. They stand for the right source, applied at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place to encourage crop use and minimize the potential for nutrient loss. The fertilizer industry itself has developed various programs to promote the 4R concept. There are separate but similar efforts underway in the Lake Erie Basin in northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana to recognize and acknowledge ag businesses that adhere to the 4R concept.
5. Management style. Nester believes you will need to adjust how you manage nutrients in the future compared to how you have managed them in the past. There has been fundamental change in some crop nutrients over the past three decades. The primary example is sulfur. It used to be available for free in the atmosphere, but as utilities were forced to clean up their emissions, this free source of sulfur disappeared. “You need to learn how to manage crop production in an environment where rainfall is no longer as acidic as it once was,” he said.