Play the latest episode:


Brought to you by:

Source by Sound Agriculture

“The moral of the story here is you want to grow as many roots as you can to recover your nutrients.”

— Joe Nester

Ag consultant Joe Nester says phosphorus (P) is leaving soil.

In this presentation from the National No-Tillage Conference, Nester covers how to measure and recover P, as well as the issues that arise when too much P shows up in the wrong place. This week’s episode of the No-Till Farmers: Influencers & Innovators podcast is brought to you by Source by Sound Agriculture.

If you’re not familiar with Nester, he’s got extraordinary experience with dealing with a wide range of adverse growing conditions, ranging from working in sensitive watersheds to dealing with floods to tips for how to handle drought.

He’s also a No-Till Living Legend.

Join us as we listen to Nester discuss P management.








No-Till Farmer‘s No-Till Influencers & Innovators Podcast podcast is brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.

More from this series

SOURCE®️ from Sound Agriculture is a soil activator that gives crops access to a more efficient source of nitrogen and phosphorus. A foliar application of SOURCE provides 25 pounds of nitrogen & phosphorus per acre and enhances micronutrient uptake by stimulating beneficial microbes, and its performance is supported by a cash-back guarantee. Learn more at


Full Transcript

Brian O'Connor:

Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast. I'm Brian O'Connor, lead content editor for No-Till Farmer. Source by Sound Agriculture who sponsors this podcast about the past, present, and future of No-Till Farmer. Joe Nester, an independent ag consultant, spoke at the National No Tillage conference about phosphorus, it's importance and problems too much of it can cause. We recap his presentation here. Here's Joe.

Joe Nester:

One time, I guess it was in 2010, Frank called me and he wanted me to go with him to Wall Street to talk to a bunch of investment fund managers about agriculture. They didn't know anything about agriculture. And I asked Frank, I said, "So why'd you pick me?" And he said, "Well, we thought about Dwayne Beck. He's a really intelligent guy and has a lot of infield experience and great communicator and things like that, but these people there don't know anything about agriculture. And we thought that Dwayne's intellect level might be over what they can handle. So that's why we called you." So I said, "All right." Well, I went, Alan Barry went, and Morry Taylor who owns Titan Tire went along. And so Morry's up there talking first. And if he didn't know it, Morry ran for president in the Republican primary years ago.

And so I'm setting by Frank and Morry walks up to the podium and the topic that day was the Guantanamo prisoners was all over the news and what to do with them. Frank, you remember this, don't you? And Morry steps up and all these fund managers, 60, 80 of them. And he says, "I'm Morry Taylor. I own Titan Tire. And I ran for president. And if I was president today, I'd solve Guantanamo today. All I need is a 45 and one bullet a piece and it'd be over." I looked at Frank and he says, "Maybe we should have asked Beck to come along there."

So this is where we're located, right in Northwest Ohio and you see Lake Erie here and we consult in an area about 150 mile radius around Defiance County, but about 80% on what we work on the watershed is Lake Erie. So we deal with lake bed soils, glacial till soils, but the watersheds Lake Erie. So that's got a lot of attention lately and it's made us... I think that's really helped us be on our toes in managing our nutrients up there. In our business, we've taken a proven approach since day one. I've been in agronomy for 38 years right there in that county. And I've always, if somebody tells me something, I think the same way you guys ought to do something, say, "I'm not sure I buy that. We'll have to prove it on my farm and my operation." We've run over 300 nitrogen plots since 2008 and there's a lot of data that's come back from that.

I'm going to talk about that Saturday. But we're dealing with a lot of different situations, a lot of different systems out here, and we have to have a prove it approach. I've been very blessed to work with very progressive farmers that are willing to do that when we ask them to do plots and that's great for our business. We work with Environmental Defense Fund, NRCS, both on state and national level and Ohio State. We're lucky enough to work with Ohio State on five different projects right now at this time, and it is some extra work, but it puts us right up front on the learning curve. Kevin King's going to follow me up here and I'll try not to get into his time here because we do this a lot. This is one of Kevin's edge of field studies and it's on my farm, my office and houses back here in the background.

But we're checking phosphorus leaving the field by way of the surface and also through the tile. And when I tiled this farm, Kevin was just coming out with a study and I called him and I said, "Kevin, I want one of those on my farm and I'll do whatever it takes to facilitate you getting that in there." And it's a great learning experience for us there too. So little background there. But what we're going to talk about quickly here today is the soil conditions for efficient nutrient recovery, water filtration, minimal plant stress. I'm going to show you a few things on our gypsum research project with Ohio State. But most important thing is for last. And I think that I can probably save each and every one of you about 10 bucks an acre this coming year on your phosphorus. Well, maybe not everybody, some of you. I'll show you where.

So we want to make sure we save some time for that. You've heard this over and over at this conference talking about soil quality, soil health. You're going to hear it more, but soil, water, and air have more effect on your yield than your nutrients do. The nutrients are far down the pecking line. The grower that can manage that soil structure and health in concert with nutrients is going to win. And it's about minimizing stress and duration of stress on your crop. When you open that bag of corn today, you probably got somewhere if you ask the plant breeders maybe 600 bushel acre potential. And as soon as you zip it open, you start knocking that potential down. And so your yield is actually the sum of the stresses on that crop. So you want to minimize that stress. A soil with good structure, ample microbial life, which you've been hearing about, decent water filtration rates need less nutrients on paper, on the soil test. And the key there is recoverability.

I show this slide many times only because I try to hit home with it here. It's corn planted all the same time in different soil types, but these two soil types here are the same. And you can see there are different conditions that affected the root proliferation. The moral of the story here is you want to grow as many roots as you can to recover your nutrients.

Now let's talk a little bit about representative soil tests. And I see a lot of different methods out there. It's just really important to represent what you're treating, what you have in your field. I use this field as an example. It's 19 acre field, three soil types in this field. And this is the probes that came out of those three different soil types. We've got a clay loam on the top, we got a heavy clay in there, and we've got a sandy loam at the bottom.

If you or whoever's doing your soil testing mixes those probes together, put them in the same bag, you're going to get a result back from the lab. Unfortunately, it won't be anything that you have to manage out there. And if you mix those cores of the heavier clay with the sandy loam, you're never going to put lime on that sandy loam and you're going to be losing a lot of production. So the point I want to tell you here about nutrient management, make sure you segregate your exchange capacities. Soil testing quickly here, lab equipment doesn't know pounds per acre. I think we get thinking we need so many pounds of phosphorus and so many pounds per acre of potash out there and everything will be fine. And that's not the way it works. Lab equipment takes a measured volume of soil and then they measure for the saturation of the nutrients in that given volume.

So we get parts per million. How does it get to pounds per acre? Someone somewhere along the line said that an acre for a slice of soil weighs 2 million pounds. So if we know that an acre weighs 2 million pounds and we have parts per million, then parts per million times two is pounds per acre. Does it mean pounds per acre? No. It's a chart, a scale to manage nutrients by and soil structure and health, probably much more important than the nutrients themselves, don't show on that test. Although we have the salveta test and the soil health test now that I think is going to revolutionize in the next five years the way you guys manage nutrients, there's a lot more information that's needed to be known there.

Let's talk about that concentration, and I think I can explain it this way. This is a picture of the refrigerator in my room and it's got on that second shelf there one beer. In fact, one of those beers I bought last night that I paid two bushels of corn for. So maybe we're on the wrong end of this. Maybe we ought to be in a bigger business and instead of farming, but if I sample that small refrigerator for parts per million beer, I get a number based on the volume in that refrigerator. Now you guys might know that Frank, he kind of gets a special room here and this is the refrigerator in Frank's room and there is on that second shelf an 18 pack of Bud Light. And if you sample Frank's refrigerator for parts per million beer, it's actually less parts per million beer than my little refrigerator. But Frank's got a lot more beer. So what you need is for your crops to eat at the big refrigerator. So you got to develop a soil condition that allows root proliferation under all conditions.

And this chart gets lost a lot over time. I think it's real easy for guys to manage the chemical properties of your soil, put the nutrients on. This is the tough side over here, but this is also the side where the money is to be made. So you need to pay a lot of attention there. There's three major influences that I feel on the bottom line of farming. We've had a lot of agronomists get together and talk about this once the yield monitor came out and water is the number one thing that controls yield. Water and then minimizing a duration of stress and efficient recovery of your nutrients.

Now, can anybody tell me what this is? I'll give you a hint. My folks both grew up in the hills of Virginia. They were the first ethanol supporters and they didn't even know what ethanol meant. But no Bill, that's not what's in there. This is water. And the most important thing for you in your crop production is water and efficient use of that water and minimizing stresses from that water. Now it's also a big deal to a lot of other people. We'll talk about that.

Just going to throw this slide in here real quick. This is my own farm. This is cover crops following corn, and I think that cover crops are definitely part of the answer for the future on what you guys have to produce. I started using them as a nutrient sink and they changed soil quality so fast and it's been-

Joe Nester:

And they changed soil quality so fast. And it's been said here before, comment on what Dean Holt said at Cincinnati, just our normal rotation loses ground. We got to feed the biology, and you can't do it with five months a year live crop. So put that into your toolkit. This also, in the soils I work on and I realize that we got a diverse crowd out here, but on the clay soils, there's a definite difference between calcium and magnesium. This is a whole system of putting things together to give you optimum soil quality. The difference between calcium and mag is the way they react with clay and the size of those particles. Water infiltration is affected by them. Calcium helps promote soil structure and in heavy clay soils, magnesium can be antagonistic. It peptizes the clay and spreads particles equidistant from the magnesium and conceal those soils.

I'm going to show you a little bit of ways to adjust that here with this gypsum project. Real quick demonstration pictures here, and I probably should have videoed this but I just took still pictures. NRCS has a little water in or water rainfall simulator kit and these pans are about four inches by eight inches and five inches deep. You drive them in the soil, you wiggle them, pull that block out and you can then pour water in the top containers and simulate rainfall on that block of soil that you've got. Now these are two Napanese soils, a prevalent soil in the Western Lake area basin, heavy clay. The only difference between the two is this one has 70% base saturation of calcium and 12% magnesium. This one has 50% base saturation of calcium and 20% magnesium.

So we dumped a bottle of water just like this one on in that tray on top, which simulates a one inch rainfall. The one with the poor relationship at calcium and mag, this is the runoff. This is the runoff on this one. We have a little bit of runoff, but it is clear. And then this is the run through. This is the well-balanced soil and we get that much infiltration and that's what ran through that high magnesium clay soil. Nothing. Now you got to till that soil. If you're going to do anything with it, you have to till that soil, unless you're going to adjust that magnesium. But look at what ran off of that soil. That's a one inch rainfall on a four inch by eight inch block of soil and we've redistributed that much clay and that much soil particles. We can't be doing that and be successful today or in the future. That's what ran off the well-balanced soil. I've been working with this for a long time enough to know that there is a big difference between those if you are worried at all about your water filtration rates.

This gypsum research project that we're in the fourth year of working with Dr. Warren Dick at Ohio State and we Electrical Power Research Institute as a partner in that project. We did the field work for Warren. We found farmers to participate, and I want to note here that these are all good farmers and these soils have already been well-balanced. So, you've probably got a lot of other soils. Well, you'll see a much more dramatic increase in phosphorus out through the tile. The reasoning behind this study was to see if applying gypsum could hold phosphorus within the field. So we applied one ton. We had to find fields where we could segregate the tile outlets and then catch the tile water at rain events.

This is what started happening the first time we started collecting this water. Clear water, we had farmers calling but clear water coming out where the gypsum was applied and very turbid water coming out where there was no gypsum. Similar to that rain rainfall simulator that I showed you there. Here's some samples that were 18 months after application of the gypsum, you can still see it. My guys that go out and collect these samples every time, know which ones where. We send those samples to laboratory and have them analyze for dissolved orthophosphate. And kind of a wordy slide here, we keep it anonymous. But what this shows is the percent reduction in phosphorus in that sample where we applied gypsum, not real scientific because we don't have flow. Kevin's project much more scientific, this was more just to get the ball rolling on this type of studies. Again, there's some variation there. I think we collected 160 samples before we found the first one that did not have a reduction in phosphorus. We're seeing this last about two and a half to three years and then it falls off, I think the gypsum is worn out.

So what's happening there? The sulfate is double negative and is moving down through the soil. The calcium in gypsum is very soluble and when it goes on the soil, it bonds with the phosphorus forms calcium phosphate and holds it within the soil boundaries, the field boundaries. There's some pictures that a grower took for us, can see the non-treated area, murky water foaming and clear water coming out here. In all, to date and we should be collecting right now we've got some tile running again, but 240 samples and we've shown a 50% reduction in phosphorus out the tile. That's enough to take a look at. As a management way, it's not a tight enough bond that calcium phosphate to keep your plant from finding it, but it is keeping it from going out the tile, and tile is very important. You're going to pay for tile one way or another.

I talked about those high magnesium soils and so while we were sending these samples to the lab, I thought, well why don't we check them for magnesium too and see if those things that all those old wise guys told me about the ability to leach magnesium with gypsum if you're overabundant in your soil conditions to see if that's true. This is 20 months after application on these samples and we're showing still in the neighborhood of a hundred percent increase in magnesium out the tile, and the sulfate is what's taken it out the tile. It's forming Epsom salts, which is very soluble and that magnesium sulfate is leaching magnesium and you can adjust that condition in your soil.

Brian O'Connor:

Welcome back to Joe Nester in a moment. First, I'd like to thank our sponsor, SOURCE by Sound Agriculture for supporting today's podcast. SOURCE from Sound Agriculture unlocks more of the nitrogen and phosphorous in your fields so you can rely less on expensive fertilizer. This foliar application has a low use rate and you can mix it right into your tank. Check out SOURCE, it's like caffeine for microbes. Learn more at

Before we get back to Joe Nester, here's No-Till Farmer editor, Frank Lessiter with a little known no-till farmer fact.

Frank Lessiter:

When you look to the future of no-till, I think we're going to see a better choice of corn hybrid, soybean varieties and wheat varieties developed specifically for no-till conditions. Seed suppliers will start doing a better job of identifying lines with strong emergence and enhanced disease resistance to perform well under tough no-till conditions, but more seed suppliers need to perform a necessary cold tolerance test to determine which corn hybrids are ideal for no-till.

Brian O'Connor:

Now back to Joe Nester.

Joe Nester:

All right, let's talk about Lake Erie here. In August of 2014, that situation changed there for the worst for us in ag. For those of you that don't know, the algal blooms in lake area are fed by phosphorous entering through the tributaries into the lake and agriculture's responsible for a good portion of it. There's numbers that'll bounce around, but a lot of that's coming from ag. The algae itself is not good. It messes with the fishermen and the boaters and the swimmers and things like that. But this algae has the ability to form a toxin called microcystin with it that flourishes as it heats up in the summertime. And this microcystin is so toxic that humans should not touch the water, it's 5 to 10 times more toxic than arsenic and it's three times more toxic than cyanide. It affects your liver, you can't ingest it, you can't touch it, you can't bathe in it. If you boil it gets worse.

So in August of 2014, the water intake for the City of Toledo is right down in this area here and the wind blew these toxins in and churned the water up so that the toxins were deep enough that they took it in for the City of Toledo and for three days they shut down the whole water supply for the City of Toledo. That as a game changer for agriculture. We'd been working on this, but we never had 400,000 voters really torqued off, which they were. I had a scientist tell me that if we'd have had the right weather conditions, we could have shut down Toledo for 30 days, and that would've been real ugly. So I've said on a lot of committees, a lot of different groups that want to get this problem fixed over the last several years.

The first bloom was in 2008, and this is what I hear blame, I hear no-till blamed a lot. I also hear it blamed from people that don't really understand what no-till is. I think there's also some people that think there are no-tillers and report that they're no-tillers and they no-till their beans and their corn is massively conventional and the phosphorus goes on the corn. So, that's one thing.

I've heard tile blame Kevin, and you're going to pay for tile. In order for you guys to raise enough food to feed this world in the future, you are going to have to have tile as part of the answer too, but I've heard tile blame. No starter on planner, your planners got so big you guys quit using starter, you spread it now, that's the problem. High rates, obviously those people aren't paying your bills. Irresponsible practices, I'm sure there's a few of those, but that's not the problem. Wrong time, blanket applications, aggressive sale people. I hear the CAFOs blamed and I work with several animal feeding operations that-

Joe Nester:

... [inaudible 00:24:01] and I work with several animal feeding operations that are really restricted on what they can do and do a good job. I've heard tillage blame. So is it no-till or is it tillage? And it is. It's an extremely complex problem. Anybody will tell you that. I think we're working with some outdated guidelines. We need a lot of research. We need it fast. A lot of times research doesn't come fast. But there's new tools available out there for us to get some information back.

So our fertility rates, the application's guilty, I really don't think so. They track the sale of fertilizer within watersheds, and in the Western Lake area basin, the rates of phosphorus have actually gone down. Soil testing and VRT are up fivefold. Jamie, soil testing is bigger and getting bigger, right? And you guys are doing a great job with that. I don't see those big levels out there. You got cover crops doing a great job. We got guys laying off a frozen ground with these soluble sources. Livestock permits are out there, strip till injection. We got equipped practices on the ground. Costs are up. And also, you're raising better yields, better stand improvements that harvest more of that phosphorus.

So I've watched you guys do this for the last 38 years and why wasn't Lake Erie Green 10 or 20 years ago is the question that I have. Right now, I'd like anybody that's doing a poorer job today than you did 10 to 20 years ago with your nutrients, raise your hand. I hope there's somebody here from the government that sees that because that's a fact. We're doing a much better job. So I think there's been a change in the soil chemistry. This is what I've seen over the last 10 to 15 years. And this is a chart of soluble sulfur on the soil test of one farmer.

Now, you can't hardly read these numbers, but this is 30 parts per million. And for the first 25 years that I was a practicing agronomist, everybody's sulfur levels in my area held in that 30 to 40 parts per million, then they started dropping. So we dropped this 2,000 acre farmers soil tests all into an access database over a 10 year period from '03 to '13. And you got some spikes here. Ignore those because he's used some gypsum and some bio solids over the time that will bring those levels up on a few tests. But notice the trend line where we're down now approaching five, six, seven parts per million sulfur. It doesn't matter whose soil test we put into this Excel sheet, they all look the same. So there's a big change out there. Sulfur's very acidic.

I went online and the government has this website that you can go check out called the National Atmospheric Deposition Program. And back when the Clean Air Act was passed, they set up these checking stations so that every one of these dots out here are a checking station that capture rainfall and they analyze it for those elements in the Clean Air Act that they have to throttle down and keep track of. But this red is sulfate, on this map, that you used to receive in your rainfall. Now, when you convert the kilograms to hectare, it's somewhere equal to, in 1985, about 100 pounds of ammonium sulfate per acre you guys were getting free. That was a pretty nice deal. Acid rain was good for agriculture. So that's 1985. There's 2000, 2007 and 2012. So it's disappeared, and that's why the levels have fallen like crazy.

Now, if you click on those checking stations, first off, let's emphasize this. If you're in this loop that I drew here, you need to change your phosphorus management strategies. Now, if you're west of that or if you're across the pond or something, then probably not as significant for you. I know there's some high pHs out west that guys struggle with phosphorus availability with and have to use acidifiers. But if you're in that loop, there's been a big change for your phosphorus.

When I click on the site closest to me, you can get all this data as far as pH of the rainfall over time. Now, starts at 1976 on the bottom here, and we were at 4.2 pH rainfall for quite some time. In 1992, they passed the Clean Air Act amendments to clean up the acid rain, and they gave everybody 20 years to conform because of the expense and the overwhelming job that was going to take. So you can see in '92, this pH started moving up of our rainfall, and in 2008, rockets. If you do a trend line, today we're at about 5.3, and 2008 is when it really took off and 2008 is when Lake Erie turned green.

So this also shows you parts per million sulfate in that test, which has dropped off significantly from three and a half to well below one part per million now. This is a chart that all agronomists learn from in beginning agronomy to try to keep your pH where your nutrients are available to your crop so the chemical reactions happen easily and often to produce optimum crop. And if you look up here, 6.2 to 6.8 is the best sweet spot down through here that we try to keep you at. But look at phosphorus. We have 100% phosphorus availability at a 6.5 pH. And at 6.0, we dropped to less than 15% soluble phosphorus.Now, for the guys that have been around 25, 30 years, you can remember when we used to get cold conditions in the early spring and we'd turn the whole county purple from phosphorus deficiency. That doesn't happen anymore. When we soil test for you, the lab assumes that you take a six and two thirds inch deep sample to get parts per million, and we blend that. That pH isn't constant throughout that profile. But we always knew in the past, the surface of the soil had a low pH. That low pH was tying up phosphorus. Now, instead of a 4.3 rainfall, you have a 5.3 rainfall. The pH scale is logarithmic, remember, so a 5.3 is 10 times more basic than 4.3. So that's a big difference.

But that lower pH layer on the top was due to just acidifying fertilizers, growing crops, rainfall, definitely, not one time, but every time it rained you were getting that acid put on there. You're probably not going to have to use as much lime in the future because of that lack of acid rain. And when we quit inverting the soil, that's when we started getting that stagnant low pH layer on top. When we were plowing, we used to turn up a higher pH in the Western Lake Erie basin. And 40 years ago, we had a problem with Lake Erie too. I don't know if that was due to plowing. There was phosphates and detergents and things too.

There's a group of consultants that I'm associated with that specialize in sports turf. One of the guys that worked for me handles Tiger Stadium and Notre Dame's football field and the Toledo Mud Hens and a lot of prolific golf courses. And those guys do a great job of sampling. They sample a tee box, they might sample the size of this stage, so they can be very representative. But most of those fields have irrigation. So they send in a sample of the irrigation water to the laboratory along with the soil test to get a nutrient solubility test. Because just because the soil test shows that you've got adequate nutrients out there doesn't necessarily mean that the crop's going to get them. Because you can change the chemistry with the water that you apply.

So I had a bunch of soil tests that had run through the lab. When the lab runs a test, they hold them for a period of 60 to 90 days. So I knew the parameters of all these tests. I went back down, recovered them, and then I hand selected tests from different soil types that were adequate phosphorus levels and I sent them back the lab and I said, "I want you to run this nutrient solubility test, except I'm not sending you irrigation water. I want you to fabricate the water. I want to make 4.3 and represent rainfall from 10 to 15 years ago, and I want 5.3 representing today." And so these tests, this is the increase in soluble phosphorus from these different soil types on the tests that I chose, and all I changed was the water that was hitting the soil.

Here's some more. I had one outlier, this 18.2% reduction. Hoytville soils, one of the most prominent soils in the Western Lake Erie basin, I got five and a half times more phosphorus just by changing the pH of the water that hit it. I went back and dug through this one that was an outlier here that was a prevented plant field over by Stryker, Ohio this year. And the farmer put gypsum on it this summer and so that altered that soluble calcium and that particular test, just like our tests with Ohio State, that made that phosphorus less soluble. I think that's what happened there.

So I also showed you that we can leach magnesium and help water and filtration rates on heavy clay soils. Back 10 and 15 years ago, farmers were getting a free pass that didn't even know anything about this. Every time it rained, the sulfur was leeching magnesium. You can't stop it from leaching magnesium. That's why you have to be very careful of putting gypsum on sandy soils because you're going to leach magnesium that you're going to wish you had about mid-June. So the sulfate was leaching that magnesium and that's not happening anymore. And I really think that that tillage that's happening and the lack of leaching of the magnesium has increased flashiness in these watersheds. I see places where you get one inch and a half of rain now and water goes over the road, and that didn't used to happen. So that free pass is gone.

In your soils, when we soil test, we measure for plant available phosphorus. Out of all the phosphorus that you have in your soil, it's a very small portion. You have labile phosphorus, which is getting ready to move and can easily move to available phosphorus, and you have non-labile phosphorus, which may stay in that non-labile form for quite some time. But we have just a small percentage plan available. Well, with this change in the water, in your rainfall, what if your available phosphorus now has doubled? And I showed you some tests that should support that. Your soil test you've been using hasn't changed. It still-

Joe Nester:

... for soil tests you've been using hasn't changed. It's still we're using the acid extracting. It's done the same way it was done done in the past. But what I'm arguing here is the field conditions have changed, which is liberating phosphorus.

So what can you do? I think you have to operate under this assumption, if you're in that fallout zone, that phosphorus is more soluble in our soils than it used to be. Okay? So the bad news is for Lake Erie and watersheds, the phosphorus is more soluble. The good news is for you, the phosphorus is more soluble. So where you've wanted to see 40 to 50 parts per million, maybe 25, maybe 30. I don't know what that number is, but I think you should be investigating it. I haven't seen a phosphorus deficiency on the fields I work on in 10 years.

Now, this theory also helps explain why we have several watersheds that have algal blooms that have no agriculture at all in them. They haven't been able to blame that on you guys yet. Maybe it's jumping over the watershed, I don't know, but that's happening. But this more soluble form of phosphorus theory would explain that.

So what can you do? I think you need to evaluate your phosphorus rates. Find that breaking point in places. I got guys that are raising 220 bushel corn on 20 parts per million phosphorus, and the book would say that you can't do that. But we're doing it, and we're doing it... They're doing a lot of good things. So we've got good recoverability there. Build a soil test database. Don't guess at this stuff. It's not an exact science, but you get trend lines. Know where you're at on this soil testing. It's going to be one of the least amount of dollars that you spent.

Practice the four Rs. There's some really good best-management practices outlined there. Use cover crops. I think if you're not using them, you ought to try them. If you're not using them, talk to somebody who's messed up with them. I think that all farmers should have a cover-crop guy. I suggest they have a good seedsman. I think you need a cover-crop guy, somebody can tell you who's messed up in other places and keep you from messing up.

And then employ practices that enhance soil health and increase that nutrient recoverability. I've got what I call the four Rs and I call the four Ps of phosphorus. And for those of you that don't know where Ohio is now, we're regulated on what we can do. You have to be licensed if you apply more than 50 acres of phosphorus a year, and there's regulations now as to when you can apply, depending on the weather forecast. There's accountability and it's coming your way. If it's not to you yet, I can guarantee it's coming your way.

But I call this the four Ps. So if I want to be having no problem with my operation as far as liability and things down the road, first I want to prove what I need. So build that soil test database and be representative. When we start working with guys on zone management, build off of yield zones and then we reevaluate it a couple years down the road, they always section those zones down even smaller. It pays. That thing is something that you can use to make good decisions on whether you have to spend money or not.

The second P, then, would be plan. Use those four Rs, nutrient requirement. Do some adaptive management, testing on your own farm, and prove what works for you. Just because it was written 25 years ago in a chart does not necessarily mean that's what you need today. I think VRT has a great place in today's agriculture because you have lots of different eco-environments that are going on out there within your field. Lime and gypsum: keep lime up. That's your cheapest. You can have all kinds of nutrients out there, and if your lime's out of whack, the plant can't get to it. And work with the CCA or a 4R-certified agronomist, somebody that really works hard to keep you up to date on this.

The third P would be prepare, and that's where I'm going to figure out a way to get starter on the planter. Because if you apply when you're planting, you're going to have a lot more leeway as far as what do you do. Banding and stripping is going to have a lot more leeway than surface broadcasting. I'd probably look at a narrow-track spreader, something that if I got put in a corner, that I could get back in after I've planted corn and spread my phosphorus.

I like using a checkbook approach. What you've got in your checkbook is fine if we got to make a withdrawal because we didn't have a safe, sound time to apply. Make a withdrawal. We'll put it back later when it is safe and sound to put it back. And there's equipment companies working to find some incorporation tools that don't mess up your no-till conditions, and I'd be looking at something like that. And I'd have a weather station, something that records what happened when on your farm.

And the last thing, then, is prioritize. You're going to have narrow windows of application coming due to regulation and know where to focus. That may affect your crop plan. So again, there's the four Ps that I would try to manage phosphorus by.

Anybody know what that is? It's not dry granular moonshine either. That's how much phosphorous per acre in the Western Lake Area basin it would take to solve the Lake Area problem on an annual basis. That amount per acre. Now think about what you're spreading. You guys are probably doing a 95% to 96%, 97% job, and it's still not good enough. So it's only going to take some small tweaks to save that much and help solve the problem.

Brian O'Connor:

That was Joe Nester, agricultural consultant, talking about phosphorous at the National No Tillage Conference. Before we go, here's Frank Lessiter one more time.

Frank Lessiter:

A reader recently asked how you determine the nutrient requirements with manure, and we know that from our no-till farmer benchmarks surveyed, about 50% of all no-tillers apply some manure to their no-till acreage. Well, in Nebraska, they did some tests recently that showed what kind of nutrients you could get if manure was applied in the fall, and it showed the differences between different types of manure. So the idea was to provide 150 pounds of nitrogen available for next year's crop if applied in the fall. With swine manure, which was injected, it took 5,000 gallons per acre of manure to get to the 150 pounds of nitrogen. With beef manure, it was surface-applied. It took 18 tons per acre of beef manure. And with dairy slurry, which was injected, it took 15,000 gallons. And with poultry litter, which was surface-applied, it took 6 tons per acre. And those are the four differences in manure to get you 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

Brian O'Connor:

That's it for this episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast. Thanks to our sponsor, Source by Sound Agriculture, for helping to make the series possible. You can find more podcasts about no-till topics and strategies at That's A transcript of this episode will be available there shortly.

If you have any feedback on today's episode, please feel free to call me at (262) 777-2413. If you can't get ahold of me that way, you can try my email, No-Till Farmer editor Frank Lessiter would love to answer your questions about no-till and the people and innovations shaping today's practices. Please email your questions for Frank to If you haven't already, you can subscribe to this podcast to get an alert whenever we release a new one. You can find us wherever you listen to podcasts. For Frank and our entire staff here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Brian O'Connor. Thanks for listening, and keep it no-till.