Each year, The Fertilizer Institute recognizes 4R Advocates, five pairs of retailers and farmers who are making 4R Nutrient Stewardship a priority in their operations. These partners get it, 4R Farming makes sense economically and environmentally. And that’s why The Fertilizer Institute is highlighting their work.
Double J Farms near Headland, Alabama, is one of those five.
Double J Farms near Headland, Alabama, focuses on cotton, corn, peanuts, cattle and cover crops. In fact, fourth-generation farmer Myron Johnson says cover crops are probably the biggest thing that’s happened to his row-crop farming.
Biomass is the key. Cover crops go in as soon as crops are harvested in the fall. The cover crops produce forage from 4 to 6 feet tall which is rolled into a dense mat about 4 inches thick.
“That helps keep water in the field, which keeps nutrients in the field. So that’s helped with (cutting down on) nutrient runoff,” Johnson says. What’s more, it provides an effective weed barrier.
Johnson farms about 2,300 acres of sandy soil, and the biomass from the cover crops helps hold the soil together, enhancing soil health. “It created the environment where everything’s happy. All our soil creatures, that’s what they love,” Johnson says.
Full field tillage is a thing of the past. Johnson now strip-tills, preparing a seed bed 4 to 6 inches wide at the same time he rolls the cover crop, using an implement he invented himself.
For 2021, he will apply fertilizer in a band, placing the product precisely on the seed bed where it will have the most impact on the young plant. It’s not a new idea — it’s a practice his grandparents used. Farmers abandoned the practice because it takes more time to apply than broadcasting the nutrients.
But Johnson says he will use less fertilizer and get greater use by the plant with more precise application, a win-win that makes the extra application time well worth the effort.
Johnson works with Drew Schrimsher, agronomy and ag technologies manager with GreenPoint Ag. During the growing season, Schrimsher and the GreenPoint team at Headland Agronomy, the Greenpoint Ag retail operation in Headland, monitor crop tissue samples to discover hidden hungers before yields can be compromised.
Foliar nutrient application during the growing season ensures plant health. GreenPoint’s Accufield program creates zones for sampling and helps the team devise a fertility prescription and troubleshoot problems.
Using precision GPS planting, nutrient application and tillage, as well as satellite imaging combined with the tissue samples, the team can precisely diagnose exactly what each field needs.
Variable-rate technology to precisely apply nutrients, combined with the cover crops, Johnson has increased cotton yields over time by 200 to 300 pounds per acre and peanuts by 300 to 400 pounds per acre. The farm averages 1,300 pounds per acre for cotton, 220 bushels per acre for corn and 4,500 pounds per acre for peanuts.
Best management practices:
• Use nitrogen stabilizer for dry and liquid fertilizers.
• Use Nitrolock as a urease and nitrification inhibitor.
• Use grid soil sampling to determine nutrient needs.
• Account for nutrient credits from the cover crop and previous years’ nutrient application to determine nutrient application rate.
• Use split nutrient application, applying a third of the P and K needs in the fall and winter.
The Fertilizer Institute contributed this article.