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

Fertilizer Storage
Crop InputsThe State Of The Fertilizer Industry
February 9, 2017
He’s all hat, no horse.” It’s a humorous way of describing a person who tells a good story, but is Read More
CF Industries Port Neal, IA plant
Crop InputsNitrogen Outlook 2017
February 3, 2017
It’s no secret that the global supply of nitrogen has been increasing significantly in recent years, helping drive down prices Read More
Fertilizer Potash
Crop InputsThe Phosphorus/Potash Outlook For 2017
February 2, 2017
If the old adage that “the cure for low prices is low prices” holds true, then phosphorus (P) and potash Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute Commends Senate Vote For Secretary Of Transportation
February 2, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) President Chris Jahn issued the following statement on the Senate confirmation of Elaine Chao to serve Read More
Trending Articles
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
AgriSync
Matt Hopkins17 Agriculture Apps That Will Help You Farm Smarter In 2017
December 9, 2016
Ag professionals are working smarter, not harder, than ever before. Smart farming technologies have enabled them to reduce costs, maximize Read More
R4023 Sprayer, John Deere
CropLife 100Ag Retail Equipment Report: The Green Party Continues
December 7, 2016
In the annual race for sales in the ag retail equipment marketplace, the color schemes for participants are a little Read More
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100The 2016 CropLife 100 Report: Reviewing The Many Bulls And Bears Impacting This Year’s Marketplace
November 28, 2016
For virtually all of 2016, the nation was wholly focused on the big Presidential election. Some folks aligned themselves with Read More
Latest News
Roy Blunt
LegislationARA Recognizes Blunt, Heitkamp For Legislative Efforts …
February 17, 2017
Agricultural industry continues to face federal regulatory challenges. Thankfully, agriculture’s allies in the U.S. Senate stepped forward. The Agricultural Retailers Read More
LegislationThe Fertilizer Institute Commends Senate On Confirmatio…
February 17, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) President Chris Jahn issued the following statement on the Senate confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Read More
Trump, Senate, Cabinet
LegislationBREAKING: Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt Confirmed by S…
February 17, 2017
Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various Read More
ManagementFebruary Road Trip Edition
February 17, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent visits to Indiana and Kentucky. Read More
Heritage Cooperative Finished Building Aerial
ManagementHeritage Cooperative, Agland Co-op Approve Merger
February 17, 2017
Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative stockholders have both approved the merger agreement between Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative. Now begins Read More
LegislationARA Fly-In: Ag Retail Descends on Capitol Hill, Lawmake…
February 15, 2017
More than 100 agricultural retailers, distributors and suppliers headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday morning for the Agribusiness Congressional Fly-in, according to a Read More
Untreated soybean seed Heartland Coop
Seed/BiotechMarrone Bio Innovations, Groundwork BioAg Bio-stacked M…
February 13, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. and Groundwork BioAg, Ltd have announced successful seed treatment field trials of the world’s first all-biological Read More
NL5000 With G5 Technology
SpreadersNew Leader Introduces NL5000 Dry Nutrient Applicator Wi…
February 13, 2017
New Leader, a division of Highway Equipment Company (HECO), has announced the next generation of spreading technology with the NL5000 Read More
Fertilizer Storage
Crop InputsThe State Of The Fertilizer Industry
February 9, 2017
He’s all hat, no horse.” It’s a humorous way of describing a person who tells a good story, but is Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Agrees To Credit Agreement Amendme…
February 9, 2017
Pinnacle Operating Corp. has entered into an amendment (the “Amendment”) to its First Lien Credit Agreement that will provide for, Read More
ManagementUpdates on Upcoming Trips, Dow-DuPont, and the Des Moin…
February 9, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review a few future travels, along with the latest on big company mergers and Read More
Championship Tractor Pull
EquipmentNational Farm Machinery Show Highlighted By Championshi…
February 9, 2017
The scream of monster engines, the stench of burning rubber and the ground-pounding vibrations of the country’s largest, loudest and Read More
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
Corn Field
InsecticidesArysta LifeScience, DuPont Collaborate On Rynaxpyr Prem…
February 8, 2017
Arysta LifeScience recently announced that it has entered into a global collaboration with DuPont Crop Protection for the development of Read More
Industry NewsThe Fertilizer Institute Board Elects New Chairman, Vic…
February 8, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) Board of Directors has elected Chuck Magro, President and CEO of Agrium, and Tony Will, President Read More
Sonny Perdue
ManagementARA Joins More Than 600 Organizations In Support Of Per…
February 8, 2017
The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) recently joined with more than 600 agricultural groups on a letter of support for Governor Read More
World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit Panel 2016
Crop InputsWorld Agri-Tech Innovation Summit To Be Held In San Fra…
February 8, 2017
“Breakthrough Applications and Business Models for Sustainable Farming” is the theme of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit to be held Read More
Cedar Country Cooperative
Eric SfiligojConsolidation In Agriculture: More Middle Movement
February 7, 2017
If you’ve regularly followed my column, you know I’m something of a movie junkie. Like many, one of my favorite Read More