Nutrient Research Education Council
Illinois has funded nutrient research & education since 1989, with a designated fertilizer tonnage fee and a program called the Fertilizer Research & Education Council (FREC) whose monies were held within the Illinois Dept of Agriculture. Since 2004, the FREC fund has been swept and diverted to the State’s General Revenue Fund and used to fund other state programs.
State budget cuts to ag research are on-going, leaving little to no resources available to advance nutrient research in Illinois at our state universities, including our land grant university which is responsible for supporting recommendations in the Illinois Agronomy Handbook. The Handbook also serves as the basis for NRCS guidelines on nutrient application.
The Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC) was created by Public Act 97-0960. The Fertilizer Act requires a designated assessment amount per ton of fertilizer sold be directed to NREC, a private foundation held outside of state government and controlled by representatives of the ag industry. NREC cannot be swept and is the future of nutrient research & education in Illinois.
FARMERS ARE CONCERNED
Here are the challenges they face in the next several years …
Illinois growers must increase crop yields to sustain a growing population. Improving nutrient utilization is a key element in improving yields and profitability for growers.
Critical Nutrient Research is Needed
Our state budget challenges impact agriculture, most notably the lack of investment in fundamental research. Research performed by our Illinois universities is critical to provide a credible basis for agronomic recommendations including nutrient practices, rates, and nutrient efficiency products that are field tested and verified.
Water Quality Challenges & Threat of Regulation
Lawsuits and USEPA are driving the establishment of numeric water quality standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in streams. These standards are as low as 0.076 milligrams per liter for phosphorus and 2.18 mg/l for nitrogen. If those sound like low levels, they are. If these levels are established in Illinois, all sources of nutrients will be challenged to reduce loadings to streams to achieve these numeric standards. This will pressure agriculture to demonstrate that we can reduce nutrient losses without a regulatory approach. Current practices, including fall applied nitrogen and surface application of phosphorus are under scrutiny. Research is critical to develop practices and products that are proven to minimize nutrient loss and maximize nutrient efficiency.
Applying Research Findings
Economic and environmental concerns create a strong sense of urgency to field test new concepts and put them into practice. Ag retailers, crop advisors, growers and public sector agrono- mists must work together to identify conditions where new practices will be most effective. More on-farm research is need- ed to fill this void, and this research must be based on sound protocols and results gathered and disseminated by trained individuals who are working together to ensure collective adop- tion of practices to enhance productivity and reduce nutrient losses. NREC is the venue in which to advance education and implementation of research findings for the benefit of Illinois agriculture and our environment.