Ag Retail and Customer Efforts Pave the Way Towards Cleaner Water

The Partnership for Ag Resource Management (PARM), a project of the IPM Institute of North America, has been surveying ag retail locations since 2012 on adoption rates of products and services that benefit both the environment, as well as ag retail and customer pocket books. After the 2011 algal bloom in western Lake Erie, the second largest on record, the PARM team began working with retailers and Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research to identify products and services that reduce nutrient impairments, promote and track those along with estimating nutrient-loss reductions. Ninety ag retail locations representing over 5.3 million acres in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River Basins participated in PARM’s 2018 season products and services survey. Participants reduced an estimated 6.4 million pounds of total phosphorus, 1.2 million pounds of dissolved reactive phosphorus and 60 million pounds of total nitrogen. Find the report here.

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How did they do it?

Sharp increases were observed in 2017-2018 growing seasons in adoption of cover crops, with a 9% jump, and a 10% and 46% respective increase in rotational soil sampling and weather consideration before fertilizer application in the Great Lakes Basin. In 2018, PARM expanded into the Upper Mississippi River Basin, where baseline results show retailers leading in sales of rotation soil sampling, custom strip-till and variable rate application of phosphorus and nitrogen.

Ag Retail and Customer Efforts Pave the Way Towards Cleaner Water

PARM expanded into the Great Lakes Basin (GLB) in 2015 through support from the Great Lakes Protection Fund. Trends indicate overall increases in major products and services including cover crops and rotational soil sampling. Variable rate technology (VRT) phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) application has been increasing nationally, but still has room to grow.

“It makes sense really,” states project manager Caitlin Leahy, “Whatever product or service you can use to keep fertilizers on the ground for crop uptake instead of running off or leaching into waterways is a good business move.” In 2017, the project started looking at sales that positively affect nitrogen retention and have seen increases in customer adoption this past season. Foliar feeding, topdress, custom strip-till, sidedress, and nitrogen-loss inhibitors were a few that made the list.

Ag Retail and Customer Efforts Pave the Way Towards Cleaner Water

PARM began surveying retailers on specialized N applications in 2017. Sales were highest in N-loss inhibitors, sidedress N and split application of N.

Participants were also asked about profitability of beneficial products and services. Fifty percent stated they were generating company revenue from cover crops, 37% reported an even break. Only a small percentage (3.7%) responded that a profit was not achieved. The highest ranked profitable products and services in 2018 were: topdress, foliar feeding, sidedress, and variable rate application.

PARM enrolls ag retail members to help track location sales and estimate impacts along with other resource and tool support. Mark Gaerte, application manager with Gaerte Ag Services LLC out of Defiance, Ohio states “Estimated nutrient-loss reduction based on sales of products and services is the greatest tool of all. I look at the whole membership idea as an advertising expense to our business and to PARM as a legitimate respected accreditation group.” Other participants who have enrolled in PARM’s variable rate technology incentive program have also testified on the benefits, “PARM’s VRT program has gotten many people to soil sample and apply according to needs .This is what we have needed for years,” responds Lee Orians, Certified Crop Adviser with Heritage Cooperative. Interested retailers can enroll here.

What are the current adoption barriers?

With all the adoption increases seen this past growing season, there are still opportunities that are lagging behind potential including cover crops, strip-till, variable rate application, inhibitors and enhanced efficiency fertilizers. Retail locations were asked about customer and dealer barriers to precision ag adoption, with a majority responding the cost as the major barrier for both. The second highest ranked dealer reason was that communicating and presenting the benefits of precision ag services to customers is too challenging. The response is an indicator that university, extension and other advocacy groups aren’t getting the message across in a way that is most accessible and meaningful to those on the ground. “PARM is working to address both barriers, including those extending beyond precision ag, through incentives and educational outreach,” Leahy responds, “We’ve distributed over 26,500 variable rate technology acres with help from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative along with 2000 acres of cover crops through a pilot program with the McKnight Foundation. We’re looking to expand these moving forward.”

PARM’s outreach includes a webinar series which addresses the latest nutrient management research on different practices, a 4R-approved Phosphorus Loss Reduction Handbook for Agronomists with fact sheets on beneficial products and services to share with their customers, contributions to training modules formed by the SPARC Initiative available on the American Society of Agronomy online classroom, 4R tip wallet cards on managing phosphorus losses and more. To help support the PARM project or to become an ag retailer participant, visit here or contact [email protected].

PARM is supported by grants from the McKnight Foundation, the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Clean Lakes Alliance. Supporting ag retail members and corporate sponsors include The Andersons, Nutrien, Gaerte Ag Service LLC., Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business, La Crosse Seeds, Sand County Foundation, and Field to Market.

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