Nutrient management is an important aspect of soybean farming, because knowing when and how much of a fertilizer to apply is key to high yields. Growers strive to maintain healthy fields and at the same time reduce runoff to both minimize costs and adverse effects to the environment. This is especially the case for those in the Lake Erie region, where farmers have increased their nutrient best management efforts to curb algal blooms.
What’s lacking is a reliable method to assess these management practices state-wide.
To address this issue, John Fulton, a professor within the department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at The Ohio State University, recently completed an checkoff-funded pilot study to develop a database of information that showcases the success of Ohio farmers in their efforts to maintain water quality in the Lake Erie watershed and across the state.
“The intent is to develop an annual report for Ohio agriculture – crops and livestock – that outlines voluntary adoption of BMPs (best management practices) that enhance nutrient management,” Fulton says.
Currently, the closest method Ohio has for an annual reporting system is the voluntary 4R certification program that nutrient retailers and service providers participate in. Fulton’s project similarly evaluated information from consultants and retailers, but also sought to gather even more specific data directly from Ohio farmers. This aspect of the project is unusual, even among nutrient management programs in other states.
“Our ability to collect field- level information is somewhat unique as other states aren’t quite going to that resolution yet,” Fulton says.
The main purpose of Fulton’s study was to determine if field-level data could be accessed. Initially, some growers were concerned about confidentiality as well as the time and monetary costs of participation.
“I think once you outline what it could do, it’s definitely a positive response,” Fulton explains. In addition to individual farmers, Fulton interviewed retailers and consultants to gather information on best management practices (BMPs) utilized across the state. Thanks to all the participants, the pilot project yielded useful information. “We were really able to line out what the potential is and what we could report out,” Fulton says.
With the pilot study complete, Fulton is now working with commodity groups to develop a state-wide voluntary reporting method.
“There’s an interest to attempt to build a program that would help do this. The question is to be able to scale it to a level that represents what’s happening not only in the Lake Erie watershed, but in the future across Ohio. I think we’ve gotten insights to that, we understand there’s potentially some ways that could be done. And those are the discussions that are really just starting to begin. What are those next steps and how do we move forward and make something like this happen,” Fulton says.
Once fully implemented, the reporting program will give environmental policy makers an accurate representation of Ohio growers’ nutrient management success.