BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Water quality is among the Illinois
Soybean Association’s top priorities, and its members are teamed with other
commodity groups to promote a proactive new nutrient-reduction strategy.
Representatives from the ISA, the Illinois Corn Growers
Association, Illinois Pork Producers, the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical
Association, Syngenta, Monsanto, Illinois Farm Bureau and Growmark serve on the
Illinois Council on Best Management Practices and are working with the state
Environmental Protection Agency to promote this initiative.
“The strategy seeks to formalize the voluntary work
currently under way in the state by creating a cohesive plan to improve
environmental stewardship, especially water quality; develop guidelines based on
existing programs; and seeks to increase collaboration, research and
innovation,” ISA Director Jeff Lynn of Oakford said at organization’s recent
The EPA tentatively plans to have a nutrient-reduction
strategic plan available for public comment this month.
Following the public comment period, the document will be
submitted to the U.S. EPA.
Illinois is taking a proactive rather than reactive approach
to nutrient management as farm leaders monitor what has transpired in the
Chesapeake Bay watershed the past several years.
Under the direction of the U.S. EPA, a watershed plan is
being implemented in the Chesapeake that includes reducing nitrogen, phosphorous
and sediment loads by 60 percent by 2017.
EPA will maintain close oversight over each of the bay
watershed states and the district’s programs in all sectors to make sure they
are implementing the pollution control plans, are on schedule for meeting water
quality goals and are achieving established milestones.
As part of the mandate, farmers have had to change their
farming management, including restrictions on nitrogen and phosphorous
“We think it’s important that we understand what has
happened to their farming practices and how they have had to react to the
mandates from the EPA order,” said Don Guinnip of Marshall, ISA district
director and chair of ISA’s production committee.
As in the Midwest, farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed
raised corn, soybeans, wheat and forage crops, as well as poultry, dairy and
“It’s very similar to Illinois. What has happened there is
going to happen in some form or another in Illinois,” Guinnip said.
“We think it’s important that Illinois farmers get a report
from the Chesapeake Bay farmers on the possible solutions to the program because
they’ve already had to make mandated changes to their farming practices,
fertilizer management, insecticide, herbicide, cover crop, all kinds of changes
were made on the farms.
“We are eventually probably going to have those same or
Changes in nutrient management strategies also will require
“We have a very large fertilizer industry and a very large
livestock industry, and both of those industries are going to have to begin to
address these problems with equipment and management and procedures,” Guinnip
Changes will include moving away from applying all of the
nitrogen pre-plant and to split applications.
“We’ve kind of moved to stabilizers with products such as
N-Serve, and now we’re trying to experiment with split application where we put
part of it on ahead and then come back in a timely manner and put the final
amount on so we don’t have it all out there at one time and we’re saving in
total pounds of nitrogen to get the same yield,” Guinnip said.
“We just want to be prepared for what’s coming down the road
and we want farmers to understand that this is an issue that they’re going to
have to deal with and if we get ahead of the game it’s easier for us to solve it
than to be told how to solve it.”
ISA leaders have been in contact with Chesapeake Bay-area
farmers for some insight on the new restrictions.
“Some of the farmers in Maryland that we’ve talked to have
pretty strict nutrient management plans on each farm,” Guinnip said.
“Of course, the situation is a little bit different. They
have a lot of poultry litter that they’ve been using, and that’s a different
ball game. They’re learning how to do that in an effective manner.”
Many of the farms have strict guidelines on the amounts of
nitrogen and phosphorous applied to a crop on a certain soil type and
“They ended up changing their farming practices and they
ended up changing their yield goals,” Guinnip said.
“As we’ve said many times, to stay farming you’ve got to
make a profit and changing and adopting the new techniques has been a challenge
in some ways to maintain that profit because if you’re used to doing it one way
and that’s proved to be the most profitable and the best for the crop in the
long run, well, now we’ve go to focus on another item to stay within the
profitability realm because we’ve got to keep the nitrogen and the phosphorous
in the soil where it can be used by the plant.”
From an economic standpoint, farmers don’t want to throw
expensive nutrients down the drain or apply more than needed for optimum yields.
“Economics has controlled a lot of this but because of the
continued high test results in the Chesapeake Bay they’ve come along with these
mandatory levels for certain crops and timeliness and ways of applying them and
are being forced to change some of their methods of farming,” Guinnip
One of the farmers in the bay area said filter strips are
required in fields that have over a 3 percent to 4 percent grade toward a
drainage tributary to absorb runoff.
“So we’re going to become familiar with maybe things that
we’re already familiar with, but we have not been mandated to use,” Guinnip
said. “Split application of nitrogen is a tool to control runoff. Tissue testing
He began testing wheat, corn and milo plant tissue on his
farm this year to determine phosphorous and nitrogen levels in growth stages.
“There’s tissue testing, soil testing and the final yield
and then you can analyze the crop stubble after harvest of how much residue of
nitrogen and phosphorous is there in those cornstalks and how much of it was
taken up by the plant and how much is still in the soil.
“It’s a learning process all along. Every farmer has a
unique set of circumstances on their farm, and the solutions to this water
quality program will be a little different on each farm, each different soil
type and in each region of Illinois.”
Some of the solutions to the water quality issue are as
simple as turning to a corn-soybean rotation. However, traditional geographic
practices come into play.
“If we just go from continuous corn to the corn and soybean
rotation, we’re limiting the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that we’re
putting out there,” Guinnip said.
“But if you go from north to south toward southern Illinois,
we don’t do continuous corn. We have the rotation. But as you go to the northern
counties where they’ve traditionally done continuous corn, are comfortable with
it, they’ve figured it out and they can make money to do that, the burden is on
us to convince them to stick soybeans in there at least every second or third
year because it can be profitable and we’re limiting the amount of nitrogen.
“Illinois is a big diverse state, so our solutions are going
to be different. In the 40, 50 or 60 percent of Illinois that’s tiled, they have
a whole different situation. They have a direct route. It goes down in the soil
and into the tile.
“So we have to have different answers to all of these
questions because what works in DeKalb County and what works in Champaign County
and what works in Jasper County are different.”