ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Illinois farmers got a peek at what the future may hold for corn production if current nutrient management practices are unchanged.

Mike Plumer, an Illinois Corn Marketing Board consultant, and a group of Illinois corn growers visited the Maryland Department of Agriculture as part of a policy trip to Washington, D.C., to find out details of the new nutrient regulations in the Chesapeake Bay area.

The Maryland department oversees the nutrient management mandates for crop and livestock production in the state.

“They have strict requirements. Everyone has to write a nutrient management plan,” Plumer said in an Illinois Corn Growers Association podcast.

“Every nutrient management plan has to be approved, and all farmers have to follow it, as well as document yields on fields, and they can only fertilize for the 10-year yield (average).”

Illinois farmers who believe this isn’t their problem and don’t have to worry about it could be in for a shock down the road.

“Most people thought the same way in the Chesapeake Bay about 10 years ago. And the result is because water quality didn’t change, because farming practices did not change, they became mandatory,” Plumer said.

The federal ruling mandated that states within the Chesapeake Bay watershed oversee implementation of these new regulations.

“West Virginia chose not to comply, and EPA went in and mandated all of the rules and regulations and mandated all of the farmers to comply with nutrient management plans, change fertilizers, move livestock operations and eliminated some operations because they didn’t comply,” Plumer said.

Headed Here?

Such a scenario could easily occur in Illinois since the U.S. EPA recently stated the upper Mississippi River Basin is a critical area as large amounts of nutrients move into the river and on to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Right now, they’re mandating that we reduce the nutrient movement down our waterways by 45 percent for nitrogen and 45 percent for phosphorous, and if that’s not complied with shortly, there’s a very high probability we’ll get a mandate to go to the same thing that Maryland has gone to,” Plummer said.

“Which means every farm has to write nutrient management plans, cannot apply what they want to apply and can only apply what’s listed in the plan based on your previous 10-year (yield) history.”

“This is a big deal, and of course the Illinois Corn Growers Association is working on any opportunities we have to lobby and impact regulations. The Illinois Corn Marketing Board is investing in research that we can better understand different practices and what needs to happen,” said Tricia Braid, ICGA communications director, during the podcast.

Illinois Corn now has two staff members focused on water-quality issues and working with the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices.

“(CBMP) has multiple grant projects under way to look at our farming practices, what we can change, what we need to change and how can we change it so that it’s feasible and economically viable for farmers,” Plumer said.

“That’s the big thing that Illinois Corn is really pushing for. It’s got to be feasible. It’s got to be economically viable and can be usable in our farming operations. They’re basically collecting tons of data right now to prove what works and doesn’t work for farmers.”

Need To Improve

Beyond the research efforts, individual farms need to look at their current nutrient management practices and find improvements.

“U.S. EPA says they want 100 percent no-till in the state. We know that’s not feasible, but it does mean that they’re extremely concerned of the potential for surface loss of sediment and nutrients in that sediment, and Illinois has very high levels of nutrient losses throughout the central and northern part of the state that’s not being addressed,” Plumer said.

“So it means we’re going to have to think about changing the way we do our tillage operations or reduce or almost eliminate tillage.”

Beyond tillage, changes in nutrient applications are also ahead.

“Phosphorous is probably going have to be all incorporated,” Plumer said.

“For nitrogen we’ll have to reduce fall applications and only be done according to best management practices if we do any fall nitrogen at all, and probably nitrogen is going to have to have multiple splits in order the meet the requirements that are going to be coming down from EPA.

“If we can’t reduce the levels that are leaving the state in our rivers and streams in the next three or four years, then EPA will mandate the same regulations that they have currently at the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.”