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Fed regulations for nutrient applications on the horizon
By Tim Alexander
Illinois Correspondent

PEORIA, Ill. – Regulations affecting agricultural applications of fertilizers and chemicals to crops and cropland may be coming as soon as 2025 or 2026, based on discouraging results regarding farm field nitrate and phosphorus losses identified in the latest Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) biennial report. This was the consensus of many who attended the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) Conference and Trade Show in Peoria last month, including IFCA Executive Director Kevin “KJ” Johnson.
“The biennial (NLRS) report that came out at the end of December shows that nitrogen was a little down from where we had thought it might be, but phosphorus was back up. In my opinion, after the (10 year) report comes out in 2025 we could actually see regulations on nutrients,” said Johnson, during an NLRS update he presented to ag retailers, farmers and others at the Peoria Civic Center on Jan. 16. “What that will look like, I don’t know. Has there been discussions about it down in Springfield? Absolutely, and I think you are going to see more of a push on regulations.”
Johnson also updated the ag chemical dealers in attendance on the results of last year’s inaugural IFCA Ag Retail Survey, which queried random dealerships about application amounts, timing and varieties of chemicals or nutrients used on farms. In all, 150 retailers are selected, along with 10 farmers associated with each retailer. The voluntary survey will continue this spring.
“Why do we do an Ag Retail Survey? The Illinois Council for Best Management Practices got behind this survey a couple of years ago. It is based on an Iowa retail survey that was put together by a number of ag groups. Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Corn, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Pork, GROWMARK and others are backing our survey, and we are looking for long term funding from the state to support this (survey),” Johnson said.
The 2024 Ag Retail Survey will be kicking off soon with the first of 150 random site visits among the 535 ag nutrient retail locations spread across nine crop reporting districts in Illinois. Survey liaisons will be available to help answer retailers’ questions as they complete the surveys, which are submitted anonymously. Across the 38 survey questions, participants can expect to be asked about field sizes, cover crop utilization, tillage practices, frequency of soil testing, usage of nitrogen inhibitors, manure usage and more.
Results from the 2023 Ag Retail Survey of 150 retailers and 917 crop fields showed that 86 percent of Illinois farmers planted a standard corn-soybean rotation. Only 21 percent of farmers said they applied all their nitrogen fertilizer in the fall of the year. 49 percent of those farmers applied fall anhydrous ammonia, while 97 percent claimed use of fall nitrogen inhibitors. Cover crops were used on just 9 percent of crop fields.
“If you look at some of the data it actually shows that we are in line with what some of the federal and state agencies are (suggesting),” Johnson said. “As far as cover crops, the state would like us to triple or quadruple the funding for their (cover crop incentive) program. You’re also hearing about more funding potentially going to (cover crop incentives) through the next farm bill.”
Johnson promised to keep in contact with IFCA member retailers to keep them abreast of any potential state or federal legislation affecting nutrient or chemical applications to farmland.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a major push this year, but this issue is not going away. I think in the years 2026 and 2027 is when we really may see (regulations) kick in. Iowa has set aside $200 million every 10 years to fund (nutrient loss reduction incentives). As much as I’d love to see the state of Illinois put that kind of money toward this, I just don’t see that happening. I think we will see more piggybacking with federal programs,” Johnson said.