The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program has awarded a grant to a team of O’Neill faculty, scientists, and conservation practitioners to use farming data to improve nutrient management and water quality. The goal of their research is to offer farmers information on nitrate losses that can help inform their management decisions.
Dr. Landon Yoder will serve as the principal investigator alongside co-PIs Dr. Todd Royer and Dr. Adam Ward, Dr. Courtney Hammond-Wagner (Stanford University), Ben Wicker (farmer, Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance), Lisa Holscher (Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative), and Hans Schmitz (farmer, Posey County Purdue Extension).
Applying fertilizer is critical to famers’ profitability. However, some synthetic nitrogen used in fertilizer is lost through subsurface leaching and surface runoff during heavy rainfall events, or to the air through volatilization. This costs famers money while also impairing water quality. Both farmers and the public would benefit from improving nitrate retention, through lower fertilizer expenses and safer water for drinking and recreation, respectively.
While farmers have cut soil erosion rates in half over the past 40 years, nitrate loss from fertilizers remains a challenging problem. Farmers do not have access to data on nitrate loss at a scale useful to making farm management decisions. With the data that is available, it can be difficult to connect decisions made at individual farms to downstream outcomes because most monitoring is done at a watershed level.
Yoder and his team will involve 25 farmers in their project to collect water samples that will be analyzed for nitrate. They will also seek farmers’ insights about what they see as the most effective ways to retain nitrate using the new data.
The project will begin in December 2020 and last through November 2022.