Janesville66°

Saving money, saving the Earth

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 3, 2007

Try feeding a corn plant more nitrogen than it can eat, and you could be flushing money—and nitrogen—down the drain.


That’s the theory behind nutrient management plans.


To write a plan, farmers test fields in 5-acre grids and apply the exact amount of nutrients each square needs. It can save money and the environment by preventing wasted fertilizer.


Gathering the samples and crunching all those numbers can get expensive. The Natural Resources Conservation Services in Rock and Walworth counties are offering cash incentives for nutrient management and other conservation plans through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program—EQIP.


Designing the plans is voluntary, but Gary Risseeuw, Clinton, thinks those days are numbered.


“It’s kind of what’s coming as far as the farm programs,” Risseeuw said.


Risseeuw feeds 150 steers and grows 800 acres of corn and soybeans. He signed up for EQIP cost sharing in the spring of 2006. The money paid for a crop consultant to write a nutrient management plan and helped with some clean up. Risseeuw cleared trash trees from the banks of a creek, planted a grass buffer strip and sealed old wells.


The plan didn’t force Risseeuw to change much.


“A lot of it just plain old makes sense,” Risseeuw said.


He’s spread less nitrogen and varied the amount of phosphorous and potassium he’s put in places. He’s not sure if he’s saved money, but he thinks he’s working more efficiently.


Farmers always have been stewards of the land, Risseeuw said, but if conservation practices are going to work, they have to be cost effective.


“You put it all on the line every year,” Risseeuw said. “They have to keep in mind we have to be profitable out here.”


Mike Cerny, Sharon, echoes Risseeuw on nutrient management improving efficiency.


Cerny grows corn, wheat and beans on 1,300 acres and custom harvests another 1,700.


Cerny heard about nutrient management cost sharing three years ago when The Natural Resources Conservation Services started it.


He blew it off.


He already was doing most of the requirements: site specific fertilizing, no-till planting and best practices in pest control. But he was scared of the amount of paperwork he’d see with a government program.


“The money they were offering was considerable,” Cerny said. “So I took a risk.”


He was right about the paperwork.


“But it’s good,” Cerny said. “It forces you to look at what you’re doing.”


CASH OFFERED

The Natural Resources Conservation Services in Rock and Walworth counties are offering cash incentives for nutrient management and other conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).


The NRCS will give producers $8 per acre for nutrient management programs on livestock farms and $5.50 an acre for row crop farms.


To learn more, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov and click on programs, then the EQIP link.


In Rock County, call (608) 608-754-6617, Ext. 3. In Walworth County, call (262) 723-3216, Ext. 3.


Applications are due Friday, Nov. 16. The contracts are good for three years.


CONSERVATION VOCABULARY

No-till: Planting a new crop on top of last year’s without plowing first. The practice is meant to prevent erosion.


Best management pest prevention: An example is keeping daily records of the numbers of bugs and weeds in each field. Then you spray pesticides only as needed, Walworth County crop producer Mike Cerny said.


Site-specific farming: Testing soil samples in 2.5- or 5-acre grids and spraying fertilizer only as needed on each grid. For livestock farmers, it also means testing manure to find out how much of certain nutrients it contains. Then farmers can replace commercial fertilizer with manure.



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