This Farmer Is A Real Chesapeake Bay Water Keeper Cleaner-upper

Precision placement, teamed with variable-rate tech in strip-till, boosts yields on this Chesapeake Bay farm while increasing nutrient efficiency..

Published on: Dec 20, 2013

Along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, farmers like Temple Rhodes, of Centreville, Md., are proving that farming can be productive and profitable while preserving the Bay. In fact, they have systems in place that prove farming can be environmentally sustainable almost to water's edge.

Rhodes, for instance, employs cutting-edge precision ag technology to substantially reduce crop nutrient needs while increasing crop yields. His system confirms USDA's latest Conservation Effectiveness Assessment Project report for the Chesapeake Bay.

Rhodes has multiple reasons for intensively managing nutrients he applies 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 soil productivity. And as an avid outdoorsman and hunter, he's serious about taking care of the soil, water and wildlife resources that enhance his life.

FARMING BY THE GRID, NOT THE ACRE: Guided by GPS-linked soil maps, Rhodes matches the right fertilizer, hybrids and seeding rates for specific yield environments.
FARMING BY THE GRID, NOT THE ACRE: Guided by GPS-linked soil maps, Rhodes matches the right fertilizer, hybrids and seeding rates for specific yield environments.

To achieve his objectives, Rhodes works with Willard Agri-Service, a Maryland-based agribusiness to implement the 4Rs – apply the right nutrient source, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. He relies on the Willard Agri-Service for crop protectants, variety selection, nutrient testing plus RTK ag data support.

Modeling for the future
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. On crucial part of Rhodes' system is strip-tillage teamed multiple-level fertilizer placement. No fertilizer is surface-applied at Rhodes' Chestnut Manor Farms.

Embracing best fertilizer management practices improve yields and profitability, says Mike Twining, Willard Agri-Service's vice president of sales and marketing. "These same practices also reduce the loss of nutrients to the Bay by converting ever-higher percentages of applied nutrients into healthy food and fiber for human consumption."

A modified strip-till rig and no-till planter enable Rhodes to place nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in three different plant root zones – eliminating runoff and volatilization. Nitrogen is further protected with a stabilizer to prevent loss to groundwater. "I want the right nutrients available in the right place at the right time – the four 'R's," says Rhodes. "We know it produces higher yields with less crop nutrients.

"The question for us was: Can we use the same amount of fertilizer in a smarter way and grow a better crop?  We've proven that we can," he adds. "The biggest yield bump we've seen comes from putting the right fertilizer in the right place — right in the strip, right below the seed."

Rhodes measured an 18.6-bushel per acre advantage to the system compared to standard no-till production. And it happened with substantially less N per bushel of yield.

Timing is also important. Using his strip-till rig, Rhodes split-applies fertilizer on his corn ground, placing part of the nutrients about four inches beneath surface just prior to when the crop approaches its peak nutrient demand. RTK accuracy makes that possible.

Tissue sampling during the growing season is used to assess plant nutrition status at each stage. That allows for further fine-tune fertilizer applications. Rhodes also plants forage oilseed radishes as a cover crop to retain N, P and K through winter and reduce spring soil compaction.

Learn more about the Fertilizer Institute's 4R nutrient stewardship initiatives at nutrientstewardship.org and on Twitter at @4rnutrients. Watch for more on Rhodes' crop management system in an upcoming issue of American Agriculturist.