Intelligent Nutrition

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If spring cleaning is your thing, remember to include your ag operations. Now is a great time to refresh your commitment to better management practices to make the most of all your resources: time, energy, money, and our environment.

One year ago, fertilizer costs were soaring. Growers were sharply focused on using this input wisely. While costs have gone down, the need for judicious nutrient applications remains more important than ever thanks to growing regulatory scrutiny.

Florida growers have many resources to assist them in making wise fertilization decisions. Fertilizer manufacturers and dealers have a wealth of information about their products available. Many certified crop advisers are already qualified or in training to assist you in nutrient management planning. The International Plant Nutrition Institute (www.ipni.net) has a toolbox of decision aids aimed at helping farmers fertilize better.

Here in Florida, the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is amassing a body of peer-reviewed research to serve as the backbone of commodity-specific best management practices (BMPs) manuals. BMPs are “practical, cost-effective actions that agricultural producers can take to reduce the amount of pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste, and other pollutants” entering our environment.

Success Stories

In recent weeks, Dr. Tom Obreza, UF/IFAS Interim Associate Dean for Extension, has given presentations on BMPs to the statewide UF/IFAS Regional Advisory Councils. He has highlighted the collaborative process used to develop diverse BMP manuals, ranging from citrus to cattle, sod to nursery plants, and golf courses to the green industries manual designed for lawn and landscape care professionals.

In every case, science underpins the UF/IFAS BMP recommendation. He underscored the effect of BMPs with success stories — like the citrus operation with a 222-acre grove testing conventional applications to variable rate technology fertilization. The variable rate application resulted in a 23% savings in applied fertilizer — 37 tons per application versus 48 tons applied conventionally. He put it in terms citrus growers can visualize — that’s a savings of one 20-ton fertilizer load for every 150 acres fertilized. Dramatic results were shown by a nursery grower who’s saving 90% more water, cutting use from 18 million gallons annually to 1.7 million gallons a year through BMP implementation and new technology.

Science Takes Center Stage

Among the challenges still to be worked out are how to handle the competing needs of stakeholders during tough economic times when resources are dwindling, all the while providing the research and education outreach for diverse BMP programs based on science. It’s imperative that science underlie the BMPs because although they are currently voluntary in nature, many are becoming regulatory tools as agencies seek to handle environmental concerns.
Ultimately, fertilizer remains an essential investment each year. Adequate crop nutrition is a necessity in production.

So, heed the message of the International Plant Nutrition Institute: “Use every tool available to choose only the fertilizer products that are needed, keep accurate field records to predict the right fertilizer application rate, apply nutrients at the right time to meet crop requirements, and place the valuable fertilizer in the right place to get the maximum benefit.”

For More

- For related topics, go to www.ipni.net/fertilizer2009. Aids to help farmers and crop advisers make more informed decisions are available in the Toolbox section of the International Plant Nutrition Institute’s website: www.ipni.net/toolbox.

- For more about Florida’s BMPs, go to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Agricultural Water Policy website at
www.floridaagwaterpolicy.com/AtaGlance.html.

Mary Hartney is the president/executive director of the Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association.

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