Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association
Supply · Service · Stewardship

Nutrient Stewardship in the Winter

IFCA, under our Board of Director leadership, always endeavors to promote stewardship and address all challenges proactively.  In the history of our organization there is no question that IFCA's proactive efforts have enabled us the freedom to operate and make good agronomic and business decisions.  IFCA's opinion and our approach to address issues is highly respected and our suggestions are often implemented instead of the state taking a heavy-handed approach.  It isn't easy, but our dedication to stewardship pays huge dividends especially when you look at other states in the US (or Europe) and see what their ag retailers and farmers face every day in terms of government dictating when and how they operate, not to mention litigation constantly nipping at their heels.  
It's easy to talk about stewardship but tough to live it.  We all know the realities of weather, logistics, supply and demand and economics.  And customers who can be quite demanding.  
IFCA would like to express to our members a huge thank you for the decisions you make, and the actions that you take or don' take every day, to be good stewards.  We had a lousy fall nitrogen season having waited until soil temperatures were appropriate, only for Mother Nature to shut the door on us and then the fertilizer contracts were cancelled, causing more anxiety.  
Now it's winter (with snow for a change) and the workload before spring is weighing heavily on everyone's mind.  It can be very tempting to use the snow as a buffer between the soil and the floater and to apply fertilizer that should have gone on in the fall.  In 2015, we had a snow melt/runoff event in February that resulted in large loads of ammonium reaching the rivers and surface water supplies.  Water supply people were overwhelmed with the treatment efforts they had to employ to provide safe drinking water.  But the treatment required heavy doses of chlorine and the water didn't taste very good, resulting in thousands of phone calls to them from upset water customers.  So yes, application on snow is very risky and therefore is discouraged.  The water people expressd their frustration to IFCA and we took their concerns to heart.  We need to remember that it happened before, and can happen again.  The farmers did not get the benefit of the nutrients applied to snow and the water supply people had to pay the price to remove the nutrients from the water.  
We appeal to our members to keep the big picture in mind.  Your leadership and commitment to the 4Rs continues to make Illinois the envy of many states:  we still are not facing any legislation, regulation, litigation or Executive Orders to curtail fertilizer use or enact heavy handed regulations on ag retailers or farmers.  As one of the largest nutrient use states in the US, the target is still on our back.  However, we own this issue unless we collectively decide that it is just too hard and give it to someone else to deal with.  And there are plenty of groups out there who would love to regulate you, that has not changed.  The Illinois legislature is also coming into session and the best you can hope for there is to avoid a contentious debate on difficult and often emotional issues that include water quality and dicamba.  
For all the retailers whose fertilizer spreaders are parked in the sheds, thank you.  We know the pressure you are under.  When we do see winter spreading going on, especially on the snow, people from many walks of life notice and question our commitment to stewardship.  As with most things in life, the attention always focuses on what is going wrong even most everything else is going right.  IFCA has to have difficult talks with our members sometimes but it's because we care and we'd rather have you hear it from us, to understand what is at stake.  
Please know that IFCA supports you and when we have to take a stand to support stewardship we do it with the industry's overall long-term success at heart.  IFCA goes to all the meetings you would never want to go to, and we can't sugar coat what we hear and see coming down the tracks.  Stewardship is the key to success, and we've never embarked on a stewardship program yet that did not benefit our industry in the long run.  Thank you for all you do every day to enable IFCA to be taken seriously when it comes to doing the right thing.