New packaging often can boost sales, even if the basic product has been around for a long time.

That's the mindset behind Core 4, which combines four time-tested natural resource conservation programs into one management system. Core 4 coordinators hope to convince farmers to adopt all four elements - conservation tillage, weed and pest management, nutrient management and conservation buffers - where appropriate.

"What we need is for people to understand the nuts and bolts of how these systems work together," says Dan Towery of the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC).

CTIC coordinates Core 4 in partnership with many organizations, businesses, government agencies and universities. It was launched on Earth Day 1999.

While many farmers have implemented some of the practices, there's still a long way to go.

Towery encourages producers to look at the Core 4 conservation system as a whole and at the goals for each of its components. "This program could help resolve 80% of the environmental issues facing farmers today," he notes.

Conservation tillage, by definition, is any system that leaves roughly a third or more of the soil covered by residue after planting. It includes no-till, strip-till, ridge-till and mulch-till.

Currently, conservation tillage is used on about 38% (109 million acres) of U.S. cropland. One goal of Core 4 is to raise that to 60% by 2005.

Research has shown that the increase in organic matter through conservation tillage helps improve soil tilth and retain moisture, says Towery. It also saves time and reduces fuel consumption and machinery wear while maintaining yields equal to those of reduced- or intensive-tillage systems.

Weed and pest management - Core 4's verbiage for integrated pest management (IPM) - employs anything from resistant plants and beneficial insects to biological and conventional pesticides for weed and insect control.

Core 4 coordinators hope to have weed and pest management plans in place on 75% of all U.S. cropland by 2005.

When used properly, IPM can help decrease inputs and increase profits, preserve the effectiveness of chemicals by rotating control methods and protect the environment, says Towery.

He encourages growers to know their pests and action thresholds, scout their crops and consider all their options.

Crop nutrient management may be the most widely discussed Core 4 component due to environmental issues like hypoxia. Program coordinators hope to increase the efficiency of all crop-nutrient sources while improving production and reducing environmental risk.

There's no real baseline for this area as yet. Program leaders hope to establish that and increase nutrient management plans by 2005.

When crop nutrient efficiency is maximized, fewer nutrients reach streams, lakes and groundwater. And using the proper amount of fertilizer needed may mean lower costs, too.

Nutrient management plans are influenced by crop rotation, tillage practices and even the location of buffers in a field.

Coordinators of Core 4 would like to see two million miles of conservation buffers by 2005. That's more than three times the current amount.

Strategically placed and managed buffers can effectively filter water reducing sediment, phosphorus, nitrate and pathogen runoff. They also provide food and shelter to wildlife, improve fish habitat and improve air and w ater quality.

"For the most part, we've got answers," Towery says. "But we've got to get people to adopt the technology. I think this systems approach has a lot of potential."

For more information, contact: CTIC, 1220 Potter Dr., Suite 170, W Lafayette, IN 47906, 765-494-9555. Or online at: www.ctic. purdue.edu/Core4/Core4.html.