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Keeping Crop Nutrients in the Field & On The Job

PHOTO: Keeping nitrogen where it can do its work has long baffled farmers. But there are new techniques that can help.
PHOTO: Keeping nitrogen where it can do its work has long baffled farmers. But there are new techniques that can help.
April 25, 2013

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Boone River watershed has lost more than $630,000 worth of fertilizer in the past 20 days, in the form of nitrate leaching into the Des Moines River. Much of it eventually winds up in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 630 tons have washed into the river since April 4 - up to $4,200 lost every hour.

Keeping nitrogen where it can do its work has long baffled farmers, but Tim Smith, who farms near Eagle Grove in the Boone River watershed, thinks he has the answer.

"Some experiences that I've come across in the last year from my nitrate monitoring, I've been able to reduce the nitrate levels that are leaving my farm by using cover crops and by using side dressing on my fields," Smith said.

Not every farmer is using these practices, he said, because they still have to be persuaded that it's worth the extra work.

"Some farmers still need to be convinced," Smith said. "It is a new practice that is being used. It's just been introduced in the last couple of years, but it does fit well into the nutrient-management strategy that the state of Iowa is promoting."

Smith said it helps prevent soil erosion on top of reducing nutrient loss, both of which help improve a farmer's bottom line.

Richard Alan, Public News Service - IA