According to the United Nations, the global population will increase by more than 2 billion people in the next 40 years, and many reports have indicated that food production needs to double by 2050. Industry experts agree that increased food production will be achieved by intensified crop production, more so than by an expanded arable land base.
Genetic and biotech seed industries have predicted yield increases of 3-4%/yr. However, to optimize the yields of advanced seeds, fertilizer inputs must be optimized to provide the greatest potential for success.
Pressure to limit the use of fertilizers is increasing. Non-government activities, including legal action pertaining to nutrients in the environment, are taking place on many fronts. The USDA Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) concluded that 60-80% of cultivated cropland needs more nutrient management to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loss from fields.
The bottom line is that these issues will have a significant negative impact on the profitability of corn and soybean producers in North America. The question is how can growers juggle all these balls at once and still increase production? I am confident you can because you always have.
The Fertilizer Institute along with the USDA- NRCS, the International Plant Nutrient Institute and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute have provided leadership to help farmers manage through this minefield. They’ve developed the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program: Right source, Right rate, Right time and Right place.
Following is a description of each:
Right source – Match fertilizer type to crop needs by ensuring a balanced supply of essential nutrients, considering both naturally available sources and the characteristics of specific products in plant-available forms.
Right rate –With fertilizer prices going up, this really impacts the bottom-line profitability of your operation. Often we think more is better, but it affects costs and resulting profit per acre.
Right time –This involves matching nutrient availability, application and type to crop needs to minimize nutrient loss and maximize crop utilization, yet complement field-operation logistics. That sounds easy but it’s a huge task.
Right place – Use practices where crops can access nutrients most effectively while minimizing nutrient transport from fields. I see many great strides in this area, particularly with strip-till.
To learn more about 4R nutrient stewardship visit www.nutrientstewardship.com 
Drainage Water Management
Another technology that minimizes nutrient loss and improves water availability and crop yields is improved drainage-water management. This technology adjusts tile lines to reduce nutrient loss and optimize drainage as needed.
I predict that in the not too distant future water will be a more valuable resource than oil, so having water at the right place, the right amount, the right rate and the right time will be increasingly important.
I have learned a lot about this technology from Charlie Schafer, President of Agri Drain in Adair, IA. His company has developed products to accomplish this on steeper slopes where it was previously limited to fields with little or no slope. Contact Agri Drain at 800-232-4742.