Farmers and environmentalists can both benefit from the adaptive management strategies for crop nutrient management that have been developed as part of the Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network, according to Suzy Friedman, ag projects manager and Regional Director of the Chesapeake Bay for the Center for Conservation Incentives at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in Washington, D.C.

“Farmers and environmentalists need to work hand-in-hand to create a science-based solution to the nation’s water quality and crop nutrient management issues,” she says.
Friedman notes that growers in Iowa and in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have used a model developed by the On-Farm Network that allows crop producers to optimize yields and minimize nutrient use through use of stalk nitrate testing and field-scale replicated strip trials that compare the growers’ normal nitrogen rates with a reduced rate.

“Many Iowa growers who have used replicated strip trials as a way to test reduced nitrogen (N) use have learned that they can produce economically optimal yields with a N rate that is as much as 50 lbs. less than they normally used,” says Tracy Blackmer, Iowa Soybean Association director of research. “In most years, that is. In years with excessively wet spring weather, growers who have applied reduced N rates need to monitor N in the soil or the plant so they can apply more ‘rescue’ fertilizer to protect their yields and their pocketbooks.”

Friedman says the adaptive management approach considers both economics and the environment. "For many pressing environmental challenges, making real progress requires real collaboration between farmers and conservation groups to find and advance solutions that work for the producer's bottom line," Friedman believes. "No matter how good a strategy or practice is environmentally, if it is not economically viable, it won't deliver real environmental results, and if we don't work together, we won't get very far."

She says that while EDF sees a needed role for regulations, a collaborative, voluntary approach offers the greatest opportunity for making real and long lasting improvements. “We believe in a voluntary, incentive-based approach to solve water-quality problems, which will allow growers to base their crop production decisions on solid science and economics,” she notes.

For more on the On-Farm Network programs in Iowa and the Chesapeake watershed, go to www.isafarmnet.com and download a copy of the 2008 annual strip trial and stalk sampling summary. Paper copies are available by emailing info@isafarmnet.com or calling Christine at 800-383-1423.

The Iowa Soybean Association develops policies and programs that help farmers expand profit opportunities while promoting environmentally sensitive production using the soybean checkoff and other resources. The association is governed by an elected volunteer board of 21 farmers. To learn more about ISA, visit its Web site at www.iasoybeans.com.

The On-Farm Network is funded in part by the soybean checkoff.