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Federal funding for research on nutrient stewardship in Corn Belt

Project to provide greater understanding of balance needed between nutrient use and environment in Corn Belt.

Recent funding in the amount of $1 million from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture and a $1 million matching grant from the 4R Research Fund will be used to provide a greater understanding of the balance needed between the use of nutrients and the environment in the Corn Belt through science-based management, according to an announcement from the University of Illinois.

The “4R” concept is to use the right fertilizer source at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place to increase production while minimizing nutrient losses and enhancing environmental protection.

Using an established protocol, eight replicated drainage studies will be conducted across the Midwest and a site in Ontario. Two of the studies will be done by researchers from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences.

“The aim of this research is to quantify the effects of fertilizer management on crop yield, nutrient use efficiency, nutrient losses in agricultural drainage water and soil health,” said Lowell Gentry, principal investigator on the study, which was conducted in the university's department of natural resources and environmental sciences. “Our research group will measure crop yield and nutrient status as well as nutrient availability in the soil to evaluate nutrient cycling under various fertilizer scenarios -- for example, split applications of nitrogen versus applying it all in the spring ahead of corn planting.”

Gentry said the study will complement ongoing University of Illinois research, and this new money will be used for more plant, soil and tile water measurements to construct field input/output balances for all three crop macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Researchers Laura Christianson and Cameron Pittelkow in the university's department of crop sciences will conduct the other replicated tile drainage study.

Christianson noted, “Just over a year ago, a group of us tile drainage researchers came together, at the encouragement of our partners within the fertilizer industry, to think of ways we could leverage the millions of dollars that had collectively been invested in our individual drainage research sites to answer big, bold questions about nitrogen, agriculture and the environment. We felt that only by synthesizing information across collective sites that were all managed with consistent in-field treatments would we be able to address large-scale agro-environmental questions in a practical way.”

The Foundation for Agronomic Research will manage the funds, which total $2 million from the combined sources. In addition to the University of Illinois, several other cooperating institutions will share in the use of the funding, including: Iowa State University, Purdue University, the University of Minnesota, the Agricultural Research Service's National Laboratory for Agriculture & the Environment, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada and the Environmental Defense Fund.

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