North American farmers are increasingly conscious of their fertilizer application methods — both for the impact on their bottom line and the environment.
But overseas, especially in Europe, nutrient application is tightly regulated, directly tied to farm subsidies. I had the chance to discuss some of the restrictions with German farmer Erik Jennewein, during my recent trip to the country for the Agritechnica 2017 show.
Jennewein manages about 500 acres of winter wheat, sugarbeets, peas and barley. For each field and crop, he’s required to document how much fertilizer is applied, average yields for the last 3 years and how much nitrogen (N) is in the soil.
Analysis of the combined results contribute to the amount of nitrogen Jennewein is allowed to apply, and when. “Depending on our yield history, we’re allowed to apply more or less in a given year,” he says.
After every harvest, he tests to identify the remaining N in the soil and how much can be applied for the next crop. He says the total application cannot exceed 50 kilograms (110 pounds) per hectare.
Jennewein acknowledges this had long been a challenge prior to investing in an automated documenting system that records applied amounts in the field and allows him to digitally store them.
This has proven especially useful, since surprise inspections can happen at any time during the year and missing documentation can cost Jennewein money.
“We document every task for every field,” he says. “Having the information on a display and accessible is what we need to prove our totals.”
Having accurate and updated application records is a practice I’ve seen more often on strip-till farms and many subscribe to the ‘measure before you manage’ philosophy.
While Jennewein is only required to soil sample every 6 years, the practice is more commonly conducted in North America, with more farmers understanding why a robust database of information on the health of their fields can help avoid costly mistakes.