FFA Participation in On-Farm Demonstrations of New Tools for Optimizing use of Animal Manures in Crop Production
Animal manures once were widely regarded as a valuable source of nutrients in crop production systems. However, as commercial fertilizer replaced waste management animal manures as the primary source of crop nutrients, many farmers began to view these manures as a waste product. New tools recently have been developed that enable on-farm assessment of the N status of cornfields: the late-spring test for soil nitrate and the end-of-season test for cornstalk nitrate. These tools are simple and inexpensive, allowing farmers to make improvements in N management. Extensive use of the new tools has revealed that a high percentage of Iowa corn producers unknowingly apply more N than needed. This over-application is most pronounced on fields that receive applications of animal manure.
Acceptance of these new tools by Iowa farmers is hindered by the mistaken belief that manure has little value because commercial fertilizers are relatively inexpensive and more reliable. Farmers who manage both crop and livestock production units would benefit most from using the tools, but they are difficult to reach because only a small percentage of their attention is focused on N management. The goal of this project is to reach these farmers through students in local FFA chapters. There are five primary FFA chapters involved in the project: Greene County, Carroll, Glidden-Ralston, Hampton-Dumont and North Tama. Students and advisors from the five chapters were involved in identifying a total of 31 field sites for N-response trials during 1996 and 1997. Activities on these sites included collecting soil and plant samples, applying fertilizer treatments and hand-harvesting of grain. Results were communicated to local farmers at field days, as well as in one-on-one settings. Students from these, and an additional six FFA chapters, also collected soil and plant samples for the spring and fall N-CHECK PROGRAM, a pilot project to help corn producers initiate a quality control program on their N management. A total of more than 1,000 samples were processed in 1995, 1996 and 1997.
As a result of this project, FFA students have initiated programs in their communities, promoting use of the late-spring soil test and end-of-season cornstalk test. Some FFA chapters offer soil nitrate testing to local farmers. Through contacts made on this project, chapters have started projects with other organizations, such as Monsanto, Farm Bureau, the Raccoon River Watershed Project and Trees Forever. These activities have received recognition from local media and the state FFA organization. Advisors developed curriculum materials to help agricultural education instructors and other interested FFA chapters initiate soil and cornstalk testing programs in their communities. These materials, “Research and Nutrient Management: FFA marketing, testing, and managing with precision,” were featured in a three-day teacher in-service training attended by over 120 agricultural education instructors and have been distributed to more than 80 Iowa schools. North Central Region SARE 1997 Annual Report.