Illinois visitors tour soybean operations in Md., Del.

Managing Editor

(April 7, 2015) Facing the possibility of more stringent regulations on nutrient management, a group of Illinois farmers came to Delmarva last week to talk to farmers who have been operating that way for close to two decades.
Over a three-day tour of Maryland and Delaware farms and meetings with state agriculture officials and crop advisors, the group of Illinois Soybean Association members and Midwest farm journalists got a glimpse of what could be heading their way in terms of how they apply nutrients and record the data.
David Droste, a Nashville, Ill., soybean, corn and hog farmer and ISA treasurer said right now farmers in Illinois practice nutrient management but aren’t required to record them in a plan the way farmers on Delmarva are.
“But we’ve got a lot of questions about what to do and how to go about it,” he said during a stop at Evans Farms in Bridgeville, Del.
Flipping through the thick binders that make up Delaware grain and vegetable grower Kevin Evan’s nutrient management plan, the Illinois group shared some collective surprise as to how detailed the plans were.
While one tour member likened working with a crop advisor on the plan to hiring an accountant to do your income taxes, another joked about anticipating a “look of horror” on the faces of farmers back home after describing the amount of paperwork involved.
“We’re keeping track of what we’re putting on the fields but it’s no way as detailed as the books Kevin is showing us today,” said Carrie Winklemann, an ISA director who farms about 1,800 acres of soybeans and corn in Tallula, Ill.
Droste said the ISA is advocating for a voluntary program for farmers to manage nutrients better.
“Our take home message is to get producers to take it seriously and trying different things  so their not being told when to do it,” he said.
Nitrogen application and timing was one practice Droste said that he had a lot of interest in because the common practice in Illinois is to put on all the crop’s nitrogen before planting.
Evans told the group he can apply nitrogen as a many as seven times during the growing season depending on crop needs.
“We think we’re giving the crop the best shot at absorbing it and the best way to keep it out of the waterways,” he said.
Winklemann said she had looked forward to learning more about the use of cover crops and their agronomic and environmental benefits.
On her farm, Winklemann said they’ve been experimenting with cover crops for a few years, but are still in the minority of farmers in the state that do it.
“I felt like we’re the weird ones,” she said. “Then I came here and see we’re not the weirdos.”
With the Illinois farmers loading the tour bus for the next stop on the agenda Evans said he’s proud that farmers from a state known for its production ability would come to Delmarva to learn how to be better farmers.
“To see them asking and looking for knowledge about this brings a great deal of respect, and we’re glad to help them out,” he said.
“The bigger the voice the better we’re heard.”