4Rs in one pass

It has been said many times that there is no silver bullet for addressing the challenges of implementing the 4Rs. While it is not silver, Legacy Farmers Cooperative has fabricated a tool that can accomplish nutrient application at the right rate, the right time, with the right product in the right place and it will be rolling over more than 5,500 acres this fall in northwest Ohio at eight to 10 miles per hour.

Logan Haake is the precision ag manager for Legacy Farmers Cooperative who leads all precision planting, climate, grid sampling, field scouting, variable rate prescriptions, and other precision ag programs for Legacy Agronomy. A fairly new tool in his battle to help implement the 4Rs is a John Deere 2510H — an anhydrous tool bar for either pre-plant or sidedress applications.

Findlay Implement has been working with using the 2510H for subsurface applications of nutrients with very minimal soil disturbance to preserve the benefits of no-till for a couple of years now, renting it out to area farmers.

“It is considered a high speed applicator of up to 10 miles per hour for anhydrous application,” said Kevin Ward, integrated solutions manager for Findlay Implement. “The design is like a no-till drill opener. There is very minimal soil disturbance and it can be used for fall incorporation or sidedress or pre-plant anhydrous. We take a Montag cart and mount behind it and add a dry tube and hoses to it to make it a dry injector.”

The modified 2510H is less weather sensitive than common strip-till tool and is capable of variable rate application. It is also a tool that is fairly common in the Lake Erie Watershed. The tool offers low disturbance using up to 30% less fuel than conventional applicators and dual season use opportunities. It also features variable depth placement capabilities from 2.5 to 5.5 inches and can be used for single or dual product application.

Logan Haake is the precision ag manager for Legacy Farmers Cooperative.

Logan Haake is the precision ag manager for Legacy Farmers Cooperative.

Haake and others at Legacy took this concept and further expanded it.

“Legacy has a John Deere 2510H with a dual-bin box so they can apply potassium and phosphorus at variable rates instead of a blended product. It also has a cover crop seeder with air delivery so a cover crop can be seeded at the same time of the fertilizer application in one pass,” Haake said. “We custom built this. We wanted a one-pass piece of equipment for nutrients and cover crops. We started that project in the winter of 2014-2015. We were looking to be proactive. Fertilizer is placed three to four inches below surface and the cover crop is broadcast on the surface. We ran just a few acres in the fall of 2015 and this fall it will cover 5,500 acres that are currently signed up in five counties in northwest Ohio. We can run up to 450 pounds per acre and we are currently 30 feet wide at 20-inch spacing. Not everyone has RTK so we designed it to fit a variety of options. No one else has a unit like this with the dual bin for variable rate P and K and the cover crop seeder.”

In short, when combined with grid soil sampling, the resulting prescriptive application rates and appropriate application weather and conditions, this is a rolling 4R masterpiece for improving nutrient retention and water quality.

“It has low disturbance in no-till and it leaves minimal tracking on conventional till ground. The guys we have worked with have loved it because of that minimal disturbance. You may see a few wheel tracks in conventional till. In no-till bean stubble it is hard to tell what was a planter pass and what was our pass. It is less disturbance than a planter pass,” Haake said. “We are running it now in the summer and fall. We start out after wheat is off into stubble or into wheat ground that has been chiseled and leveled off. We run the end of July through November or December depending on the conditions. It is a little more forgiving than a strip-till unit. If it is too dry a strip-till unit will clod. We can use this in any conditions as long as it is not too wet. We are testing it out in freshly shelled corn stalks this fall.”

On farms with more precision capabilities there is potential for in-row placement and further reduced application rates in the future.

“With RTK we could get on 30s and growers can run on the strips, very similar to what a two-by-two 4R3haakewould look like,” Haake said. “We’d like to get to 30s to follow the planter tracks so farmers could plant on the strips and reduce rates of P and we could use stabilizers or enhancement products to make it readily available for the plant.”

The set-up works well but is not cheap.

“We have one unit now but that could change in the future. You need a pretty high, 360 horsepower tractor, not because of what you are pulling but because of the high speed and hydraulics,” he said. “Just the bar itself is $100,000 and then you have another $60,000 in bells and whistles. Then you need the tractor.”

Area farmers can use the services offered by Legacy — from grid sampling through nutrient application — to address the 4Rs on their farms for a fee. Haake, has been able to leverage program dollars to reimburse the farmers much of the cost of those services to make conservation more economically palatable and feasible in times of tight budgets.

Legacy’s modified John Deere 2510H is a unique and increasingly valuable tool due to its ability to allow farmers to maintain the erosion-reducing and soil life-enhancing benefits of no-till while incorporating nutrients below the surface.

“We are moving the nutrients down in the soil profile and that allows the phosphorus to adhere to the soil and prevents it from running off the surface. It is not being stratified in the top inch or two and getting down further into the soil,” Haake said. “With this we can put the fertilizer in the right place.”

This is especially important considering the recently released findings that really emphasize the right place for phosphorus applications. Elizabeth Dayton from The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences recently provided progress observations and presented on-field data spanning 29 farm fields, 2,000 water samples and 42,000 data analyses since 2012 from her edge-of-field research.

“Some of the findings that we’re seeing is that there’s a very strong relationship between soil phosphorous levels and what we see coming off in the runoff. As soil phosphorous levels increase, the runoff concentration increases. I don’t think that should be surprising to anybody, but it’s really important — it shows that if farmers are willing to manage their soil test phosphorous down in the agronomic range where it needs to be, they can greatly reduce their runoff phosphorous risk,” Dayton said. “The runoff spikes are a special situation. Those are associated with a fertilizer application or maybe a major soil disturbance that would create erosion, or maybe just a big gully washer. One of the best things a farmer can do to manage those is fertilizer placement method. If you incorporate your fertilizer into your soil, you make your field more resilient to protect against runoff events. You can reduce those runoff events by 90%.”

Dayton’s research points to recommendations of soil nutrient testing, incorporating fertilizer into the soil through banding or injecting and erosion control. The program at Legacy using the 2510H addresses each of these key recommendations and is a product of the significant effort to address the issue from the five 4R Certified agronomy facilities for the cooperative.

“Following the 4R approach is both environmentally and economically sound for our growers,” Haake said. “If we want to be sustainable in the future, all four components of the 4R approach will get us there. Not over applying by using VRT and precision, and applying the product at the right time is very critical for our growers’ success.”

For more, visit 4rcertified.org.

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