Protecting our natural resources for the future

A buzz word in today’s agricultural world is sustainability.  The agriculture industry depends on clean water, healthy soil, and pure air to supply a growing world with food, fuel, feed, and fiber.  Farmers meet daily challenges as they work to protect our resources for future generations.

Nebraska’s farmers are growing more with less water and fewer chemicals than ever before.  And yet, we still struggle with the quality of our water in some areas.

Working together, we can make an impact in the health of our soils and the quality of our groundwater.

Utilizing Nitrogen and Nitrate

The grim reality of the situation is that it is not a “one size fits all” scenario when dealing with different land uses, soil type, or availability of labor and equipment resources from one farm to the next. However, what every producer can do is to take advantage of the environmental nitrogen sources that are readily available on their land, such as, residual soil nitrogen, irrigation water, legume credits, and organic matter. Comprehensive management of these available credits make it possible to make reductions to their purchased nitrogen applications, saving time and money, all while maintaining yields.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln recommendations for applying nitrogen fertilizer is, on average, a ratio of 1 to 1: 1 lb. of N per 1 bushel of corn. In some areas, producers can get by with much less, even as low as 60-70% of the recommended amounts. This equates to big savings for the producer and less opportunity for nitrogen to leach into the groundwater.

The timing of nitrogen fertilizer application can also help prevent nitrogen loss.  If fertilizer or manure is applied sooner than the crop can use it, a large portion of the nitrate can be lost by leaching. Nitrogen sources should always be applied as near as possible to the time of most rapid plant growth. On coarse-textured, highly permeable soils, split or side-dress applications of nitrogen generally result in increased profits, nitrogen efficiency and decreased potential for nitrogen loss because of the shorter time between fertilizer application and crop uptake.

Best Management Practices for reducing excess nitrate

  • Cover crops
  • Strip cropping
  • Soil testing
  • Fertilizer management
  • Rain sensors for lawn and crop irrigation
  • Domestic and stock well analysis
  • Seasonal application restrictions
  • Manure application restrictions
  • Alternative cropping methods
  • No-till farming
  • Nutrient management program
  • Crop tissue analysis
  • Variable rate application and precision farming (UNL recommendations)
  • Incorporate realistic yields goals
  • Water well flow meters
  • Soil moisture sensors
  • Terraces

There are safer and better ways to save money and increase yields

Cover crops are an excellent way to keep nitrate from leaching into groundwater.

Follow fertilizer and pesticide application directions on packaging and consider soil sampling to help you refine how much and when to apply.

Prevention is always more effective than waiting for the cure. Contact your local NRD or NRCS office for guidance and recommendations for more effective nitrate use.

Phase Area Controls

The Phase area controls are developed to provide remedial affects to the groundwater nitrate issues, matching aggressive controls to areas with more acute contamination versus less aggressive controls with areas with less acute conditions.  Improvements are not expected to immediately reveal themselves, but hopefully over the next several years positive improvements in groundwater nitrate will be realized.

The implication of these controls will require some to change their production practices, but ultimately growers should be able to easily adapt to these changes without experiencing negative impact to crop yields and may see increased profitability through increased nitrogen use efficiency.

Regulations proposed for portions of Cuming, Colfax, and Dodge Counties

Rising levels of nitrate have been detected in portions of Cuming, Colfax, and Dodge Counties.  A virtual meeting was held to discuss the protective measures proposed for these counties.

A recording of the webinar is available to view. Use the passcode: ?PE4HaCU

You can also read more about these proposals on the LENRD website.

View Webinar

LENRD General Manager, Mike Sousek, said, “If you have ideas to help us slow down this train, please give us a call.  This is about protecting our health and the health of our children and grandchildren.  This is your water.  The water that you drink.  We are here to help you protect it.”

He added, “By working together at the local level, we can make changes today to protect the resources for tomorrow.  It’s a matter of keeping our local control and moving in a direction that benefits everyone involved.  No one wants the state or federal government to start making these local decisions for us.”