In times of low commodity prices, every penny’s worth of crop inputs comes under scrutiny from farmers.
Jacob Baker, who farms in Warren and Henderson counties, is taking that scrutiny to a new level by conducting field trials to evaluate various nitrogen practices and crunching the numbers to find out which most cost-effectively boost corn yields.
Baker, a member of the Warren-Henderson Farm Bureau’s Young Leader Committee, said profitability is the most important issue facing the future of farming. The flip side of getting more money for a crop is spending less to produce it.
“To help with that, we want to reduce nutrients,” he said. “We’re looking at the rate of return on investment for each product and each strip to see which one will bring not necessarily the highest yield but the highest rate of return.”
Working with Farm Bureau, University of Illinois Extension, West Central FS and other cooperators, Baker is in his second year running a nitrogen strip trial on one of his fields in Warren County. That field recently served as the site of the first of nine virtual field days IFB will host throughout the state this summer as part of the organization’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program.
The plot tests two of the four R’s of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) — right place, time, rate and source — studying four nitrogen sources at four application rates.
Since the trial is just in its second year, data is limited. And since 2019 proved to be such an abnormal weather year, the numbers could be even less reliable.
But so far, a preplant application of anhydrous ammonia at a rate of 170 pounds per acre appears to offer the best rate of return.
Chelsea Harbach, a commercial ag educator with U of I Extension, encouraged farmers to wait for additional years of data from the ongoing study to bolster the takeaways.
IFB has been working on the NLRS for five years, but 2020 has presented the most unique challenges to date. Restrictions caused by COVID-19 led the organization to shift gears from inviting farmers to attend its field days in person and instead is offering them virtually through a series of online videos.
“We love collaborating on these field days,” said Lauren Lurkins, IFB environmental policy director. “Not only do they give us data and help determine best practices for nutrient stewardship, but they also give us opportunities to share those practices with farmers.”
Visit Illinois Farm Bureau's website to watch the virtual field day from Baker’s plot, including a full summary of the results from the first year. With the completion of additional field days in other locations, more videos will be added to the website.