Friday 23 March 2012

'Fertilizer Forecaster' aimed at improving water quality

The Gant Daily reports that Pennysylvania State University and an arm of the USDA have been awarded a grant of US$484,000 to develop a Fertiliser Forecaster, a web-based decision-support tool that producers can use before applying fertilizer to assess the risk of nutrients running off in surface water.

“Mandated nutrient-management plans are designed to provide guidance for farmers that can help them make prudent decisions,” said project director Patrick Drohan, assistant professor of pedology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “But these plans may not provide the day-to-day support required to make operational decisions — particularly when and where to apply nutrients in the short term,” he said. “These short-term decisions can make the difference between whether the nutrients impact water quality or are efficiently utilized by crops.”

Rainfall that infiltrates the soil on the heels of a broadcast fertilizer application is beneficial, Drohan explained, because it washes soluble nutrients into the soil where they can be used by crops. Conversely, rainfall events that generate runoff shortly after fertilizer applications can lead to significant nutrient loss from the site, ultimately polluting bodies of water, such as streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Our goal is to develop a research-driven support tool for nutrient management that identifies the relative probability of runoff or infiltrating events in Pennsylvania landscapes,” said project co-director Anthony Buda, research hydrologist with USDA-ARS. “This tool will support field-specific decisions by farmers on when and where to apply fertilizers and manures over 24-, 48- and 72-hour periods.”

Read more here.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection already runs a web-based system advising farmers on the risk of run-off. The Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast map shows day-to-day risk of runoff occurring across Wisconsin using National Weather Service forecast methods that consider precipitation, soil moisture, and individual basin characteristics. The maps are provided to help reduce the risk of runoff losses following nutrient/manure applications or other land management activities. The risk levels shown represent predictions for expected conditions across these large areas, not for specific fields within the basin. Have a look at the system here.