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Conservation Corner

Next CSP ranking deadline announced

Tue, December 13, 2011

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Announces Sign-Up Period for Conservation Stewardship Program

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced that the ranking period cut-off date for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is January 13, 2012. Producers interested in CSP should submit applications to their local NRCS office by the deadline so that their applications can be considered during the first ranking period of 2012.

“CSP is one of our most popular conservation programs, and we expect to receive many applications,” NRCS Chief Dave White said. “I encourage all farmers and ranchers who are interested in applying to contact their local NRCS office as soon as possible so they can meet the deadline.”

CSP is offered in all 50 states, and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups. The program provides many conservation benefits including improvement of water and soil quality, wildlife habit enhancements and adoption of conservation activities that address the effects of climate change. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest land and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help potential applicants determine if CSP is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, contract obligations and potential payments. It is available from local NRCS offices and on the CSP Web page.

As part of the CSP application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete the resource inventory using a Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT). The CMT determines the conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities.  The applicant’s conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.

In 2010 alone, nearly 21,000 applicants enrolled in CSP, putting additional conservation on 25.2 million acres, about the size of the state of Kentucky, to improve water and soil quality, enhance wildlife habitat and address the effects of climate change.

Visit the NRCS National Web site, and connect with an NRCS office near you.


Consider Cover Crops

Fri, August 26, 2011

Cover crops aren’t anything new. Ag producers have used cover crops for decades—in fact they used to be a standard part of every farmer’s fertilizer strategy. However, they might be new to you.  You may be changing your operation in search of ‘greener’ techniques or you’re simply in search of less expensive ways to manage nutrients and limit inputs. Either way, the folks at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service want to share their crash course’ in cover crops for Illinois producers.

Nine good reasons to consider using cover crops:

      1. Cover Crops Defined: A close-growing crop that temporarily protects the soil, improves tilth, and can increase nutrient availability.

      2. Cover crops like rye, vetch and forage radishes are environmentally beneficial. With proper management, they will not inhibit yields on
        various crop production systems, including no-till and organic farming. In fact, they can increase yields and improve soil health.

      3.  Cover crops like cereal rye, oats, or winter wheat should be planted as soon as possible after harvest on fields where residue will not
          adequately protect against wind and water erosion during winter and spring. Seeding from late-August to mid-September is recommended.
          Cereal cover crops need 30-40 days for good growth before a hard frost. Cover crops such as oats and forage radishes need to be planted
        45-60 days prior to a hard frost.

    4.  Cover crops are especially recommended after low residue crops such as soybeans or corn silage grown on erodible land.  Many crops can  
        be used for cover, although cereal rye is probably most common. Legume cover crops add nitrogen to the soil for subsequent grain crops.
    5.  Cover crops can be air seeded into standing or late-harvested crops like corn or soybeans.

    6.  The cover crop should be killed in spring by mowing or herbicide application. Tillage is not recommended on erodible soils.  Early kill is
        important to reduce the risk that the cover crop will interfere with establishment of the subsequent crop.

    7.  Small grain cover crops increase surface cover and water infiltration, and scavenge unused nitrogen.

    8.  Some other cover crop options, like turnips and oats are also suitable for grazing by livestock and wildlife.  Using a mix of cover crops that
        have different types of root systems improves soil quality and water-holding capacity in row crop and livestock operations.  Benefits include
        water soluble nutrients available for next year’s crop.

    9.  Cover crops add organic matter on soils where low residue crops are produced. Cover crops can also be used to reduce nitrate leaching.

To sign up or access more information about Cover Crop options, EQIP, or other NRCS programs, contact the NRCS office serving your county or visit http://www.il.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/.



Partnership equals Successful watershed project

Wed, August 24, 2011

The success of large-scale on-farm research hinges on the collaboration between growers and industry, and a prime example is the Indian Creek Watershed Project.

Fertilizer companies and applicators partnered with the Harms, Steffen and Traub families in the research effort aimed at determining conservation agricultural systems to measure the effectiveness of different nutrient management systems on local farms.

One example of this teamwork can be seen at the Harms farm with Agrium, John Deere and Crop Product Services participating in nitrogen application timing and rate testing.

Testing on the Harms farm includes demonstrating three different application times – fall, spring and split application of one-half in fall and one-half in spring.

A second demonstration compares the full recommended nitrogen rate with a reduced rate — 85 percent of recommended rate — using Agrium’s controlled-release source, Environmentally Smart Nitrogen.

Kevin Harms explained the research effort on his family farm during a recent tour, noting that he operates the farm along with his son, Danny, and Kevin’s brother, Norman.

The Harms family farms about 3,250 acres in Livingston, McLean and Ford counties. They had a dairy operation until 2007 and now focus on corn and soybeans.

“We became involved in the Indian Creek Watershed Project last summer. We signed up five different enhancements or practices,” said Kevin Harms. “We use cover crops in the fall for scavenging nitrogen. We put it on after cornstalks to protect from soil erosion and organic matter buildup and maybe some tilth.

“On the nitrogen, we’ve started doing a nitrate testing. Our normal program was fall anhydrous — side-dressing is something that we’re going back into, so we test the nitrates in the soil before we side-dress and go by the recommendations given to us for that.”

The Harms take stalk samples at black layer in the fall and analyze them for nitrate levels.

“It’s a way to perhaps manage next year’s nitrogen. We’ll find out whether there were extra nitrates left over in the stalk or not from our application this year,” Harms said.

Pointing to the field at the tour stop, Harms said a nitrogen study of four 20-acre side-by-sides is being conducted.

“We have 20 acres of ESN applied this spring. We divided that into two 10-acre plots, one with the normal 150-pound application and the other with approximately 15 percent reduction at 125 pounds, which is what the company advertises you can do with the ESN,” he said.

“It’s a little more expensive product, but if you could reduce the rates, it could be a very attractive way of applying nitrogen. The sustained release part of it makes it environmentally friendly, and hopefully this sustained release will be yield friendly, too.

“We side-dressed the next two plots at 150 pounds of 28 when the corn was about one foot tall. Next to that are one-half 75 pounds in the fall of anhydrous and 75 pounds of 28 side-dressed. The fourth plot is for our normal program of 150 pounds of fall anhydrous. Hopefully, we’ll get some interesting comparisons out of that.

“They asked me why we were doing this, and I said to be honest I thought it would be a good way to find a way to produce a crop cheaper and use our nutrients more. But obviously the real purpose of this is to improve water quality not only here in the Indian Creek Watershed, but all the way through the Mississippi River Basin.”

“We want to get that nitrogen in the plant when it needs it,” said Tim Smith of Cropsmith.

Smith is contracted through the Conservation Technology Infor mation Center, which assisted Harold Reetz of Reetz Agronomics to design the demonstration sites and nutrient efficiency studies.

“These plots are going to help us demonstrate if these different management practices are better in this watershed. Then we can take those results to all the farmers and help them fine-tune their nitrogen rates and their timing and their placement and maybe even their product selection,” Smith said.

“We want to make everybody a better farmer, everybody more efficient, we want to make the water a little cleaner and we want to make the yields a little higher.”

Also during the Harms farm tour stop, John Niemeyer, Agrium sales representative, explained the use of ESN.

Niemeyer said is a coated urea nitrogen fertilizer that delivers nitrogen to the crop with control and predictability. A flexible, micro-thin polymer coating over top of the nitrogen granule enables this precision.

This unique membrane allows water to diffuse into the granule, dissolving the nitrogen within, according to Niemeyer.

The urea liquefies into a nitrogen solution, yet remains encapsulated within the coating. The tightly controlled and consistent coating process produces a product that performs consistently.

The nitrogen solution moves through the membranes in a predictable manner, matching the nitrogen demand curve of the corp.

“The product is designed to put on just before corn. When you use it in the springtime, it will release slowly at first when the corn is very small,” Niemeyer explained.

He said as the soil warms and crop growth continues, the granules release nitrogen more quickly and steadily. This continues throughout the growing season to keep up with the rapid plant growth. This process is called temperature controlled diffusion.

John Deere’s role on the Harms farm involved providing through Crop Production Services a John Deere 2510H nutrient applicator to apply fertilizer.

Pauley Bradley, John Deere nutrient application product manager, said there were three reasons that John Deere became involved in this study.

“Nitrogen is critical for us to raise the food and feed and fuel that we need to feed the market, and we know we’re under pressure with how we manage our nitrogen. This was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate some technologies,” Bradley said.

“About five years ago, John Deere recognized that there was need in the marketplace to develop some technologies to apply nitrogen more timely — in-season nitrogen application. So we developed some technologies to help do that more productively and profitably with less risk. One of the products we brought to market was 2510H toolbar applicator to inject nitrogen in-season.”

Deere’s 2510H Nutrient Applicator employs high-speed, low-disturbance injection technology to place anhydrous ammonia beneath the soil surface. It uses 30 percent less fuel and disturbs the soil less than traditional shank-and-knife application.

“That was one reason we had the opportunity to participate with other companies like Agrium with our technologies and see how we can improve agriculture and corn growing,” Bradley said.

“The second reason is this initiative is unique in the fact that its ambition was to try to get at least 50 percent of the corn growers and acres involved the watershed engaged in participating and applying practices to their land.

“That was something that gained a lot of attention around what agriculture can do if it really unifies and you get a large broad effort like that. We wanted to see what the outcome would be, so we’re interested to find out what that will be, understanding it will take a few years before we see meaningful results.

“The third reason is partnerships. We’ve been a supporting of Conservation Technology Information Center, and they are engaged in this. We also worked with Crop Production Services, the local retailer here, to use that toolbar on about 2,300 acres here in the watershed.”

The CTIC and Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District are project leads. Project partners include the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency with funding provided through the Clean Water Act and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as support from corporate sponsors.

Adapted from an article by   By Tom Doran in the AgriNews