New technology provides farmers with an arsenal of ways to keep nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen on fields and out of Minnesota’s lakes and streams. These nutrients can fuel algal blooms that hurt aquatic life and recreation.
Several ag consultants discussed ag technology with media and state agency representatives at an event sponsored by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotions Council. Aaron Jones hosted the event at his farm near Lake Crystal in Blue Earth County. Jones is a fifth generation farmer, working with his father, uncle, and cousin to raise corn, soybeans, and hogs.
Jones uses variable rate applications of fertilizer, which means he can apply less and more fertilizer as needed as the spreader moves across the field. This technology reduces the amount of fertilizer applied to a field, which in turn reduces the potential for loss through drainage or runoff to local water bodies.
Kevin Jeurissen, a precision ag specialist with Crystal Valley Co-op in south-central Minnesota, generates fertilizer “prescriptions” for the Jones farm and other customers. He bases his prescriptions on nutrient levels, soil types, a field’s fertilizer history, past results, university recommendations, and his own experience and research.
Kevin starts with soil samples, taken with a “low-tech” probe on a grid base across a field. The soil samples—about 12 probes per 2½ acres— go to a lab for analysis. The co-op uses the results to map nutrient and organic matter levels across a field.
“Fancy maps don’t mean anything unless you can apply it that way,” Jeurissen said. That’s where the technology comes in. By using computers, GPS, and the Internet, the co-op’s fertilizer applicators can adjust the levels of nutrients across a field based on the prescription.
Jeurissen also uses plant tissue tests to determine if more fertilizer should be applied, and if so where, as the crop grows in the summer.
This precision technology has helped the co-op increase efficiency, using less fertilizer and increasing profitability for both the co-op and its customers.
It can also play a “huge” role in reducing nutrients moving from farm fields to water resources, he said.
“We’re only putting it where you need it,” Jeurissen said.
Other measures that reduce the impact of ag inputs:
Seed genetics that offer natural resistance to pests and other stresses, resulting in less need for pesticides. One example is breeding soybean plants that produce a protein deadly to the larvae of corn rootworm. This built-in resistance reduces the need to use insecticides to control this rootworm. “That’s an important example of using genetics to lessen the impact on the environment,” said Pat Yockey of Pioneer Seed.
Auto-steer features for tractors. By using GPS and an on-board computer, auto-steer literally drives a tractor down a field row, with the driver taking over to turn the equipment at the end of the row. Auto-steer provides more precise operation of the tractor than human hands, resulting in less overlap of fertilizer and pesticides. Less overlap means less product applied to the field and less chance of runoff to ditches, streams, and lakes. Less product also mean less expense for the farmer. “Conserving inputs means conserving resources while maintaining productivity,” noted Dan Lemke, communication director for the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotions Council.