The impact of tillage on phosphorous loss

To try to narrow down a single reason that farm field phosphorous is being lost into water resources is simply not a feasible outcome of research. There are many factors that go into what is occurring in Ohio contributing to water quality issues in Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys and other waterways. Farmers and scientists alike are looking at every possibility and taking every angle to learn how to correct a problem that is undeniable.

One of the factors discussed at this year’s Nutrient Management Field Day was the impact of tillage on phosphorous loss. Two components were taken into account on this Wood County field — the impact of phosphorous over yield as well as how to mitigate phosphorous loss from farm fields linked to hazardous algae blooms and the decline in water quality.

Representatives from Ohio State and John Deere took a look at intensive tillage systems that are the most common types of systems used in Ohio, including a deep-tillage system and a popular vertical tillage system. There were also plots created for a no-till and strip-till systems.

OSU Extension agronomy specialist Steve Prochaska talks about tillage and phosphorous movement at this year’s Nutrient Application Field Day.

“The very interesting part of this field day was discovering alternatives that farmers might be able to use to incorporate phosphorous in a very timely fashion,” said Dr. Steve Prochaska, Agronomy Specialist with OSU Extension. “One of the key attributes to being a successful farmer is to be timely and some of the new systems showcased might offer the opportunity to incorporate phosphorous in a timely manner and yet maintain yield.”

Prochaska was not a bit surprised by the long list of attendees for the event, as OSU surveys have shown that nearly75% of farmers in Ohio realize that farm field phosphorous loss is a significant issue. Those same surveys also reveal that farmers want to address the issue on their farm. The side-by-side comparisons of many types of tillage systems may have helped producers to do just that.

“I am not going to say that one system is better than another,” Prochaska said. “It all depends on the farm, the rotation, soil types, drainage and so on. These systems represent that majority of how corn, soybeans and wheat are grown in Ohio. What I see happening is that farmers will take existing equipment on their farm and make some modifications with the goal to maintain crop yield and keep phosphorous on the farm.”

In the case of no-till, there are some incorporation options that offer minimal soil disturbance.

“Let’s take an air seeder for example”, said John Deere’s Territory Customer Service Manager for northwest Ohio Mike Kramer. “How can we take a no-till customer and get some of that phosphorous incorporated without disturbing a lot of the soil. Our air seeders work well for this. That is a solution that is outside of the box that not many have thought of, but it works.”

The concept, whether equipment is red, green or blue, is to keep it simple by not buying new equipment for one purpose, but being versatile with what you already have.


At the Nutrient Application Field Day, Ohio State’s Steve Prochaska talked to attendees about Phosphorous Stratification and the effects on runoff.

John Deere representatives at the Nutrient Management Field Day showed a simple test to see if farmers are applying nutrients correctly via a broadcast spreader.

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