Spring Flooding Undermined Farmers Efforts of Nitrogen Stewardship

Podcast / Newsline August 3, 2017

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In spite of farmers’ more efficient fertilizer use and their dedication to keeping nitrogen in their fields, excessive spring flooding this year overwhelmed their efforts. Micheal Clements has more.In spite of farmers’ more efficient fertilizer use and their dedication to keeping nitrogen in their fields, excessive spring flooding this year overwhelmed their efforts. Micheal Clements has more.

Clements: The so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico increased this year, after excessive spring flooding throughout the Mississippi river basin. That flooding wiped out farmers’ best efforts to minimize nitrogen runoff from their fields. Opponents to modern agriculture may be quick to point a finger at farmers and ranchers, but American Farm Bureau Federation congressional relations director Don Parrish says weather is to blame.

Parrish: We are doing everything possible to spoon-feed our crops only the amount of nutrients they need. But, in the spring of 2017, we had just a horrendous amount of rain in the Midwest and significant flooding. And, no matter what we do to bring technology, science and our best stewardship forward, weather can just overwhelm those efforts.

Clements: This year’s spring flooding was unusual, according to Parrish, who says the weather overshadows the efforts being made by farmers to reduce nitrogen runoff and increase fertilizer efficiency, efforts that are making a difference.

Parrish: We’ve had some really sound progress made in terms of what farmers are doing to manage nutrients more precisely on their farms. They’re using precision agriculture; they’re using the concept of 4R, which is the right product at the right place at the right time and the right amount. We are now producing almost twice the amount of crop that we did a decade ago with the same amount of fertilizer. 

Clements: Parrish says farmers are doing the right thing.

Parrish: We are on the glide path to really improving efficiency and nitrogen use, and we need to see that continue. It’s just a shame that we had such a major flooding event overwhelm our system, and the public just needs to understand that there’s just so much farmers can control and they can’t control the weather.

Clements: Micheal Clements, Washington.

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