Third of a six-part series.
ADRIAN, Mich. – Tom Van Wagner has a vision for what’s possible in Lenawee County for choking off phosphorus discharges from farm fields. A career specialist in soils and forestry health, most of it with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Van Wagner has spent 38 years in Lenawee County promoting environmentally sensitive nutrient management and cultivation practices.
His message: Row crop farmers can substantially reduce phosphorus fertilizer use. Across much of the county’s farmland they don’t need it at all to produce ample yields. Livestock producers, he says, have soil testing and more sensitive manure spreading equipment that, if they really paid attention, would enable them to apply liquid manure much more carefully.
“There’s so much latent phosphorus in the soil from over fertilization,” Van Wagner said. “Farmers are spending a lot of money on nutrients. They don’t need it. They’re over fertilizing.”
It’s a tough sell. Production is a top priority. Profit margins are tight for all agriculture operations — dairies, hog facilities, and crop farmers. The investments farmers make in equipment and nutrient application are baked into crop and livestock systems. And though federal financial support is available, change is expensive. Just as important is the storied independence of farmers, their suspicion of new messages and outsiders, their intransigence. Most farmers have not climbed aboard.
- Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)