With support from Minnesota’s corn farmers, Dr. Fabian Fernandez is the new assistant professor of nutrient management at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Soil, Water and Climate.
“There is no single silver bullet that will solve all the problems in managing nutrients, but instead we have to use many different strategies to achieve that reduction,” Fernandez said.
The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council has devoted approximately $1 million through farmer-funded corn check-off dollars to the creation of Fernandez’ position at the U and supporting his research activities.
“We have a study looking at nitrogen loss in irrigated acres, and specifically the timing of application and the impact that has in terms of nitrate leaching.,” Fernandez said.
Irrigation presents both a challenge and an opportunity for nutrient management, according to Fernandez. By applying the nutrient directly through the irrigation pivot, timing and volume of nutrients are much more easily controlled. However, the reason for irrigation in the first place is lack of water-holding capacity in the coarse-textured soils. These tend to drain quickly, and more easily lose nutrients.
Irrigation represents only about five percent of Minnesota’s crop acres, primarily in the central sand plains reaching from Stearns County to Hubbard, Otter Tail and other northwestern parts of the state. A smaller region southeast of the Twin Cities, from Dakota County down through Red Wing and Winona counties has pockets of coarse-textured soils, as well.
“I will be involved in looking at different nitrogen sources, timing, rates, and measuring not only the agronomic performance of corn, but also what that management does to some of the processes of the nitrogen cycle, like mineralization and leaching potential,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez grew up in one of the great agricultural production areas in the world — the Pampas region of Argentina, known for both livestock and grain production. He earned his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2006, and his M.S. and B.S. degrees from Brigham Young University in 2002 and 2000, respectively. Before joining the University of Minnesota Fernandez was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois (2006-2013).
“The issue of nutrient management is not an easy subject and the proposed reductions in nitrogen losses will not be an easy thing to achieve,” Fernandez said. “There will have to be a lot of work to achieve some of the proposed goals. The reason I say it’s not a simple question is because there is only so much we can do in terms of management, but much remains unknown. Nitrogen losses can be driven by weather conditions. Even if we do everything perfectly there is still quite a potential for nitrogen to exit the fields.”
Written by Jonathan Eisenthal