Voluntary Conservation Practices – and the 4Rs – Will Improve Water Quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin
In a new study released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) have implemented at least one conservation practice on 99 percent of cropland acres. This is a step in the right direction for the health of the WLEB, which has been challenged in recent years.
The report, released through the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP, an effort of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service), estimates that voluntary adoption and use of conservation practices are showing results in the WLEB. The report surveyed practices being used in 2012 and it showed reductions in:
- Annual sediment losses by 81 percent (or 9.1 million tons per year
- Annual total nitrogen losses by 36 percent (or 40.6 million pounds per year)
- Annual total phosphorous losses by 75 percent (or 11.4 million pounds per year).
In comprehensive conservation planning, nutrient management is used in conjunction with conservation practices designed to control and trap nutrients and sediment. As indicated in the WLEB CEAP assessment, a plan that incorporates the 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles must be utilized each year and on each crop in the rotation in order for the conservation benefits of 4Rs to be achieved in WLEB.
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) is a strong supporter of conservation practices that lead to sustainable results. Each year, the 4R initiative recognizes growers and retailers who are putting the 4R principles and supporting conservation efforts into practice. In 2016, TFI recognized farmers Lowell and David Myerholtz of Gibsonburg, Ohio, and their retailer John Fritz of The Andersons, in Fremont, Ohio, as 4R Advocates. The Myerholtz’s farm is located about 30 miles from Toledo, in the WLEB. Their efforts provide an excellent example of the types of practices that contribute to the improved quality of the WLEB, evidenced in the CEAP report.
The Myerholtz father-son duo, who run a 1,500-acre farm growing corn, soybeans, and wheat, have been able to reduce fertilizer usage by up to 10 percent by using precision applications, which eliminate overlaps. They also achieved 20 percent savings in fuel costs by converting from conventional tillage to strip-till for corn production. As a modified no-till approach, strip-till farming helps with conservation by placeing phosphorous and potassium nutrients in the soil after harvest in the fall. The Myerholtzs also use French drains and cover crops to help keep soil erosion down, prevent water runoff, and build soil health. Finally, they also began using filter strips, which are used at the edge of fields near ditches to help reduce compaction in the field while minimizing and filtering surface runoff. To implement the 4Rs, they apply nitrogen using a spring side-dress, utilize variable rate fertilizer application based on precise soil tests based on soil type, use VERIS soil mapping and crop removal rates to develop nutrient plans for each management zone, and conduct tests plots to inform decision making.
“Nutrient runoff has been known to be an issue in this area. A 4R protocol and statement help show that what we are doing makes good environmental sense,” said David Myerholtz.
The 4R Advocate program recognizes agricultural retailers and their grower customers who are leading the way when it comes to implementing 4R nutrient stewardship on the farm. This select group assist TFI in raising awareness and adoption of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program.
It’s a role these growers and retailers take to heart. Just ask David Myerholtz: “We’ve been doing things the right way for years, but we need to help raise the bar for everyone and make farmers want to do more.
TFI’s 4R Nutrient Stewardship initiative is an innovative and science-based approach that offers enhanced environmental protection, increased production, increased farmer profitability, and improved sustainability. The concept is to use the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, with the right placement. For fertilizer use to be sustainable, it must support cropping systems that provide economic, social, and environmental benefits. For more information on the 4Rs and other 4R Advocates, visit www.nutrientstewardship.org.