UTIA Examines Adoption of Nutrient Management Practices in Tennessee

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Trends and Outlook Identified in Study Report

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Researchers and Extension specialists from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture have completed a study designed to better understand producers’ use of nutrient management practices. The findings demonstrate substantial efforts in public and private investment in nutrient management practices and will serve as a baseline for tracking the evolution of environmental stewardship among Tennessee producers.

Among row crop producers, 81% reported having a nutrient management plan in place. Nutrient management plans for crop production matches nutrient applications to crop needs, reducing commercial fertilizer use while maintaining and, in some cases, enhancing soil productivity and crop yields.

Survey respondents also reported using multiple conservation practices such as no-tillage, cover crops, soil testing and poultry litter or manure applications. In fact, 90% of all surveyed crop producers in Tennessee reported using no-till in 2022. Soybeans accounted for the most no-till acres, followed by corn, cotton and wheat. Nearly all no-till acres planted by respondents were privately funded. Since 1981, Tennessee has been a leader in no-till systems, hosting visitors from across the country and around the world to the largest field day in the nation dedicated to no-till farming. The 2024 Milan No-Till Crop Field Day will be held July 25 on the grounds of the UT AgResearch and Education Center at Milan, Tennessee.

Approximately 60% of all surveyed crop producers reported using cover crops and 86% soil test. Among pasture or hay producers, 80% soil test. All respondents said they determined how much fertilizer to apply based on soil test results, followed by the price of fertilizer, indicating profit-maximization is a consideration in fertilizer application decisions. However, 44% indicated they fertilize to maximize yields, which may not be the profit maximizing rate. Row crop producers typically soil test every year, while pasture or hay producers typically soil test every three years.

The study also integrated historical USDA NRCS data on various uses of conservation practices focused on nutrient management in Tennessee, historical trends in conservation practice use. For the period 2014 to 2022, Tennessee led the nation in dollars spent on cover crops and ranked second among all states in cover crop occurrences. However, looking ahead, respondents reported they expect a net increase in cover crop acres planted, no-till acres, soil testing, and the use of nitrogen stabilizers over the next five years.

“The collected data demonstrate the substantial efforts Tennessee producers are making towards environmental stewardship,” said lead researcher Chris Boyer from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The study can be found online at tiny.utk.edu/TNnutrientmgt. The research was conducted by Chris Boyer, Kevin Cavasos and Aaron Smith from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Forbes Walker from the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science. The study was supported by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is comprised of the Herbert College of Agriculture, UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch and UT Extension. Through its land-grant mission of teaching, research and outreach, the Institute touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. to Tennesseans and beyond. utia.tennessee.edu.

Media Contact

Tina M. Johnson

Agricultural and Resource Economics