IL Corn’s signature water quality and nutrient management program, Precision Conservation Management, has preliminary data to share based on its first three years of operation. This data will help farmers minimize input costs and maximize sustainability on their acres.
Dr. Laura Gentry, Director of Water Quality Research IL Corn Growers Association, stated, “This data is encouraging news – both environmentally and for farmer finances – about reduced tillage and in-season nitrogen fertilizer management.”
Precision Conservation Management (PCM) is the first program of its kind. The program pairs conservation practices with yield and profitability data, to help a farmer predict what conservation practices make the most sense for implementation on his or her farm.
The analysis demonstrating how conservation practices are affecting farm financials is based on the participation of 200 farmers in sixteen counties representing about 200,000 acres. All PCM data is treated as confidential and only shared in an anonymized aggregated format. PCM cooperators work with their own regional PCM Specialist to create financial and environmental assessments showing how they compare with other farmers using different agronomic practices. The results – although draft at this point – are very telling.
The program categorizes every farmer’s corn, soybean, and wheat programs into “practice benchmarks” for tillage, cover crops, and (for corn) nitrogen management. The tillage classes are no-till, strip-till, 1-pass, 2-passes, and 2+ passes. Based on data from 2015, 2016, and 2017, the highest operator return resulted from strip-till and 1-pass tillage management.
The nitrogen management classes to which PCM assigns corn programs are: mostly fall N application, all spring pre-plant, mostly sidedress, a 50/50 split of pre-plant and sidedress, and a three-way split (fall/pre-plant/sidedress). The highest farmer returns were seen in the 50/50 split and the three-way split programs, with the 50/50 split offering the highest yields and the highest gross revenue.
Those farmers applying most of their N fertilizer in the fall had the highest amounts of nitrogen applied, with the lowest yield and the lowest farmer return.
Although cover crop data for the 3-year period was not sufficient to make solid recommendations, initial analysis of the cover crop programs used for corn and soybean production revealed that cover crops did not negatively impact either crop yield or farm profitability. PCM has increased the number of farmers growing cover crops in 2018 (largely by working with PCM partners to offer a $10/a cover crop cost share opportunity to PCM cooperators) and they anticipate having more data to share about cover crop impacts on farm profitability in the near future.
PCM next hopes to continue collecting data, knowing that more data means more opportunities to serve farmers. PCM also hopes to feed the data to its parent association, the Illinois Corn Growers Association, so that the data and indication of farmer changes in management can inform policy decisions.
PCM will continue to update and refine the financial analysis as well as add new categories of data collection such as analyzing weather patterns and allowing that to inform conclusions, as well as adding categories of data collection for wheat/double-crop soybean programs and manure applications.