23 November 2020

Simplifying Nitrogen Management Planning

Agworld crops, cotton field

Growers and their CCAs in California are all too familiar with the nitrogen planning requirements they have to satisfy every year, and the time it takes to fill all the required paperwork out. For those not familiar with nitrogen management planning, this requires a grower and their CCA to basically justify why a certain amount of nitrogen will be applied during the growing season, based on the crop that gets grown and the expected yield. At the end of the season the grower will also have to report how much nitrogen was actually applied and what actual yield was. The state of California has required these actions in order to protect groundwater from potential nitrogen pollution.

In a sense, nitrogen management planning in California is not dissimilar to other nitrogen management programs like the 4R’s approach around the Great Lakes for example. Where the 4R’s approach focuses on the right source, right rate, right time and right place for a fertilizer and Californian nitrogen management planning takes more of a whole-season approach, they are both designed to limit the amount of nutrients leaching into bodies of water. Looking at current water quality issues around the country and the responses they are drawing, it would be no surprise if other states start moving in the same direction in future as well.

The nitrogen management plan can be created by either the grower or their CCA (Certified Crop Advisor), but in all scenarios it has to be signed off by the CCA. This CCA can be an independent advisor or an agronomist that is part of a local ag retailer, but they need to have full access to a growers historical field data in order to ensure that the nitrogen management plan is accurate and reflects reality. Many of the CCAs that I speak to on a daily basis list this as the most time consuming part of creating a nitrogen management plan: accessing all field data necessary in order to validate the plan and feel comfortable to sign off on it.

When all data is not accessible in the same spot and CCAs have to ‘hunt’ for the right data to support their nitrogen planning process, time is wasted and the potential for mistakes increases. Helping CCAs overcome this exact issue is something I myself am obviously very passionate about, as enhancing digital collaboration between growers and their advisors is what we focus on at Agworld.

Having a completed fertility plan, of which the nitrogen management plan forms a part, in place before the start of the season has many other benefits for CCAs and growers as well however. I recently discussed this topic with Jim Pingrey, agronomist with Colusa County Farm Supply, who told me:

“Having all nutritional applications prepared ahead of the season helps both PCA and grower stay focused during the season without risking getting off course. During the season, growers have a fairly good idea already of what we’re going to do which eliminates most of the questions. I believe our growers feel that we’re careful and considerate and work very much according to a structured plan; It creates confidence and aligns their expectations.”

Looking at the benefits that a collaborative nutrient management planning process offers, in combination with an increasing regulatory compliance burden, I always advise CCA’s, ag retailers and their growers to be proactive in this matter. By starting a collaborative digital planning and record keeping system now, they will experience a number of immediate benefits, and the advantage of being set up for any type of additional compliance requirement getting implemented in future. Nobody likes to waste time on extra paperwork, so simplifying is still key.

This article was first published on Croplife

Zach Sheely

Zach Sheely

President Agworld USA

Zach Sheely joined Agworld in March 2012 and is currently President of Agworld's USA operations. Zach holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Westmont College. Zach has over 20 years' experience in agribusiness and is a third-generation farmer himself, hailing from a cotton & pistachio farm in Central California. Zach is passionate about finding, developing, integrating and implementing the key technologies that will enable growers, their advisors and service providers to drive agriculture into the future we know is possible.

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