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Making the Most of 4R Nutrient Stewardship Principles

Southern States’ Agronomy Technology Programs Help You Meet these Goals

Agriculture faces many challenges in the future, not the least of which is responsible, sustainable environmental management while increasing food production to meet the needs of a growing global population.

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship concept (Right source, Right rate, Right time, Right place) is a science-based nutrient planning approach to help agriculture increase crop production, enhance environmental protection, increase farmer profitability and improve sustainability. It requires following best management practices (BMPs) to match nutrient supply with crop needs and minimize nutrient losses from fields. This concept definitely can be put into practice.

Haile is 4R Grower Advocate

Recently Southern States’ customer Calvin Haile of Haile Farm, LLC, was recognized for his sustainability efforts and was honored as a 4R Grower Advocate by the Fertilizer Institute (TFI). Haile is a second-generation farmer with a 2,750-acre operation on the Rappahannock River near Dunnsville, Virginia. Grid soil sampling and satellite imagery scouting are but two practices that have helped Haile and his Southern States agronomy team turn his practice of the 4Rs into a solid return on investment.

Performance Parameters are Catalyst for Change

An aspect that sets the 4R concept apart from traditional nutrient management practices is that it includes performance parameters to measure results of specific practices, so changes and improvement can be made. Yield, nutrient balance and nutrient use efficiency are three key performance indicators within the 4R approach.

Southern States’ agronomy technology programs look at these parameters and other indicators as the basis for data-driven planning, management and evaluation to achieve 4R sustainability goals, maximizing your yield and profit on every acre.

4R Principles of Nutrient Stewardship

Measuring Yield is Most Basic Measurement Opportunity

Yield is easy to understand and easy to collect, so it has long been used to measure the economic sustainability and productivity of farming practices. Today, with yield monitors on the majority of combines, yield maps take this convenient measurement from a field average to an indicator of variability across a field. Coupled with soil maps and soil sampling, yield can be a starting point for crop planning. Yield mapping also helps identify areas where drainage, compaction, weeds or other variability impact yield. However, the downside to using yield as the sole measurement is that it is a post-harvest tool. At this point, the crop is in the bin, and nothing can be done to change the outcome.

Pro-active, Season-long Approach has Greatest Benefit

At Southern States, we’ve found that a pro-active, season-long approach is the most effective way to achieve 4R goals. We couple information from yield maps, soil maps, soil sampling and in-field scouting with more refined tools such as tissue sampling and aerial or satellite imagery of crop reflectance at key points in the growing season. This more complete picture helps us identify yield limiting factors (nutritional or environmental) and make needed changes when they can still make a difference. Being proactive also helps us find opportunities to maximize production and provide a positive return on investment.

For example, using tissue analysis, we’re beginning to see trends showing that corn actually needs more nitrogen during the post-tassel growth phase. In the future, we may use later side-dressing, different forms of N or foliar feeding to more closely match the crop’s need for N.

Other agronomy technology tools such as auto-guidance, rate and section control and prescription application with mapping also help meet 4R goals by reducing overlap, cutting costly and wasteful over application, saving time and creating a permanent record of nutrient supply, application and crop use. These highly detailed, geo-referenced records not only help improve practices, they also illustrate that improvements are being made toward sustainability performance goals.

Be sure to reach out to your Southern States agronomy professional for more information on ways agronomy technology tools can help you put the 4R approach to work in your operation.

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