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Balanced Fertilization Improves Water Quality and Water Use Efficiency

A common perception among non agriculturists is that fertiliser use damages the environment, specifically water quality. The truth is that balanced fertilization goes hand in hand with high, efficiently produced crop yields, and environmental protection including soil conservation and water quality.

Proper nutrition helps to produce a healthy, fast growing crop having a vigorous root system and establishes a dense canopy to protect the soil surface, resulting in:

  • • less runoff and erosion;
  • • increased water infiltration to supply crop needs while boosting yields and slowing water decent to rivers, thus reducing flooding;
  • • more biomass left after crop harvest to help keep the soil stable and to contribute to organic matter levels.

By developing nutrient management plans and fertilizing according to complete soil tests, farmers help to assure that most of the fertiliser nutrients they apply are taken up by the crop being grown, not left in the soil for possible entry into nature's water system. Nitrogen and P are the only nutrients of concern with regards to potential water problems from fertilization. But, when used in balance with other essential nutrients when needed, such as K, secondary and micronutrients, within systems utilizing best management practices, there is little danger to either surface water or groundwater.

In order to protect water quality, care should be taken to avoid over fertilization. However, significant danger to water quality is also associated with too little fertilization. When crops are produced without proper nutrition, their growth is less robust, and they offer little protection from the potential impacts of wind and water erosion. If the crop can't take up the nutrients it needs because of low soil fertility or improper fertilization, erosion with the potential loss of soil P to surface water - is more common, as is N leaching into groundwater. Needless to say, farmers then produce lower yields per acre they can feed fewer people, their incomes suffer and their soil resource degrades, slipping them deep into a poverty cycle.

Water use efficiency can be increased by as much as 200% and more, simply by supplying essential nutrients in the proper balance. There is increasing competition between urban areas and agriculture for limited surface and ground water supplies. Thus, anything agriculture can do to increase water use efficiency is obviously a good thing for both sectors. People must have clean water to drink, but they must also have food to eat.

 
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