4R Impacts Grower Cost and Environment on Wisconsin Farm

This 1,150 acre western Wisconsin farm operates a medium-size beef feedlot and grows in rotation alfalfa, corn silage, and corn grain. The solid beef pen pack manure is farmer applied to corn land. The farm also adds some liquid dairy manure that is custom applied to help meet crop nutrient needs. The remainder of the crop needs are applied in-season.


This farm with multi-year and crop rotation has a dynamic response in cost of practice change and nutrient use efficiency. Looking at corn silage production over three years, on average the farm decreased cost per acre as they transitioned to intermediate 4R practices. As the cost decreased on average, the nitrogen use efficiency and nitrogen balance increased over time. This is happening for two reasons. One, the farm is doing an excellent job of crediting the nitrogen that is accumulated in the soil from the alfalfa portion of the rotation into their nitrogen applications. And two, beef manure is applied pre-plant supplying nitrogen to the early growing crop. These are strong practices for building soil health and organic matter.

The nitrogen balance is always negative with the corn silage years and lower in years where there is more first year corn silage. The rotation to alfalfa and the organic nitrogen from the residual beef manure that remains over time helps meet the nitrogen needs of the corn silage crop.

When the crop rotation is corn grain with alfalfa, the accounting for nitrogen from the alfalfa cost did go up as practices shifted to intermediate, but the lower cost in the first year corn is due to the lower fertilizer application from accounting for the nitrogen from the alfalfa crop.

Intermediate Practices Implemented

In 2018, the farm transitioned from applying nitrogen pre-plant to an in-season side dress for nitrogen requirements and added software for managing records and weather impacts on nutrient applications. Through all years, the farm is crediting all nutrient sources and adjusting fertilizer needs based on the nutrient contributions from those sources.

Cost and Environmental Data

CropCorn SilageCorn SilageCorn SilageCorn Silage
Cost ($/acre)$249.10$208.03$165.80$92.70
4R Practice LevelBasicBasicIntermediateIntermediate
Nitrogen Application Rate (lbs/ac)8917321895
Nitrogen Use Efficiency (lb N applied/bu of corn grain)
Nitrogen Balance (lb N applied – lb N harvested)-181.4-115-69.9-123.3
Phosphorus Application Rate (lbs/ac)60735340
Yield (bu/ac)31333325

Cost of 4R Practice Implementation for a Multi-Crop Rotation

Crop (Tons/acre)Alfalfa HayCorn GrainCorn GrainCorn Grain
Cost ($/acre)$137.86$108.55$172.53$154.21
4R Practice LevelBasicBasicIntermediateIntermediate
Nitrogen Application Rate (lbs/ac)1533182179
Nitrogen Use Efficiency (lb N applied/bu of corn grain)3.330.201.011.19
Nitrogen Balance (lb N applied – lb N harvested)-89-934968
Phosphorus Application Rate (lbs/ac)30737360
Yield (bu/ac)4.5 tons/ac170180150