Saturday, June 29, 2013

4R Summit in Iowa

So this week I attended a fertilizer conference in Des Moines, Iowa.  Only this was not your typical conference.  It was The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Summit put on by The Fertilizer Institue and the International Plant Nutrition Institute.  AgroLiquid is a supporting member of 4R Nutrient Stewardship, and the conference was to bring members up to date on the current situation with regard to nutrient management in the environment.  The big issue is management of nutrients, mainly N and P, that find their way into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico which leads to plankton and algae blooms.  Then as the plankton die and sink, bacteria decompose them which leads to oxygen depletion, or dead zones.  This is called hypoxia.  But I'm getting ahead.  I drove out on Monday, and look what I saw on I-80 just after entering Iowa.  My goodness, these trucks are everywhere.  Godspeed to you, deliverer of nutrition. 
Des Moines is a nice town, in spite of their anti-agriculture newspaper.  Here is a view of town from where the conference was.  The aptly named Des Moines River is pretty high and mighty with the recent heavy rains.
The summit was attended by a large number of people with various backgrounds, including The Fertilizer Institute, industry (like me), state department of agriculture people, state ag business associations, university researchers, USDA-ARS, NRCS, NIFA and other acronyms, EPA, Canadian agricuture representatives,  a number of representatives of The Nature Conservancy, and probably lots more.  But it's not going to be easy.  The hypoxia problem is still being studied, and there are no clear answers.  It is acknowledged that even without fertilizer and farming, there is a lot of N and P naturally released from the soil to the Gulf watershed.  There were presentations on potential for nutrient reductions like rotations, application timing, rates, cover crops, buffer zones and the like.  But weather is the dominating factor.  Last year in the drought, there was reduced nutrient flow.  But this year with the excess rain, there is to be more.  So it is not easy.  But all presenters are hopeful that any strategies will be voluntary, and not mandates.  Especially when there is no clear solution.  But studies continue.  However we all know that using Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers enables reduction of nutrient application while maintaining yield.  But we will have to provide the lead in that strategy. 
 The lunch speaker the first day was Sara Battelman of the EPA Agricultural division.  Despite the often adversarial position of the EPA, she was actually very pro-farmer, and advocated promotion of on the farm activities that are being done to farm responsibly.  She also spoke of promoting the rich agricultural heritage by multi-generational farms.  So that was refreshing.
The lunch speaker the next day was Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.  He is very popular in Iowa and is a leading member of the Hypoxia task force.  He spoke of the rich heritage of farming in Iowa. He mentioned that his favorite part of the job is the annual awarding of the Century  and Heritage Farms which recognizes farms that have been in the same family for 100 and 150 years.  He also noted that we need to show progress in nutrient management through voluntary efforts in order to prevent imposition of regulations.  It was mentioned several times that in spite of the goal of reducing nutrients to the watershed, the demand for food is ever increasing.  So elimination of farmland is not a good option.  Case in point: by 2050 we will have to feed over 9 billion people.  And one presenter mentioned that with increased standard of living, those 9 billion people will eat like 11 billion people.  Today the world has around 7 billion people. 
The conference was just down the street from the gold dome of the capitol building.  It's shiny in the sun.
So like many situations, everyone knows that there is a problem, but what to do about it is not clear.  Just slapping regulations won't be a solution since it is not known how best to achieve the reduction since so many factors are in play other than just the actions of the farmer.  But with that in mind, every grower has make sure that nutrients are being applied with the Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time and Right Place.  These are the 4 R's of Nutrient Stewardship, which is what Mr. Cook promoted many years ago before this was started anyway.