GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers have introduced a program to help Florida growers maximize the use of nutrients and fertilizers while minimizing the impact on the environment. The results are less fertilizer use and improved crops.
The Four RIGHT (4Rs) program helps growers use the right fertilizer in the right place, at the right time, using the right methods, said Kelly Morgan, state Best Management Practices (BMP) coordinator and UF/IFAS professor of soil and water sciences.
“Fertilizers or nutrients are required in most crop production systems in Florida. While all soils in Florida can supply nutrients for crop production, nutrients may not always be available in adequate amounts for economical crop production,” said Morgan, who is based at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, Florida. “Supplying needed nutrients for crop production involves attention to four major fertilization factors: the right source, right rate, right placement and right timing. Attention to these factors will provide adequate nutrition for crop production while minimizing the risk of loss of nutrients to the environment.”
In determining the right source, UF/IFAS researchers and growers consider the cost, whether an organic substance should be used and the efficiency of the fertilizer, Morgan said. Choosing the right source might also include considering whether a dry or wet fertilizer should be used and how easy it is to use the fertilizer, he said.
For the right rate, researchers suggest agricultural producers test their soil prior to application for annual crops and at least once per year for perennial crops to see how much fertilizer the soil will need, Morgan said.
“The right rate refers to UF/IFAS recommendations on the amount of fertilizer needed for the crop production season, and is based on extensive research over locations, crops, varieties and years. The right rate also refers to the amount of fertilizer applied at one or several times during the growing season,” he said.
The right placement means nutrients need to be placed where the plant will have the best access to the nutrients, Morgan said. For most crops, the right placement is in the root zone or just ahead of the advancing root system, he added. “Most nutrient uptake occurs through the root system, so placing the nutrients in the root zone maximizes the likelihood of absorption by the plant,” Morgan said.
The right timing of nutrients takes into consideration the growth pattern of the crop and natural changes in nutrient demand during the season, Morgan said. Crop development begins slowly from seed germination or transplanting, then increases through fruiting, and finally slows down at maturation, he explained. “Anticipating changes in growth and nutrient demand is important so that fertilizer application can be timed to meet the needs of crop plant growth and yield,” he said.
All four elements of the 4Rs program work together to help growers farm in the best possible way, because their efforts impact everyone, Morgan said. “The 4Rs elements work together to address such things as food security and safety, soil fertility and quality, and non-renewable resources,” Morgan said. “All of these things have a direct impact on human wellness and quality of life.”
By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Kelly Morgan, 239-658-3413, email@example.com