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COLUMBUS, OH -- Information being gathered by research projects focused on water quality in the state is only helpful if farmers are able to implement the results on their farms. Thanks to support from the Ohio Corn Marketing Program, Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program and Ohio Soybean Council, one tool that farmers use to make decisions will be getting a much needed update.

Dr. Steve Culman with The Ohio State University (OSU) has begun work to revise the Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations, a tool that farmers use to help determine how much of a nutrient to apply in order to grow a crop and minimize runoff risk. The recommendations were originally developed in 1995, but have not been updated since that time.

"The Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations were the culmination of 40 years of field studies," said Culman. "It looks at the soil test results of phosphorus levels, as well as other nutrients, and tells a farmer what level of fertilizer they should have in their soil to see optimum yield without over applying the nutrient. It helps the farmer be as efficient with nutrients as possible without sacrificing production."

Revising the Tri-State won't happen in a vacuum. Dr. Culman is working closely with other researchers and using the most recent data available from multiple sources. One of those sources is On Field Ohio, an edge-of-field monitoring program that began with initial funding from grain farmers in 2012.

The unprecedented On Field Ohio, led by Dr. Elizabeth Dayton of OSU, is measuring what nutrients are leaving farm fields and what practices do or do not help keep those nutrients where they belong. The results will be used to revise how runoff risk is calculated, while Dr. Culman's work will take it one step farther. He will combine it with relevant crop yield data to develop precise recommendations to grow the best possible crop without over applying fertilizer.

"We are investing in this project to help farmers be as efficient as possible with their nutrients," said Terry McClure, Ohio grain farmer from Paulding County. "This not only helps save farmers money, but it also helps them grow a good crop and minimize runoff at the same time. We don't have to sacrifice one for the other, we can achieve both."

Why now? Dr. Culman explains that farmers aren't farming the same way they did 20 years ago and the Tri-State needs to reflect those changes to be useful to them.

"Farming has changed significantly over the past two decades. A larger number of farmers are using conservation tillage and cover crops on their farms. They use precision technology such as GPS and grid sampling. The crops have been bred to be stronger and more resistant to pests and diseases. We must keep an open mind and look at this from a fresh perspective. It's a possibility that we'll find some recommendations are now too high. Some may be too low."

The work to update these valuable recommendations is only one of many programs currently supported by the state's corn, soybean and wheat organizations, which represent all Ohio grain farmers.

"The addition of Dr. Culman's project to our water quality research and education portfolio closes an important gap in the process of finding solutions," said Brent Hostetler, Ohio grain farmer from Madison County. "We want real, long-term solutions. This means it needs to be science-based and applicable to real world scenarios that farmers are seeing at the farm level."

To read the rest of the series, visit www.ohiowaterquality.org.

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