How Quirine Ketterings is Helping Farmers Improve Their Operational Practices to Increase Their Profits and Protect the Environment.

She calls it a “Win-Win Opportunity”. Since 2006, Dr. Quirine Ketterings, head of Cornell’s Nutrient Management Spear Program has led six NYFVI research projects. All of them share a common goal: Adaptive Nutrient Management.

This article was developed for the 2014 NYFVI annual report. To learn more about this work visit here.

Adaptive nutrient management is a process whereby farmers can test crop responses to nutrient inputs and adjust field management over time, based on real farm data. The pro-cess is based on recognition that optimizing both yield and input levels will maximize return per acre and minimize the environmental footprint of crop production.

Early in her work Ketterings demonstrated that manure could replace the need for starter nitrogen  in corn fields across a variety of soil types and growing conditions across the state.  She first tested the concept at Table Rock Farm, where the project tracked yields to obtain values for a whole farm mass nutrient balance, a measurement of nutrient surplus or deficit, to evaluate the impact of management changes.  

“We look to achieve long term benefits here of improved soil health, increased yields and a better economic bottom line.”

Willard DeGolyer, Table Rock Farm

As a result of the on-farm experimentation and willingness and interest in the farm crew to improve on management, the farm’s nutrient balance decreased 13% for nitrogen, 29% for phosphorus and 46% for potassium in the past nine years, while milk production increased
over time.

“These are impressive numbers from an environmental perspective, and there’s a definite positive economic impact for the farm.” said Ketterings.

In subsequent projects, Ketterings compared manure application methods and rates to evaluate the  effect on both yield and forage quality. Rates of 12,000 gallons and 15,000 gallons per acre were compared to the farm’s standard practice of applying 9,000 gallons.  After three years, the data showed no benefits to increasing the rate. Additionally, the highest rate contributed more phosphorus and potassium to the soil than is ideal for long term nutrient management. Knowing definitively that the lowest application rate achieved the same yield allows farms to make better decisions.

Following the manure application project, 13 articles were published, 7 presentations were given and 934 farms were reached with information about the best management practices.