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Programs in Action: SARE Supports Collaborative Effort to Reduce Nitrogen Losses

September 3, 2015

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts highlighting Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) projects. Our last blog featured two farmers in Wisconsin who used SARE funding to support food security and business development.

The SARE program is a farmer driven research, education, and extension grants program designed to help advance sustainable agriculture across the country. Over the past 25 years, SARE has been on the cutting edge, supporting on-farm research that has allowed farmers of all kinds to experiment and innovate on their farms in order to solve pressing challenges facing their farm businesses.

This post features a collaboration between researchers and farmers in Montana who used a SARE grant to address issues with nitrogen loss on farms that use urea fertilizer and/or green manure. Through this research, partnering farmers in Montana have been able to build more sustainable and efficient business models.

Chris Hershberger is a wheat farmer in central Montana and a member of the group that received the SARE grant.

“By mitigating the losses of nitrogen and improving our crops, it helps our bottom line, it makes our business so much more sustainable so we’re not wasting money and having lower yields as a result of what we do.” –Chris Hershberger, Denton, MT

Using SARE funding, the group was able to develop new application methods for urea fertilizer aimed at reducing nitrogen losses. They also discovered that very little nitrogen was lost after the termination of a green manure crop (in this case, field peas), indicating that for farmers using green manure as part of a rotation there is less concern about decreasing nitrogen fertility.

“It’s been very rewarding working with Rick and his team of researchers. I’d like to encourage other producers to do on-farm trials because…we get to see what we really need. You get first-hand information and become part of the solution and it really helps you advance in your education.” –Chris Hershberger, Denton, MT

This research has far-reaching implications for agriculture in Montana, not only because wheat is one of Montana’s primary crops (grown on 6 million acres) but also because 87 percent of the nitrogen used on Montana wheat is urea fertilizer.

“This was a landmark study because we knew we were losing nitrogen, we just didn’t know how we were losing it, so this has changed management practices in Montana and it’s helped us to realize how we apply and utilize our fertilizer and made us so much more efficient.” –Chris Hershberger, Denton, MT

For Hershberger and other farmers, the SARE grant afforded them the opportunity to form a partnership with researchers to address their nitrogen loss issues. Together they were able to develop techniques that minimize the loss of nitrogen and implement a plan that could improve the sustainability of farms across the state.

Since its conception over 25 years ago, the SARE program has helped farmers all over the U.S. lead the research efforts they need to solve issues specific to their farms. As one of the only federal farmer-driven research initiatives, the SARE program has become an invaluable tool that allows farmers to achieve more economically and ecologically sustainable businesses.

Despite its importance, today the SARE program receives only one third of the funding that Congress set as a target decades ago. To grow a new generation of sustainable farmers and revitalized communities, that is something that must change.

For more information about the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and its regional councils, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.

Categories: Grants and Programs, Research, Education & Extension

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