What Did Your Customers Leave Behind?

Last month, a grower I have had the privilege of knowing for a long time reminded me of something he heard me say at a no-till meeting over 20 years ago: What we remove from the field defines our present, what we leave behind defines our future.

This simplistic assertion relates to everything from crop residue and compaction to nutrient budgets. If the nutrients removed exceed the nutrients applied, the deficit left behind points to a future that must eventually involve repaying the temporary loan or experiencing the initially insidious erosion of yield potential and other crop properties. And this would occur during an age when recent and continuing advances in technology promise significant improvement in these same properties.

Let’s establish some context. Three underlying factors that encompass many of the major issues humankind will be facing for the next several decades are human nutrition, carbon, and land. Carbon issues include climate change, cheap energy, and bioenergy. Land issues include land use, soil quality, water use and quality, and waste disposal. The intersection of carbon and land represents soil organic matter and the issues associated with carbon sequestration (and nitrogen, phosphate, and sulfur sequestration). Human nutrition brings into the picture the issues of food quantity, quality, and cost. Of critical importance in the discussion of nutrient management is that a significant component of the common ground of all three of these huge factors is soil fertility and how the management of plant nutrients affects our food supply, our land, and the carbon cycle.

The Human Factor

The human nutrition factor is particularly challenging. Some have estimated that the world will need twice as much food within 30 years. That is equivalent to maintaining a proportional annual rate of increase of over 2.4% over that 30-year period. Others predict a 50% increase in food demand by 2030, which translates into a 1.8% annual increase. Others predict more modest demand increases, but all reflect more rapid increases than we have experienced over the last half century. The magnitude of the challenge is better appreciated when these proportional rates of increase are compared to historical cereal yield trends, which have been linear for nearly half a century with slopes equal to only 1.2% to 1.3% of 2007 yields. Please remember that the time period represented includes the advent of the Green Revolution and tremendous advances in genetics, pest management, and soil and nutrient management.

This analysis tells us that we must accomplish yield increases in the future at a faster rate than we did during the era when all these impressive past advances occurred. Sustainably accomplishing this feat is a huge challenge and will require close cooperation and understanding among disciplines, across geographies, and between public and private sectors. It will also require every crop plant in the field to have access to the nutrients it needs throughout its life cycle, but not more than it needs — 4R nutrient stewardship at its best.

Maintaining Fertility

Crop plants and the fields they occupy offer signs of their nutritional status. Our crop advisers and field reps need to help growers refocus attention on the early warning signs of declining nutrient status. Many growers have likely spent most of their careers without needing to be concerned over such signs, but that may now have changed. These early warning signs of declining phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) status for corn include:

For P

Early Season: Stunted growth in part or most of the field, delayed plant development in part or most of the field, reddish-purple discoloration of leaves, a shallow root system with little spread.

Near Pollination: Unusually high variability in plant growth and development, delay in pollination or poor pollination, unusually high incidence of nitrogen (N) deficiency symptoms suggesting poor N efficiency.

At Maturity: Slow grain dry down, reduced kernel weight or test weight, reduced number of kernels per ear, poor kernel fill and small twisted ears, high frequency of weak spindly stalks, often with barren ears.

For K

Early Season: Delayed plant development in part or most of the field.

Near Pollination: Unusually high variability in plant growth and development, delay in pollination or silking, unusually high incidence of foliar or root diseases, marginal browning of lower leaves in part or most of the field, unusually high incidence of N deficiency symptoms suggesting poor N efficiency.

At Maturity: Cut-away of stalks shows dark brown discoloration at the nodes, slow grain dry down, reduced kernel weight or test weight, ears with poorly filled tips and loose, chaffy kernels, stalk lodging in part or most of the field.

Identifying these signs is often difficult without having a reference — a strong argument for helping growers establish perennial P or K non-limiting strips in their fields to provide that reference. The weather in 2009 presented some amazing yields, but many fields undoubtedly also exhibited many of these signs. It would not hurt to simply ask if these signs were present. If nothing else, it will get the wheels turning concerning the consequences of past practices.

As we look to 2010-11, the time is right for the fertilizer industry and customers to refocus on the grand challenge of crop production — sustainably producing the food, feed, fiber, and fuel needs of an ever more demanding world. The first step is determining what we left behind in 2009.

Leave a Reply

Management Stories

ManagementUpdates on Glyphosate Use in the EU and Bayer/Monsanto
June 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest important developments on these crop protection fronts. Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradual Decline
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
Trending Articles
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Latest News
Heritage Cooperative
CropLife 100Heritage, Agland Co-op Explore Mutual Merger Interest
June 30, 2016
According to a report in The Ohio Country Journal, Heritage Cooperative and Agland Co-op have entered into negotiations to consider Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Crop InputsDow Launching New Soybean Burndown Herbicide
June 30, 2016
With the 2016 growing season nearing the halfway mark, many growers are scouting soybean fields to find unwelcome marestail plants Read More
ManagementUpdates on Glyphosate Use in the EU and Bayer/Monsanto
June 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest important developments on these crop protection fronts. Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Names Protassium+ Sales Director
June 28, 2016
Compass Minerals, the producer of Protassium+ sulfate of potash, has named Scott Johnson director of sales for Protassium+ North America. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe British Leave Vote Impact On EU Agriculture
June 27, 2016
Like virtually everyone else in the world this past week, I’ve watched the global reaction to Britain’s vote to exit Read More
Valent David Nothmann
Crop InputsValent Names David Nothmann Vice President Of Marketing
June 27, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has announced the appointment of David Nothmann as vice president of marketing. Nothmann will be responsible for Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stew…
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Contributes To Mayo Clinic
June 27, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty agriculture products, has pledged a sizable donation to the Mayo Clinic Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradua…
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
AdjuvantsPrecision Laboratories Introduces Intact Xtra For Use W…
June 27, 2016
Precision Laboratories announces the launch of Intact Xtra, an adjuvant designed for applicators who want to maximize spray applications and Read More
Key Cooperative’s new liquid fertilizer, crop chemical, and seed facility in Grinnell, IA stores 1.5 million gallons of liquid fertilizer and 120,000 gallons of crop chemicals.
Retail FacilitiesKey Cooperative Facility Features The Latest In Murray …
June 27, 2016
When Key Cooperative wanted to improve the overall efficiency at its new state-of-the-art facility in Grinnell, IA, it turned to Read More
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More