Illinois is smack in the middle of a huge “water quality” push.  What that means in non-farmer, non-agriculture terms is that the agricultural industry is working overtime right now to try to teach farmers how they can grow the same or better yields, using the same or less amount of fertilizer.  Using the same or less to grow the same or more equals less fertilizer running off the field into local streams.

It’s called efficiency and we strive to get better every single day.

  1. Don’t apply fertilizer if the soil temp is above 50 degrees.

anhyrous applicationThis has to sound confusing for a non farmer because putting some fertilizer out on your garden, you surely pay little to no attention what the soil temperature is.  But farmers are applying anhydrous ammonia which injects nitrogen into the ground.  At a cooler temperature, the nitrogen is fixed in the soil and does not leach into the water or the air as easily.  This preserves water quality AND helps the farmer keep the valuable, expensive fertilizer he/she paid for.


2. Use soil tests to apply only the fertilizer you need, where you need it.

On-farm technology has come a long way.  Using GPS systems, farmers can now test their soil in various areas of the field, find out how much nitrogen already exists in each area to grow the next crop, and only apply the nitrogen that is needed in the areas it is needed.  Using this technology, farmers avoid over applying nitrogen (and having extra sitting in the soil that might leave via a heavy spring rain) and avoid paying for expensive fertilizer they don’t need in the first place.

3.  Plant cover crops.

cover crop demo
A group of farmers and educators stand in a winter ready field of cover crops.

In some regions, it makes sense for farmers to plant a crop that sits on the field through the winter to take up the nitrogen in the soil and hold it until the next crop (corn) grows enough to need it.

Cover crops are usually planted before the previous year’s crops are harvested.  They are allowed to grow and “take hold” in the fall before the winter weather kills them off.  These plants take up the leftover nitrogen in the soil and hold it all winter.  They also provide numerous other benefits for soil erosion, organic matter, and more.

In the spring, the farmer kills the cover crop and plants the primary crop.  As the primary crop grows, the cover crop decomposes and releases the needed nitrogen for the primary crop.  It’s a great system that provides so many conservation benefits!

LLindsay Mitchell 11/14indsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager


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