EQIP Implementation Update

April- June 2002

Joel DeJong , crop specialist

National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has a program titled Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that has been initiated for the Deep and Willow Creek watersheds in Plymouth County . There is concern in those watersheds for soil loss, water protection and nutrient & pest management. This project was initiated to improve the environment in all of those aspects with cooperators in that area. The original plan was to find funds to hire a project coordinator for this activity. However, funding was short, so none was hired. The challenge them became how to have impact with the presently available staff and time availablity.

NRCS initiated the project and provided technical help in designing the structures to be implemented as part of the project - including terraces, buffers, waterways, and manure handling facilities. Nutrient and pest management was to be a large part of the project, too. So, local NRCS staff worked cooperatively with local ISU Extension staff to develop ways to teach farmers how to better manage the nutrients being used, and how to scout for pest populations and evaluate whether those populations were exceeding treatment thresholds. This was done by offering 3 winter educational meetings and doing in-field scouting workshops during the growing season. Individual consultations were included on occasion. A manure demonstration project was initiated in two fields to help demonstrate the nutrient value of livestock manure to participants. This project has been on-going for 3 years. There are 40 EQIP cooperators covering about 7000 acres.

I talked with Jim Lahn, the local NRCS District Conservationist, to get a feel of what impact this project has made on some of the participants of this program. He reviewed the records of some of the producers involved, and shared comments received from some of the producers. Here are some of the examples of operation changes based on education from this program that he shared.

First, nutrient management was the original core focus of this project. Jim noted that most have indicated they have reduced phosphorus (P) and postassium (K) inputs on many of their acres - several to zero applied-- because of the confidence they now have in improved soil testing methods and in the soil test levels as an indicator of yield response. Also, more intense soil testing has identified areas that needed lime applications. Previously soil samples from these areas did not show up being low in pH becuase they had been mixed with other samples.

Here are some individual examples of changes made to operations. Farmer #1 hosted a manure demonstration project. Previously he had applied about 6000 gallons of swine manure per acre, and added a little nitorgen (N) fertilizer over the top because he really didn't trust the availability of N in his manure. As part of this project we tested the manure, and applied it at different rates and in comparison to his normal application method, and with a normal commercial nitrogen rate. He has now adapted different manure application equipment to reduce his manure application rate in half - doubling the acres his manure covers. He is using no commercial nitrogen on those acres - is now a strong proponent of proper manure utilization for crop production. He has commented that the economics of this practice just make a lot of sense.

Farmer #2 started doing his own soil sampling by soil type and management history and pulling a lot of cores per sample area. He has stated that he now really knows his farmland much better than he did before. He has adjusted his fertilizer application rates accordingly - previously he applied maintenance rates to all acres. He now applies to targeted areas, puts on reduced rates in other areas, and skips P and K applications on a fairly high percentage of his farm.This farmer tates that the increased record keeping of this program has made him a better decision maker in his farming operation, and has saved a lot of dollars because of this project. He has also implemented these same practices on other farms he manages outside of this watershed.

Farmer #3 was applying P and K at maintenance rates to almost all of the 700 acres in this project before it started - and was applying dry manure to many of the same acres. Their increased soil sampling has them no commercial P or K, and manure is being targeted for those acres that have a little higher chance for getting a yield response from this (saving about $30 per acre). To insure that the reduced N applications are working right, they have incorporated a late spring soil N test into their management, and also the end of season stalk nitrate test to evaluate their management at the end of the season. In their alfalfa crop they have scouted and managed insects much better than in the past, and managed bean leaf beetles in soybeans much better as a result of the in-field workshops.

Farmer #4 has managed several insect and weed pests better because of the workshops they have participated in. White grub and bean leaf beetle issues were the insects of concern this past year for them. They have also installed several buffers and some terraces in part to manage feedlot runoff from a cattle operation much more effectively. I was told that they were very pleased - last year it kept manure from becoming a water quality issue on their farm at spring snow-melt time.

Farmer #5 bought a 4-wheeler so he can scout his fields on a regular basis - now managing bean leaf beetles and corn insects much better that in the past. He has reduced fertilizer use because he is managing manure nutrients better on his home 160 acre piece - reducing his fertilizer bill by about $7,300 annually.

Farmer #6 has about 1,200 acres involved in this project. He hired a crop consultant with his cost-share funds from the project, and has indicated that this will continue into the future so he can continue to concentrate on the livestock side of his operation. This crop consultant uses ISU recommendations as the basis for his recommendations - and we interact frequently. He now applies no commercial fertilizer except for targeted lime applications where he was using general applications of fertilizers in the past. The savings are about $35 per acre. He now has all of his records on the ISU Crop Management Database program. His records indicate that he is no longer using commercial nitrogen on his farm, either, because of better manure nutrient utilization - which is checked with the in-season and late-season N tests. He has incorporated other timely management practices into his operation as a result of this project - like spot-spraying for woolly cup on only 15% of the acres a couple of years ago - where he would have normally been doing a broadcast application, and using a drag for early season weed management.

These are just some of the practices implemented by producers participating in this project. As Jim Lahn said of the project, "We didn't get that person to coordinate this project. But, working together with Jack Frus and you, through winter meetings, field workshops and field demonstrations, we have made a lot of impact."Agronomists at dealerships, seed dealers, ag chem reps and others make recommendations to farmers about a vast array of issues during the entire growing season. Sometimes these advisors have good, sound backgrounds for these recommendations, sometimes inexperience in advising - particularly in some subject matter areas - becomes a shortfall for them. If agronomists are making recommendations, it has been my hope that they can use the best research-based information available to them to help producers. However, it is sometimes difficult to give direct timely information when these advisors have the specific questions, so a wider access, more pro-active method of getting this information in their hands in a timely manner was needed.


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