California farmers deal with complex irrigation and fertilization requirements of "specialty" crops within diverse rotations. Some of these so-called specialty crops have a farm value of more than $4 billion per year. These high-value crops demand careful management of both water and nutrients to achieve high yield and consistently high quality.
There are countless variables growers are forced to consider as they prepare for the upcoming growing season, and almost as many solutions available to counter the effects of these variances. Unfortunately, the list of strategies that prove effective across extremes is a short one, often leaving growers to manage reactively to the unpredictable.
Mother Nature pummeled farmers across the U.S. this past summer (2012). Crops wilted and collapsed, soils parched, and some streams faded to trickles. Important nitrogen (N) management questions were faced by farmers suffering through this drought.
States and tribal agencies have had the responsibility in the USA to establish nutrient criteria for water quality protection, based on the Clean Water Act. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over 10,000 nutrient and nutrient-related water quality impairments have been listed across 49 states. Some states and tribes have made progress in moving from “narrative” nutrient criteria to “numeric” criteria for protecting surface water resources, while others have faced more challenges.
I no longer qualify for the “early career professionals” demographic or the much-catered-to Millennials club. However, as a Baby Boomer, my “senior” perspective does provide an opportunity to observe what in fact stands the test of time across the decades, whether for social issues or for basic principles of crop management.
For Dr. Paul E. Fixen of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), the 4Rs are more than a good fertilizer practice, they are a state of mind. The senior vice president oversees efforts in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, and is also director of IPNI's global research efforts.