In some ways, it’s hard to believe that Christmas is this coming week; wishing you and your family a very blessed Christmas! For holiday food safety tips, please check out: https://food.unl.edu/article/holiday-food-safety-tips.
Extension is an interesting career that’s hard to explain what all it entails. Many people realize we’re involved with the fair and 4-H. Beyond this, the responsibilities just change with each season. For me, January and February are filled with winter meetings where I have the opportunity to teach and learn throughout the state each day. This past month was spent scheduling and planning for those meetings. Pesticide letters and winter program brochures should be mailed from local Extension offices in the next few weeks. The winter program brochure is also here: https://jenreesources.com/upcoming-events/.
Winter meetings mostly entail certification training and learning opportunities to discuss the past year and preparing for the coming one. Anyone who applies restricted use pesticides take pesticide certification training every three years to handle and apply pesticides safely. Those who apply chemicals and fertilizer through irrigation systems take chemigation training to do so safely. Nitrogen certification training is taken for those who farm in areas of NRDs that have groundwater nitrate levels higher than 7 ppm. Livestock operations of designated sizes take training on the proper handling, storage, and application of manure. Organic producers also go through a certification process. All the certifications mentioned above require our farmers, applicators, and livestock producers to keep records of what they are doing, and random inspections can occur for some of the certifications to ensure they’re in compliance.
Beyond the required trainings, many attend meetings throughout the winter to continue learning and improving efficiencies in their operations. While there’s always a few outliers in any industry, the majority of farmers I know are seeking increased nitrogen use efficiency (applying less nitrogen per bushel of grain received). We can’t change the past for what wasn’t known back then of fertilizer and water applications that would eventually impact nitrates in groundwater. In general, while there are some outliers, practices have changed and farmers seek to be increasingly efficient with fertilizer and water use.
UNL Soil Specialists share of these improved efficiencies in an article found at https://go.unl.edu/mxu0, “Partial factor productivity (PFP) is a measure of efficiency of input use…PFP is commonly expressed as yield per unit input, e.g. bushels of corn per pound of fertilizer nitrogen (N) applied (bu/lb N). PFP can be adapted to units of nutrient removed in grain harvest to units of nutrient applied, such as corn N harvested relative to fertilizer N applied (PFPN, lb/lb).
The PFPN used for the analysis in this article was derived from growers’ practices statewide with the assumption that growers’ N use was aimed at profit maximization. The average PFP of fertilizer N for corn in Nebraska was estimated to average 1.16 bu/lb N in 2012 compared to 0.57 bu/lb N in 1965 (Ferguson, 2014). This represents a doubling in PFP for fertilizer N applied to corn. The trend of increase was linear from 1965 to 2012.” (What they’re showing is increased nitrogen use efficiency between 1965-2012 of more corn produced per pound of nitrogen applied). The ratio can also be flipped to look at how many pounds of N are being used to produce 1 bushel of grain.
Most farmers I talk with, for the yields they are receiving compared to nitrogen applied, have nitrogen use efficiencies of 0.8-1.0 lb of N per bushel of grain produced. There’s an increasing number of farmers I know who are working to push that further to 0.6-0.8. There’s also those above 1.0 who could improve.
In my nearly 19 years of Extension, I have yet to meet a farmer or livestock producer that didn’t care about the future of his/her land, about water, about making improvements for the next generation. An increasing number of producers are testing ways to improve nitrogen and other input efficiencies via on-farm research. I will share results from these studies on what our growers are learning over the first few months of next year.