WASHINGTON, D.C. – Along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, farmers like Temple
Rhodes, of Centreville, Md., prove farming can be productive and profitable
while preserving the Bay. Few regions of
the country are more closely scrutinized, and Rhodes is not alone in his
efforts to reduce nutrient losses from his crop land.
Yesterday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS) released a new Conservation Effectiveness
Assessment Project (CEAP) report for the Chesapeake Bay. The assessment
indicates that producers in the Bay have significantly increased their
conservation measures to improve and protect water quality. A separate study
performed by USDA NRCS and Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) to assess the
Upper Chester River watershed in Maryland also indicated Bay farmers are taking
action. Complementing the CEAP results, the previous targeted watershed audit of
the Upper Chester River found that 97 percent of the cropped acres had a
nutrient management plan with more than 50 percent of the farmers utilizing
multiple practices to manage nitrogen. That assessment was also performed in
2011 using a thorough assessment auditing 53 land owners representing 87
percent of the watershed acres.
Rhodes has multiple reasons for intensively managing the nutrients he
applies to the soil his family depends on to grow corn, soybeans and wheat. As
a businessman, he doesn’t want to spend his fertilizer dollars ineffectively.
As a grower, he relies on fertilizer to enrich the productivity of the land.
And as an avid outdoorsman, Rhodes is serious about the responsibility of
taking care of the soil and water resources that enhance his life as well as
the lives of the non-farm public. Watch Video
To achieve his objectives, Rhodes works with Willard Agri-Service, a
Maryland-based agribusiness to implement the 4Rs, fertilizer best management
practices selected to apply the right nutrient source, at the right rate, in
the right time and in the right place. Willard Agri-Service applies custom
liquid fertilizers and crop protectants and offers Chesapeake Bay farmers data
collection support and related crop production . Willard Agri-Services has
worked closely with Rhodes for many years and believes his farming practices
represent the direction many Bay-area farmers are headed.
“Embracing fertilizer best
management practices improve yields and profitability of today’s harvests,”
says Willard Agri-Service’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mike Twining.
“These same practices also reduce the loss of nutrients to the Bay by
converting ever higher percentages of the applied nutrients into healthy food
and fiber for human consumption. Our clients are increasingly adopting practices
similar to those on Rhodes farm.”
Rhodes’ farming practices offer
insight to the types of practices being implanted in the Chesapeake Bay. To
reduce nutrient loss, he never applies fertilizer on the soil surface. A
modified strip-till planter enables him to place nitrogen, phosphorus and
potassium eight inches below the surface for corn and soybean production. That
gets nutrients right into the root zone where they’re readily accessible to
plants while helping to eliminate runoff and volatilization. Nitrogen is
further protected with a stabilizer added to the fertilizer to prevent loss to
groundwater. This strip-till strategy puts the right source of nutrients in the
right place resulting in better crop yields.
“The question for us was – can we
use the same amount of fertilizer in a smarter way and grow a better crop?”
Rhodes said. “We’ve proven that we can. The big bump in yield we’ve seen comes
from putting the right fertilizer in the right place — right in the strip,
right below the seed.”
Rhodes has measured an 18.6-bushel
per acre advantage to the system compared to standard no-till production.
Timing is also important. Using his
strip-till rig, Rhodes split-applies fertilizer on his corn ground, placing the
nutrients about four inches beneath surface just prior to when the crop
approaches its peak nutrient demand.
“It’s a matter of fertilizer
efficiency,” he said. “We want to apply only what the plant needs, when it
Nutrient application at Rhodes’
Chestnut Manor Farms is site-specific, guided by GPS-linked soil maps that
enable Rhodes to match the right fertilizer and seeding rates to reflect the
potential of specific productivity environments. GPS guidance systems utilizing
RTK provide pinpoint accuracy for fertilizer, chemical and seed placement.
Tissue sampling during the growing
season is used to assess plant nutrition status at each stage of development so
that Rhodes can further fine-tune fertilizer applications.
In addition to high-tech techniques
for managing nutrients, the Rhodes plants forage oilseed radishes as a cover
crop to retain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium through the winter, reduce
soil compaction and prevent erosion. Buffer strips and waterways are also
relied on to help protect soil and water.
Just as he takes a diversified
approach to nutrient stewardship, his family farm is a model of diversification
that seeks to make the most of the land Rhodes manages. The Rhodes family has a
commercial Angus cowherd and they harvest straw from their wheat crop, transporting
it to Pennsylvania where it is used as a growing medium in mushroom production.
A passionate sportsman, Rhodes also guides and hosts turkey, waterfowl, sea
duck and deer hunts along the Eastern Shore and raises Labrador Retrievers.