Nutrient records can act as alibi

CALGARY — Public concern about phosphorus loading in lakes illustrates the need for farmers to keep precise records, says a crop nutrient expert.

Paul Fixen, director of research for the International Plant Nutrition Institute, used phosphorus as an example of how data accumulated through precision farming techniques can help producers show they are using inputs responsibly.

He showed those at the Precision Ag 2.0 conference data indicating soil phosphorus levels are fairly stable in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana and North and South Dakota. Farmers are relatively successful at balancing phosphorus application against phosphorus extracted by crops and they are using variable rate fertilizer technology to help them do it.

“Phosphorus efficiency over the long term looks pretty darn good. If we can replace what we can remove, that would tell us we’re not losing much phosphorus from the system.”

However, he encouraged producers to keep phosphorus application and plant use records of their own farms, and then aggregate their data to make a more accurate and convincing case about responsible fertilizer use.

Phosphorus loading is in the Canadian public eye because of algal blooms in Lake Winnipeg that are sometimes attributed to fertilizer runoff.

“That’s all the public remembers,” said one audience member. “They don’t remember that we’re only putting on enough fertilizer to maintain yields.”

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