Besides operating a business that tackles crop consulting work on more than 300,000 acres, Joe Nester serves as the director of a local bank.
A big believer in the many benefits of no-till and effective nutrient management, the crop consultant from Bryan, Ohio, has seen the value of requiring soil tests on ground being considered for purchase.
“On two different tracts of $5,000-per-acre land, one farm may have as much as an extra $1,000 per acre of plant nutrients laying in the soil,” Nester says.
In developing nutrient management plans for farms in Ohio and Indiana, Nester has found that it normally requires about 6 applied pounds of phosphorus to raise soil test results by just 1 pound.
“This is due to unavailable compounds being formed in the soil, while we’re more interested in the plant-available forms,” Nester says. “But as you remove nutrients from the ground, soil test results do not drop by a pound for every pound of nutrients removed.
“The unavailable forms recycle and some becomes available later after the removal of available nutrients.”
Nester finds a soil test analysis that indicates that there is 150 pounds per acre of available phosphorus is equivalent to applying about 900 pounds per acre of the nutrient.
“If 900 pounds is the gross number, that means there’s nearly 2,000 pounds of 18-46-0 (DAP) in the soil,” Nester says. “That represents a nutrient value of about $450 per acre today as indicated by a 150-pound P2O5 test result. But back in 2008 this nutrient value was $900 per acre when fertilizer costs were much higher.”
The bank staff believes evaluating nutrient values are important in helping farmers avoid surprises after making land purchases.
“We don’t want clients to bid up a farm at auction expecting it will be ready to go,” Nester says. “Instead, the new ground may need 3 tons of lime per acre along with additional fertilizer for the next 10 years because it’s been mined in the past.”
Until these nutrient levels are corrected, Nester says both yields and income will suffer.
“If the nutrient levels are all excellent, we’d be willing to loan a premium price on the farm,” he says. “But we want to see the nutrient resume that goes with the soil. It’s no different than tiled ground being worth more than fields that do not have tile.”
Nester and his staff use similar guidelines for evaluating potassium usage. They also determine the amount of available low-cost nutrient levels that can be obtained with proper manure management and more timely application.
If the soil has a good history of no-till, the bank’s loan officers and loan committee would also place a premium on the use of that reduced tillage program. Nester says no-tilled fields offer improved nutrient recycling efficiency due to larger and higher quality microbial populations that are present when compared with tilled fields.
“Our bank staff knows that good no-till operations earn more net income than a similar operation where the grower that has to work the ground, deal with higher fuel bills and calculate considerable amounts of depreciation on his or her tillage equipment,” Nester says.
He urges no-tillers to do a better job of educating landowners on the value of all nutrients, the benefits of no-till and the importance of having them develop solid relationships with top-notch growers.
“When the farmer leaves, the landowner owns the nutrients,” Nester says. “A good nutrient manager can build equity for a landowner. In fact, many of our crop consulting clients copy the landowner on soil tests and every application of nutrients.”
If a landowner doesn’t pay attention to these critical factors, Nester says they can be receiving what they view as a top cash rent per acre, despite the fact that they could still be losing equity because nutrients are being mined from the ground.
“When a landowner finally realizes this has happened, it will take many years and many dollars to get the ground back into optimum condition,” he says.