Efficient modern farming practices have become a science. Advancements in GMOs and the proliferation of GPS technology on tractors and other equipment, farmers have been able to reduce crop inputs like pesticides, and apply them more precisely only when and where they’re needed. While overall fertilizer use has not decreased, the use per acre has; fertilizer is applied more precisely and efficiently.
These techniques reflect a change in management where farmers are able to use their inputs more efficiently by applying according to soil and crop needs. Farmers look to follow the 4R nutrient stewardship when it comes to management – use of the right fertilizer product at the right rate at the right time and in the right place.
In addition, several innovations in recent years have improved the efficiency of using herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. Here are a few examples:
- Buffer strips and trees between crops and waterways can filter nitrogen and prevent it from seeping into groundwater or rivers and streams.
- GPS allows farmers to vary the rate of fertilizer application across a given field precisely, tailoring the amount applied to a particular portion of a field to the amount needed by the plants growing there. Most growers involved have learned ways to reduce nitrogen use by 50 lbs. per acre or more without reducing profits.
- Fertilizer application rates and timing, as well as conservation practices such as cover crops, are also utilized to allow farmers to conserve nitrogen.
- Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn. Bt is a protein, found in the soil bacterium naturally. Bt-corn has the genetic code to produce the Bt protein, which targets a small group of larvae including the Lepidoptera larvae, which is the European Corn Borer. According to Wanda Patsche, a Minnesota farmer, “The advantage of using Bt corn is we don’t need to use a full cover insecticide spray, therefore, not killing all insects. And better yet, Bt has been proven to be safe for humans because the human gut and skin lack receptors that can recognize or interact with Bt.”