The days of applying a flat rate of fertilizer to entire fields is coming to an end. In its place is more efficient soil fertility and fertilizer management practices that follow the principles of nutrient stewardship.
These practices help growers meet the rising demand for food while minimizing pressures on the environment and help meet societal expectations for sustainability regarding food sourcing.
Efficient fertilizer management is integral to any program that aims to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is especially true for nitrogen, an essential crop nutrient, that if applied inefficiently, can contribute to nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, which are three hundred times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
In the past, growers used a flat rate of fertilizer on their fields to try to achieve the best results. But that method has been challenged in recent times, ushering in a new era of nutrient stewardship for the future of agriculture. The goal is a smaller environmental footprint while maintaining optimal soil fertility and nitrogen levels, by using precision agronomy techniques.
Adopting a nutrient management technique like a variable rate (VR) program has a lot of benefits for growers, the general public, and the environment.
There are four principles of nutrient stewardship, called the 4R Principles:
- Right source – Matching the fertilizer type to crop needs. This includes taking a close look at the available sources of nutrients and making informed decisions about the bioavailability of products.
- Right rate – Matching the amount of fertilizer to crop needs. This depends on both the prior state of the soil and which crops are being grown.
- Right time – Making nutrients available when crops need them. This involves calculating the interplay of crop uptake, soil supply, nutrient loss risks, and field operation logistics.
- Right place – Keeping nutrients where crops can use them. This involves analyzing and tracking the interplay between roots and soil to see nutrient movement and mitigate nutrient losses from the field.
By aligning four simple principles, growers can minimize field nutrient loss, maximize crop uptake of nutrients and optimize their investment in crop inputs effectively. In fact, thousands of growers already participate in 4R nutrient stewardship farming because they know that feeding people starts with feeding the soil.
Benefits of VR
Instead of broadly applying nutrients in the same ratios everywhere, soil sampling and VR allow for more precise measurements of the nutrients needed by different soil locations. VR takes into account the variance in soil fertility across zones with each field on a growers’ farm.
Benefits may include:
- Optimized yields
- Increased crop quality
- Better standability
- Better time management
- More sustainable field management
- Traceability of crop production
- Digital records of the farm
Optimize RX™ from Decisive Farming can set growers on the right path for managing VR for their farm.
Get started with soil fertility base levels
The first place for growers to start is getting to know their soil and its current state. By performing proper and consistent global positioning system (GPS) soil samples can help identify soil nutrients that can be limiting growth, indicate appropriate fertilizer rates, protect against over fertilization and avoid potential toxicities relating to soil and plant health.
However, it’s a lot of information to keep track of. That’s where an integrated farm management platform comes in. Growers can easily track the progress of their agronomic services like soil sampling and VR services while accessing all their farm data in one place.
Solutions like GPS soil sampling, VR and the use of an integrated farm management platform can make farm and nutrient management much easier. The data collected throughout each process, with the right guidance and support team, is transformed into informative insights allowing the growers to make more timely decisions.
When growers are able to make more strategic decisions on their farm based on precise insights, they know they’re getting the most out of their operation by optimizing the performance and health out of the soil and crops.