Managing Soil, Crop Nutrient Systems to Protect Water Quality

“A Matter of Balance: Managing Soil and Crop Nutrient Systems to Protect Water Quality” conference to prevent water quality issues.

Published online: Feb 20, 2018 Event Calendar, Fertilizer, Irrigation
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Source: Michigan State University Extension

Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that are essential for crop growth and profitability, but crop nutrients that escape from the field are potential pollutants. Cropland tends to be nutrient-rich and runoff from the farmstead, pastures and fields can transport sediment, organic solids, nutrients and other contaminants to surface waters. Cropping practices that stabilize the soil and quickly move crop nutrients into the root zone will protect water quality and build soil health. Many farms have adopted cropping practices that protect soil and water quality, yet water quality problems associated with algae blooms and oxygen depletion persist in Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay and other waterways in the Upper Midwest.

Much of the most productive cropland in the Great Lakes region has been improved with subsurface tile drains, a network of perforated tubes two to four feet below the surface to remove excess water. Research results and on-farm observation has shown that while conservation tillage reduces runoff, nutrient-enriched water from rainfall, snowmelt and other sources can quickly enter subsurface drains by natural channels in the soil formed by plant roots, soil fauna and other natural phenomena. Preventing nutrient loss from cropland is increasingly difficult with the changing climate as we see more frequent, higher-intensity storms and increased runoff.

On March 2, there is a conference at Michigan State University titled A Matter of Balance: Managing Soil and Crop Nutrient Systems to Protect Water Quality.” Conference speakers will include national experts and experienced crop and livestock producers who will explain:

  • Practical management options for spring and in-season timing of nitrogen on soils with contrasting drainage
  • How soils and climate impact the decision to use split nitrogen applications, (at-plant plus side dress) compared to at-plant only
  • How new technologies and practices influence manure nitrogen availability
  • On-farm strategies for balancing soil health and economic profitability
  • How farmers are changing conservation practices based on on-farm water quality monitoring
  • Edge-of-field nutrient monitoring in Michigan including evaluation of controlled drainage and saturated buffers

“A Matter of Balance: Managing Soil and Crop Nutrient Systems to Protect Water Quality” will take place Friday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Kellogg Center on the Michigan State University campus. The Michigan Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and MSU Extension organized the conference. The agenda, speaker information, registration information and additional details are available at the SWCS website.