Nutrient Balance And The Future Of Land

The dollar value of agricultural land in the North American Corn Belt has reached prices few ever thought possible. High commodity prices and favorable interest rates are cited as major factors behind the increases. At the same time, we see trends in nutrient balances that if unchecked will erode the fertility and productivity of those same land parcels that are today so highly valued.

In December, I was the evening speaker for the annual meeting of a highly successful regional investment firm that focuses on agricultural land and biofuel plants. My topic was “The Future of Land” and I emphasized three points:

  1. Land faces challenges in every country.
  2. Land plays a critical role in the most significant issues of the coming decades.
  3. The future of land will reflect the success of land managers in meeting stakeholder goals (a 4R concept).

It has become very clear that the market place today also sees land playing a critical role in the future. A report from Iowa State University shows that the value of farm land in the state of Iowa in 2012 increased 24% from 2011 to an average of $8,296 per acre. Averages for most counties in the northwest quadrant of Iowa exceeded $10,000 per acre. According to USDA-NASS, cropland value for the U.S. as a whole increased 14.5% in 2012 to an average of $3,550 per acre and other sources indicate that this trend is not unique to North America. The value of Brazilian cropland is estimated to have increased 18% last year on top of a decade with average annual increases of 14%. In Great Britain, even with the country’s difficult economic climate, arable farmland increased 5% in value in 2012 and much of Central Europe has been experiencing huge increases in land value.

Nutrient Balance

At the same time, a popular topic at state and regional meetings this winter was nutrient balance (nutrients being applied vs. nutrients removed in crop harvest) and the International Plant Nutrition Institute’s (IPNI) new and planned tools dealing with nutrient balance such as NuGIS, our new nutrient removal Web portal, and mobile phone apps. These tools show us that phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) balance in much of the Corn Belt has become decidedly negative and our soil test summaries have demonstrated that these negative budgets are frequently drawing down soil fertility to less than optimal levels, a situation that threatens the future productivity of the same land that has become incredibly expensive.

It’s a good time to remind ourselves that crops obtain much of the nutrients they absorb not from the fertilizer we apply this year, but from nutrients in the bulk soil and so the fertility level of that bulk soil is critically important. Allowing fertility levels to drop below critical thresholds is akin to falling over the “fertility cliff” where we have a high probability of experiencing:

  • Loss in ability to harvest the increasing genetic potential of crops.
  • Reduction in system efficiency.
  • Increased potential for nutrient losses.
  • Greater susceptibility to weather extremes like the Corn Belt experienced in 2012.
  • And perhaps, a loss in land value.

Allowing highly positive nutrient balances to continue where soil fertility is already above optimal levels also leads to negative consequences and may in extreme cases negatively impact future land value.

I was sitting next to Marc Vanacht during a presentation at the 2012 annual meeting of the Soil and Water Conservation Society when the speaker referred to a “restorative economy.” Both Vanacht and I immediately moved that concept into our own world as a “restorative agronomy.”

Shortly after the meeting, Vanacht expanded the concept into three terms:

  1. An extractive agronomy that leaves the soil and the resource base worse off.
  2. An exploitive agronomy that maintains the status quo but leaves the resource base vulnerable to extreme situations.
  3. A restorative agronomy which rebuilds the resource base to make it more resilient to extreme situations. As the dollar value of land increases, it seems that these terms should be front and center in our minds and plans made to assure that what we practice is indeed a restorative agronomy.

Good tools are available from IPNI and other sources to draw attention to these conflicting trends of increasing land values and inappropriate nutrient balances … tools that can help growers, their advisers and input suppliers make appropriate adjustments to create a restorative agronomy within 4R Nutrient Stewardship programs. Such adjustments are necessary if highly valued land is to remain highly productive land.

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories

Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More
FertilizerOSHA Hammers West Fertilizer With Over $100K In Fines For April Explosion
October 10, 2013
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is fining the parent company of the West Fertilizer plant, Adair Grain Inc., $118,300 for 24 violations. Read More

Trending Articles

MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More
HerbicidesScouting Key To Next Season’s Soybean Herbicide Program
August 12, 2014
When growing soybeans, growers need to think ahead to stay one step ahead of weeds. That means examining weed threats and evaluating which herbicides work best. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Acquires Lemon Ag Services
August 4, 2014
The acquisition of Lemon Ag fits BRANDT’s aggressive corporate strategy of providing superior agronomic advice and services for customers in central Illinois. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechBerendes Joins Verdesian Board Of Directors
September 2, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences announced that Robert Berendes has recently joined the company's board of directors. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
WebinarsWebinars On Demand
September 2, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches Performance Agriculture Brand
September 2, 2014
Performance Agriculture complements Pinnacle’s existing brands, including Sanders, the company’s flagship farm input retail brand. Read More
Webinars5 Key Benefits Of Attending A Webinar
September 2, 2014
Webinars can provide ag retailers with a convenient option for gaining knowledge on the latest industry issues and solutions. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Is Betting On A Bright Agricultural Future
September 1, 2014
The crop protection products giant is gearing up for a busy time in agriculture by investing in both product production and development over the next couple of years. Read More
Eric SfiligojAn Erie Feeling For Ag
September 1, 2014
Plenty of water issues have been in the news lately, including the continuing drought in California. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires California-Based Retailer
August 29, 2014
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings will acquire Kerman Ag Resources, Inc., which will operate under Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
Allied Cooperative Grain Plant
ManagementArcadia Co-op To Merge With Allied Cooperative
August 28, 2014
Allied Cooperative has announced that members of Arcadia Co-op voted in favor of a merger with Allied Cooperative, paving the way for the consolidation which will be effective on December 1, 2014. Read More
InsecticidesBioinsecticide VENERATE Now Registered In California
August 27, 2014
Marrone Bio Innovations' VENERATE is a new tool to help California growers control crop-damaging insect pests, fight the development of insect resistance and reduce pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Read More
CropLife 100Two Iowa-Based Ag Co-ops To Merge
August 27, 2014
The Board of Directors and management of United Western Coop, Missouri Valley, IA has completed a merger with Heartland Co-op, West Des Moines, IA, effective September 1, 2014. Read More
FertilizerKoch Expands AGROTAIN Nitrogen Stabilizer Portfolio
August 26, 2014
Koch Agronomic Services, LLC has added two new innovative nitrogen stabilizers to the AGROTAIN product family – AGROTAIN ADVANCED and AGROTAIN DRI-­MAXX. Read More
Seed/BiotechDuPont To Build Two Seed Treatment Centers
August 26, 2014
DuPont has announced construction on two state-of-the-art centers dedicated to developing and testing seed treatment formulations, applications and seed handling techniques in an important step toward bringing new solutions to growers. Read More
Seed/BiotechLoveland Products Acquires A Controlling Interest In Ag…
August 26, 2014
Loveland Products, a subsidiary of Agrium , has announced the company has acquired a controlling interest in Agricen, a Dallas-area agricultural biotechnology company delivering biochemical-based products for efficient and sustainable plant nutrition. Read More
StewardshipUp Close Look At The 2014 Environmental Respect Award W…
August 25, 2014
The 2014 Environmental Respect Award winners were honored recently at the 24th annual event in Wilmington, DE. Read More
Eric SfiligojAg Science Rejection Carries Consequences
August 25, 2014
As innuendo and fear dog the regulatory process, agriculture can’t get the new tools it needs to combat world hunger. Read More
LegislationFarmers Dismayed As New Farm Bill Dumps Direct Payments
August 25, 2014
The threatened end of cash subsidies to the nation’s row crop farmers dates back through at least the last two iterations of national agriculture policy legislation. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More