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Farmers face risks in using too little nitrogen as well as too much

Much has been said about farmers applying too much fertilizer and its impact on the Hypoxia Zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico. But there’s also an economic risk when growers don’t apply enough, Cliff Snyder, nitrogen program director, International Plant Nutrition Institute, says.

“There is a tremendous risk for farmers to lose the optimization of their economic returns on their farms when they use inadequate amounts of nitrogen fertilizer,” Dr. Snyder said in an interview following one of his presentations at the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force spring meeting in Little Rock, Ark.

“The alternative consequence is using too much and increasing the risk for too much loss in the environment. And typically the risk for lost economic returns may outweigh the risk for environmental loss in the farmer’s management program.”

Fortunately, more research is being done that will help agronomists and producers figure out how to optimize both of those scenarios so the farmer gets peak economic performance as well as peak reduced impacts on the environment with their nitrogen management programs, Snyder noted.

Snyder said farmers and crop advisors know that nitrogen rates are critically important. “But, increasingly, we’re understanding the need to optimize the time, the place and the source or form of nitrogen in a given farmer’s management scenario,” he noted.

“As we get more science and understanding of some of the newer products and technologies and how to better optimize the use of those technologies in a grower’s field, the farmer and his advisor are better equipped to understand how those technologies fit into their management scheme, their cropping system and their environmental conditions.”

Snyder said there is no one technology that is the “silver bullet” that will solve both farmers’ economic and environmental challenges. Farmers need a concerted overall nutrient management plan and conservation plan with some understanding of the local water quality changes and some of the air quality changes.

“We’re seeing a greater need for communications between crop advisors and farmers, university and government research scientists as well as some of our water quality stakeholders and environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations),” he said. “We can share knowledge with each other and continue to move forward and produce food to sustain the human family around the globe while lessening our environmental impact.”

Increasingly erratic weather patterns are also causing farmers to re-evaluate their nitrogen strategies. Some of the new technologies, such as urease inhibitors and denitrification inhibitors may begin to play a larger role in farmers’ nitrogen application strategies, as a result, he said.

For more information on this topic, visit Hypoxia 101: Gulf of Mexico, Environmental Protection Agency.

TAGS: Legislative
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