Aimed at providing a sound foundation for understanding fertility in crops, several workshops will soon be held in east Arkansas’ Marianna (Feb. 14 at the Lon Mann Cotton Research Station) and Jonesboro (Feb. 15 on the campus of Arkansas State University). Continuing education units in nutrient and water management will be offered.

Collaborations between the Arkansas Plant Food Association (APFA) and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, the workshops “are a new effort, although we’ve been thinking about offering educational programs on soil fertility for some time. We feel now is the time to do it,” says Leo Espinoza,soil specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.Increasing price of fertilizers and the need to maximize yield potential demand that farmers are efficient in the use of this production input.”

Register for Marianna workshop here, for the Jonesboro workshop here.

On the reasons behind the meetings…

“Before we can apply the new technologies available, such as variable rate fertilization and enhanced efficiency fertilizers, we need to review the basics of soil fertility. That’s the goal for these workshops – to understand the basics before trying to apply the new technologies. You need a solid foundation to build upon.

“As for the registration fee ($50), it’s only to cover the meeting cost. This is not a money-making venture for us.”

On the collaborations…

The workshop collaborations “certainly underscore the importance that these meetings have for our fertilizer dealers.

“I’m an ex-officio member of the APFA and in the past we’ve organized meetings for the industry. Those meetings covered topics that were of specific interest for the fertilizer industry. These meetings will be aimed towards educating the producers, crop consultants and the general public.

“This is a very good example of a university and private industry joining efforts to meet the educational needs of the people we serve.”

On topics to be covered…

“Beyond the basic concept review, we’ll talk about soil sampling and, in the concept of precision agriculture, recommendations and so forth.

“There will also be talks about water quality, including the impact of using reservoir water on crops and perhaps information about the increasing problem of salinity in some areas of the state. The chemistry of reservoir water can be quite different from well water. Attendees will also hear updates on existing and potential environmental regulations and programs.

“New fertilizer technologies are on the agenda. Things like the potential benefits of existing and new urease inhibitors-base productswill be discussed.

“Also, the use of biosolids and other organic amendments will be covered. We always get questions about chicken litter and the like.”

More on the meetings…

“If these go well, it might lend itself to a series of them. If these workshops concentrate on the fertilizer basics, maybe next time we’ll expand to more detailed presentations, more focused meetings. Maybe a meeting in Stuttgart would target fertilization in rice and soybeans. Somewhere else might host a meeting with different crops.

“We hope this can become a yearly, or bi-annual, event.”

On this winter’s meetings…

“There have been questions about grid sampling and how profitable that is. It’s hard to generalize on that, actually. It largely depends on the conditions. It may save money for some farmers but, then again, it may have no impact on yield variability.

“We field questions on alternative fertilizer products. It appears there is aggressive marketing of some products that we haven’t properly tested, if at all. We only recommend products that have been tested by our researchers under conditions common in Arkansas fields.”

Research going into 2012…

“The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture has a ‘Fertility Working Group.’ One of our main research thrusts is the validation of our current fertilizer recommendations. That’s very important not only for production-related reasons but also in case of potential environmental regulations. It’s critical to have solid data that is local and research done under our particular production systems. Also, the development of a strong database in soil fertilityhelps us provide feedback to NRCS and other federal and state agencies regarding cost-share practices that can significantly benefit our producers.

“The group is also studying new fertilizer technologies to see if they hold benefits for state farmers. Research effortsto assess the potential benefits of plant and soil sensors are underway. So far, our research is showing promising results.

“The N-St*r test, which provides site specific nitrogen recommendations for rice, is up and running for rice grown in silt-loams. We’re fairly confident with that system and research is ongoing to offer it for rice grown in clays. We hope to be able to develop similar testsforwheat, corn and cotton crops in the future.”

On irrigation work…

“There’s no question that irrigation and fertility go hand-in-hand. We’ll continue irrigation research, no doubt.

“In fact, a new irrigation specialist, Chris Henry, has been hired by the university. He’s based in Stuttgart and comes to us from Nebraska. That’s interesting because (Nebraska) is where the atmometer approach we’ve been using has been implemented successfully. He’s a big believer in that so we’ll be expanding our research with soybeans and to other crops.”

For more information about these fertility workshops, visit http://www.arkplantfood.com/ or contact Espinoza at lespinoza@uaex.edu.