January 2011
// Vol. 29 // No. 1
Dec 14, 2010
Nitrate loss through tile drains, like this outlet in Iowa, is expensive to the farmer and detrimental to water quality.
Photo courtesy of: USDA
Bunge promotes projects such as GENERATIONS to further sustainable, science-based production practices.
Bunge Funds FFA-Producer Partnership in Missouri Bootheel

Missouri's Bootheel Resource Conservation & Development, Inc. announced Bunge North America is making a donation to GENERATIONS, an agricultural program designed to help reduce excess nitrogen that can escape crop fields. Nitrogen loss equals financial loss to the producer and potentially impairs water quality.

“As a leading agribusiness company that connects producers to consumers, Bunge is working with our partners in the value chain to meet the world's demand for food in a sustainable way,” says Fred Luckey, executive vice president, sustainability and innovation, Bunge North America. “Programs like GENERATIONS fit well with Bunge’s efforts to achieve a high level of environmental performance by adopting science-based, culturally sensitive and pragmatic best practices.”

Through this program, 75 corn growers in Dunklin, Stoddard, Scott, New Madrid and Pemiscot counties paired with FFA students and ag professionals to collect stalk samples in their fields. The University of Missouri Delta Research Center tests stalks for nitrate content. Producers can use testing results to optimize next season’s nitrogen application rates.
The late season corn stalk nitrate test, developed by the University of Iowa, identifies those mature corn plants deficient in at the end of the growing season. These plants will usually remobilize stored N from lower sections of the stalk and leaves to the developing grain. The result:  decreased stalk nitrogen content late in the season. Plants absorbing excessive nitrogen (more than needed for maximum yields) store excessive amounts in the corn plant's lower stalk by late in the season. This results in higher nitrogen concentrations in the stalk.

This test is probably best used to identify fields and situations where soil nitrogen uptake proved excessive and therefore excess nitrogen was not used by the plant. This situation costs the grower and possibly threatens water quality. Nitrogen uptake may prove excessive on manured fields or those following alfalfa that may have received unnecessary nitrogen fertilizer applications for the following corn crop. Growers may benefit from test results evaluating the effectiveness of their N management program, especially if heavy rainfall events may have caused soil nitrate-N loss, causing less N available to the crop.

This past summer’s project sign-up, supported by CTIC through a grant from the U.S. EPA, exceeded project coordinators’ expectations three-fold. As a result, project partners were unable to cover all expenses related to the project.

Dexter FFA students delivering stalks to be tested. Photo courtesy of: Scott Crumpecker.
“Bunge made it possible to cover our expenses, and possibly have some seed money for next year’s program,” says Scott Crumpecker, coordinator for the Bootheel Resource Conservation & Development, Inc.

“Bunge and others in the value chain have a stake in improving the efficiency of our operations with respect to the use and impact on natural resources,” says Matt Thibodeaux, vice president and general manager, Bunge North America Fertilizer. “By engaging the next generation of farmers in this program, GENERATIONS helps ensure the message of sustainable agriculture continues to be heard.”

The University of Missouri Delta Research Center will soon release the test results. Each producer’s test results will be kept confidential, but aggregate results will provide helpful information to agribusiness, teaching institutions, conservation service technical providers and non-profit organizations seeking solutions to water quality problems linked to excess nitrogen loss to streams and rivers.

Holcomb High School FFA president Elizabeth Weaver evaluates an ear of corn with her father,Terry Don Weaver, corn producer and school board president, Holcomb, Mo. Photo courtesy of:Pam Burgess.
“Corn stalk nitrate testing provides the producer with data to make sound decisions about next season’s nitrogen application. We decided to participate in this program because it benefits the farmer economically, allows young people to learn from those in the business, and helps conserve water quality,” says David Dunn, soil testing laboratory supervisor at the Delta Research Center.

Project organizers, including CTIC, Bootheel Resource Conservation & Development, University of Missouri Delta Research Center, soil and water conservation districts and Missouri Coalition for the Environment sponsor programs such as GENERATIONS to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution of waterways that can lead to excessive algae growth detrimental to aquatic life, recreation and drinking water supplies. The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is a large-scale example of the impact excessive nitrogen and phosphorus can have on water bodies. Both agricultural and urban fertilizer applications can be fine-tuned to help prevent water quality degradation.

For more information contact Scott Crumpecker, 573-624-5939 ext.6.