Keeping valuable soil and phosphorus (P) on fields is key to building a profitable and sustainable future for Ohio farmers. Determining the right fit for each farm can be difficult without data, tools and support.
That’s why the Ohio Soybean Council invests checkoff dollars in research with soil scientist Dr. Elizabeth Dayton and her team at The Ohio State University (OSU): to help farmers make choices to enhance sustainability that are scientifically backed and economically sound.
The result is a tool called On-Field Ohio!, which growers can use to evaluate the risk of erosion and phosphorus runoff on their farms by comparing different crop management scenarios. It’s based on extensive edge-of-field research and provides a long-term average estimate of erosion in tons per acre per year and phosphorus runoff in pounds per acre lost, based on field properties and farmer practices.
Erosion matters even with Ohio’s flat landscape because the fertilizers in the soil can impact algae growth. Having the ability to experiment with different scenarios is key to helping Ohio farm families choose the right tillage and nutrient placement for their operations.
Here are three key findings from Dr. Dayton’s edge-of-field research farmers can use to develop best management practices.
- Limit soil disturbance. Reducing the amount of tillage or using a cover crop to keep soil in place throughout the year can go a long way to slow erosion.
“Soil erosion is always a concern for farmers because they want to keep their soils in good health and on their fields for future generations,” said Dr. Dayton.
- Test and maintain the right amount of P. Test soils for P and maintain it within the agronomic range outlined by the Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations based on your crop rotation.
Dr. Steve Culman, assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at OSU, has been working to update the Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations. He’s conducted hundreds of on-farm strip trials across Ohio evaluating corn, soybean and wheat’s response to fertilizer. The research indicates yield responses to P in soils at or above the current maintenance range were very rare.
- Utilize the 4R principles, paying special attention to placement. The 4Rs are guiding principles for applying fertilizer that include the right source, rate, time and place.
“Placement is really key because getting fertilizer in contact with the soil rather than surface applying it can reduce your risk of runoff by like 90 percent. It’s a huge difference,” said Dr. Dayton.