Grain Bins


South Dakota ag producers observe Earth Day year round

Posted on April 21, 2008

One of the clearest measures of the sustainability of an industry is that industry’s ability to increase efficiency, while decreasing environmental impacts. Earth Day is the perfect moment to recognize farmers for improving their environment and for being environmental stewards 365 days of the year.

Earth Day – April 22 – is one day set aside to create awareness of and appreciation for the Earth's environment. But farmers protect their environment year round and over the past three decades, U.S. farmers have become dramatically more efficient at what they do. Farmers have reduced their nutrient and chemical inputs on a per?unit?of?output basis, while also adopting progressive new tillage practices that reduce runoff and erosion.

Because they have been successful at boosting yields, corn farmers have become more efficient in their use of chemical nutrients. Between 1980 and 2005, corn production increased 74 percent while nutrient use declined 10 percent, according to the National Corn Growers Association.

Farmers are using far less fertilizer per bushel of corn produced today than in decades past. And new biotech hybrids are helping producers significantly reduce the amount of chemical pesticides they apply.

“South Dakota farmers lead the nation in adaptation of biotechnology with the highest percent of our acres planted to biotech hybrids,” said Bill Chase, president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association. “Clearly, South Dakota producers are leaders in finding ways to decrease usage of chemicals and pesticides while protecting the land for future generations.”

At a time when maximizing yields while protecting the environment has never been more important, the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council (SDCUC) has teamed up with South Dakota State University to develop a Nitrogen Best Management Practices manual for corn in South Dakota.

The publication, now available through local county Extension offices or online at, details basic principles of nitrogen and how it relates to corn production in South Dakota. Practices discussed in the document include:

  • Soil testing as an integral component of nitrogen management;
  • Estimating the residual N credit of 55 and 100 lbs. N/Acre for cropped fields and fallow situations, respectively, for estimating an N rate;
  • Estimating the probability of significant residual N based on rainfall and management; and
  • Calculating N application rates for corn production systems.

In addition, general reference tables are provided. The fact sheet also provides guidance for developing a nitrogen fertility strategy intended to improve production efficiency.

SDSU research assistant Kurt Reitsma said best management practices can help farmers maintain farm profitability while minimizing degradation of water, soil, and other natural resources. Increased nitrogen fertilizer costs and the potential impact to water quality make it important for producers to adopt best management practices for efficient use of nitrogen.

Corn is planted on more South Dakota row crop acres than any other crop (USDA-NASS). Of the 13 nutrients required for plant growth, nitrogen is often the most limiting. Manure and fertilizer are commonly used to supplement crop nitrogen to optimize plant growth and yield.

Considering production costs and broad-scale environmental impacts, managing nitrogen to achieve optimal production while minimizing losses and environmental impact is an increasing goal of corn producers.

"Nitrogen Best Management Practices for Corn in South Dakota” was supported in part by the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council, and by a Clean Water Act Grant through the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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