Nutrient management is an important step in the crop planning process. Nutrient levels in streams and bays are a focus of state and national agencies.
Agriculture has a productive role to play in the development of regulations, using science as a basis for our decisions and practices.
Officials in Washington, D.C., are working on immediate regulations on water quality and nutrient management. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continuing the development of total maximum daily loads:
state water implementation programs: http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/nutrient/index.html
Numeric water quality standards for Florida: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/florida_index.cfm
and the Chesapeake Bay program: http://www.epa.gov/region3/chesapeake/
Visiting the websites of these programs will give an even better perspective.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also is reviewing and updating its nutrient management practice standard (590 code): ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/NHQ/practice-standards/standards/590.pdf
Agriculturalists in the Midwest likely have heard of the rules, but they may not be paying attention to Chesapeake Bay programs or Florida numeric water quality standards.
After 20 years of voluntary programs, farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Florida will have programs with compliance and enforcement strategies.
Standards for water quality must be met, and the “how” is very important. Science is critical.
Transparency of the decisions, the science used, and practical implementation practices all will be very important when farmers consider their options for nutrient management.
Those of us in Illinois and the Mississippi River Basin need to pay close attention to how programs in other areas of the U.S. develop and farmers respond.
We have an increasing amount of technology at our disposal. Science, practical experience, and successful soil conservation programs implementation will help guide us to an outcome.
Illinois farmers and landowners have participated in voluntary, cost-share, and incentive-based programs that work. Nutrient management can have the same success story.
What could we accomplish if agriculture implemented a nutrient management program approach that was similar to the “T by 2000” program for soil conservation?
Matching nutrient needs to the soil type, local geography, crops grown, and timing of applications all are very important.
Certified crop advisers are available to help producers make the best decisions for their farm. Agriculture’s approach should not have to be simply apply less to comply.
As harvest yields increase, so will the need for more crop nutrients. The appropriate approach should be how can we use fewer nutrients per unit of harvest yield.
We can all work together to discover the answer to that question.