Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network: Reducing nutrient and sediment loss

Four-part series highlights water quality work

This is the first in a four-part series examining the conservation practices of farmers participating in the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network. The demo farms project is finding environmental and economic solutions to protect water quality via the right combination of traditional conservation practices and other innovative technologies. As a part of the network, three northwestern Ohio farmers within the Blanchard River Watershed are testing new and standard conservation systems in order to share their findings and experiences with others. 

To learn more, visit the demo farms website.

Research being done at the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms and other related sites around the state is helping researchers determine what practices work best for reducing nutrient and sediment loss. Over the last five years, on-farm research has shown that following the 4R approach can help reduce nutrient and sediment loss.

The 4R approach

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles provide proven best practices for the application of nutrients (commercial or manure) by using the right source of nutrients at the right rate and right time in the right place below the soil surface.

Stateler Family Farms utilizes new technology to apply manure at the optimum rate across the field including to a growing corn crop to maximize the benefit of manure nutrients.

Right Source

To achieve desired yields most efficiently, a nutrient applicator should select a plant-available nutrient source that provides a balanced supply of essential nutrients while considering both naturally available sources and the characteristics of specific products.

How to achieve the Right Source

Coordinate nutrient analyses with soil tests

It is important to collect and test soil samples on a consistent basis. Additionally, a nutrient analysis should be completed on manure farmers plan to apply. The nutrient analysis should then be compared to the soil test results to ensure application of the nutrients a field and crop needs.

How it helps: Coordinating nutrient analyses with soil test results helps reduce the spread of unnecessary nutrients. 

Right Rate

Every crop, field and soil has its own unique nutrient needs. When farmers blanket apply nutrients, however, they run the risk of placing too many nutrients in one place and not enough in the other — with the possibility of negative impacts on either the environment or the potential of that crop. Therefore, it’s important to use technology in a way that allows application of the right rate of nutrients for optimal results.

Solution to help achieve Right Rate

Variable or optimum rate application

Variable rate nutrient application allows crop producers to apply different rates of nutrients in different locations across the field, based on soil tests, with the help of precision technology like computers and GPS.

How it helps: Variable rate technology for fertilizer has been used by farmers and applicators for many years. It can improve water quality and plant health, as well as optimize fertilizer inputs. Manure, however, has typically been applied at an even rate across the field. New technology for manure application equipment is changing this practice.

Part 2 features the other 4Rs, Right Time and Right Place in the May/June issue of Our Ohio.

Duane and Anthony Stateler, of Stateler Family Farms in McComb, have been focused on the Right Source and Right Rate as part of their 4Rs and nutrient management work with the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network. While they have been soil sampling for many years, they’ve since increased their testing frequency to every other year and use that information to determine their variable rate manure application. Now, when the Statelers apply liquid swine manure, their rates are more precise, which ensures they’re providing nutrients the plant needs with less opportunity for environmental loss.