Va. growers on board to improve stewardship, but cost-share aid is crucial
MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — Meeting with Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Virginia farmers advocated for precision agriculture practices to improve their stewardship but said cost share assistance is crucial to adopt the practices.
Wheeler visited Creamfield Farm in Hanover County on Aug. 26 and talked with farm owners Wayne, Karen and Grayson Kirby and other area farmers about farming practices.
Wheeler said he has been to farms around the country and has been “happily surprised” by the innovations farmers are using to be more efficient with fertilizers and pesticides.
“The innovative practices that I’m seeing are really gratifying,”Wheeler said. “It’s great for me to see what’s going on around the country and for my team to learn about this.”
Farming 4,100 acres in Virginia and North Carolina, Grayson Kirby said they started using a precision agriculture platform in 2015 to apply fertilizer and seed at variable rates across the fields and collect data throughout the year to refine their program further.
“We put our foot in the edge of the water and since then we we’ve gone in 100 percent,” Grayson said. Using the practices have helped them use less seed and fertilizer and still maximize production but Grayson said it wasn’t cheap to do.
“Every year we get a little bit better, a little bit better. It’s the next level to being better stewards of the land.”
To reach that next level, Essex County farmer Scott Mundie said adequate state and federal assistance to get more farmers using the tools is vital.
Mundie said when he came back full-time to the family farm in 2001, the farm was on “the front edge of a drastic change” transitioning from conventional tillage to minimuim and no-till practices.
“Change is intimidating and expensive,” Mundie said. “However, it was with help, both technical and financial, of NRCS and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts that we were able to adopt these techniques with a limited amount of disruption.”
Now, the rapid advancements in precision agriculture present another drastic change for farmers but there are many challenges for them to adopt and implement the technology.
“We need funding for research to evaluate precision agriculture’s impact and establish efficiencies for those techniques that can be used to document associated reductions in the bay model,” Mundie said.
Kyle Sturgis, Northampton County farmer and chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Rancher Committee, said his family has practiced no-till since the 1970s and farmers on the Eastern Shore want to continue to improve their practices but need help getting over initial adoption hurdles.
“They’re gung ho about it,” he said.
Earlier that day, Wheeler, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and farm industry groups, announced two programs intended to accelerate the use and development of fertilizer technologies.
The Environmental and Agronomic Challenge aims to identify existing Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers that meet or exceed environmental and agro-economic criteria. Competitors are tasked with creating EEFs that control fertilizer release to reduce nutrient losses to the environment. Winners will receive scientific evaluation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA.
The Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge aims to generate new methods of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application.
Competitors are challenged with finding solutions to addressing environmental concerns while simultaneously maintaining or increasing crop yields using nitrogen and phosphorus. Each winner will be awarded $10,000.
Along with USDA, EPA, The Fertilizer Institute, the International Fertilizer Development Center, the National Corn Growers Association and The Nature Conservancy are sponsors of the challenge programs.
Corey Rosenbusch, CEO of The Fertilizer Institute said the industry has invested $70 million in improving data collection on plant nutrient use.
“We want to be able to demonstrate as an agricultural community our commitment to the environment,” Rosenbusch said.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the innovations will have an impact on food production and environmental protection — not just at home, but globally. “The agricultural practices we implement in the United States are implemented around the world, and we set the gold standard for environmental protection and agricultural practices,” he said.
Entries for the Environmental and Agronomic Challenge will be accepted through Oct. 30, and entries for the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge will be accepted through Nov. 30. Winners will be announced in early 2021.
For more information or to register, visit epa.gov/innovation/next-gen-fertilizer-challenges.
Speaking the equipment shop at Creamfied Farm, Wheeler said he’s always considered farmers the first stewards of the land and continually get better.
“We can have better farming practices, but from what I’ve seen and the farmers I’ve talked to, they want to have better practices, too,” Wheeler said. “But it doesn’t mean farmers haven’t changed their practices in the last 20 years.”
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