Assess Runoff Risk To Keep More Nutrients In No-Tilled Fields

Using split ‘N’ applications, covers and advanced fertilizer products can improve yields and fight negative perceptions about farming.

Let’s be honest, farming creates a risk that fertilizers and manures applied won’t always stay there. And when that happens we’re put in the spotlight, as you’ve seen with recent news reports about algal blooms contaminating popular waterways.

When fertilizers run off, that not only means less nutrients are available for the crop, but some end up in ground and surface water, reducing water quality and creating health and environmental risks. 

Sure, agriculture carries some responsibility — but farming isn’t the only source of these problems.

No one knows for sure all the causes of algal blooms. But research suggests that frequent heavy-rain events, more reliance on tillage and managing for high-yield crops requiring more fertilizer have helped spur these blooms. 

No-tillers who follow best-management practices to preserve soil and nutrients already greatly reduce their contributions to nutrient runoff, but they probably can do more. 

It may seem odd today that when we think of conservation we can’t limit it to soil erosion.

Now we have to include nutrient runoff losses as part of those management decisions.

The Problem

Nutrient and sediment runoff from agriculture is ending up in our surface waters, which is partially responsible for causing algal blooms. 

Obviously, sediments leaving the field cause muddy water, silt out in lakes, and these soil particles carry nutrients along, depositing them in surface water bodies. 

Nutrients that are the main culprits include nitrogen and phosphorus. High concentrations of these two nutrients feed algae blooms, causing hypoxia. A telltale sign of…

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Daniel Davidson

Veteran farm advisor and agronomist Daniel Davidson no-tills near Stanton, Nebraska, and works as a private consultant.

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