Fertilizer Innovation Challenges Announced at Va. Farm

A future with better crop yields and enhanced environmental stewardship may be realized sooner than later, as the nation’s innovative agriculturalists step up to embrace the challenge.

Farmers, students and representatives from national and statewide agricultural organizations gathered—masked and socially distanced—at Creamfield Farms in Hanover County on Aug. 26 to learn about two programs intended to accelerate the use and development of fertilizer technologies.

The Environmental and Agronomic Challenge aims to identify existing Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers that meet or exceed environmental and agro-economic criteria. Competitors are tasked with creating EEFs that control fertilizer release to reduce nutrient losses to the environment. Winners will receive scientific evaluation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge aims to generate new methods of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application. Competitors are challenged with finding solutions to addressing environmental concerns while simultaneously maintaining or increasing crop yields using nitrogen and phosphorus. Each winner will be awarded $10,000.

The competitions are sponsored by USDA, EPA, The Fertilizer Institute, the International Fertilizer Development Center, the National Corn Growers Association and The Nature Conservancy.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the innovations will have an impact on food production and environmental protection—not just at home, but globally. “The agricultural practices we implement in the United States are implemented around the world, and we set the gold standard for environmental protection and agricultural practices,” he said.

Essex County grain farmer Scott Mundie, a Virginia Farm Bureau Federation member who spoke at the event, said he grew up on a row crop and cattle farm that eventually transitioned from conventional tillage to no-till and minimum tillage.

“Change is intimidating and expensive,” Mundie told the group. “Virginia farmers, like me, have continued to adopt and implement an increasing number of conservation practices that protect our natural resources by promoting soil health, conserving water, enhancing wildlife and efficiently utilizing nutrients. For decades, farmers have pushed the boundaries of innovation by investing in agricultural research and adopting practices with the goal of improving productivity while enhancing sustainability.”

Ongoing advocacy, developments in precision agriculture and funding for state and federal cost-share programs will advance those goals, he said.

Kyle Sturgis is a grain farmer and aquaculture producer in Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and he chairs the VFBF  Young Farmers Committee. Farmers in his part of the state, he said, recognize the importance of agricultural practices that advance protection of the sensitive Chesapeake Bay, like precise fertilizer and pesticide applications, and cover crop programs.

Sturgis echoed Mundie’s sentiments, and emphasized that adequate funding is crucial to implementing those practices.

“Farmers are willing to do it, as long as the funding is there,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who loves the bay as much as an Eastern Shore farmer.”

Entries for the Environmental and Agronomic Challenge will be accepted through Oct. 30, and entries for the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge will be accepted through Nov. 30. Winners will be announced in early 2021. For more information or to register, visit  epa.gov/innovation/next-gen-fertilizer-challenges.

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