Stewardship project seeks nutrient tools for irrigators

Project coordinators hope to take local farmers' nutrient stewardship 'to the next level.'

By Kay Shipman

A new Illinois Farm Bureau Nutrient Stewardship Grant project will give central Illinois irrigators ideas to enhance nutrient management. That’s the goal of an on-farm research project by the Mason, Cass-Morgan and Tazewell County Farm Bureaus.

Nutrient management strategies recommended in the statewide Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy are familiar to many Mason County farmer irrigators, who have used them for years, according to Ashley Beutke, Mason County Farm Bureau manager.

Results from the new stewardship project hopefully will “take it to the next level,” Beutke said. “We’re trying to understand other practices we can do.”

The in-field studies will involve cooperating farmers and mark IFB’s first stewardship grant focused on irrigation. In conjunction with Northwater Consulting, the study will include plant tissue tests to determine nutrient levels and soil tests, said Mason County Farm Bureau President Jeff Hackman.

By testing leaf tissue during the growing season, irrigators can determine if a crop needs additional nutrients and apply that via irrigation pivots, Hackman explained.

“If it’s OK, you don’t have to add any (nutrients),” Hackman added, describing the process as prescription fertilization.

John Breedlove, who farms in Tazewell and Mason counties, hopes to learn new practices to improve nutrient efficiency on his irrigated fields. The president of the Central Illinois Irrigated Growers Association has used tissue tests for six years “as a roadmap to say what (nutrients) I need or don’t need.”

Breedlove uses state-of-the-art technology to help determine when and how his irrigation system operates. “We’ve always tried to stay ahead of things,” he said. “I’ve got kids and grandkids, and I want them to farm.”

Both farmers agreed the study offers economic benefits as well as environmental ones. Not only will irrigators potentially gain ways to reduce nutrient losses, but they also may increase the efficiency of applied nutrients, possibly reducing costs while maintaining and/or increasing yields.

“We might save money on the front end. Certain varieties may need different amounts of nutrients at different times,” Breedlove noted. “Sounds like a win-win.”

Editor’s note: This article represents ongoing stories related to Illinois Farm Bureau’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant program.