Mother Nature waits for no man-made rules or regulations. Neither does wheat and barley in warming weather. So, man and regulators must adapt to her whims.
That's why, on Friday, Maryland Department of Agriculture officials announced temporary changes related to spring fertilizer application provisions in the 2011/2012 Winter Cover Crop Program. Due to the unusually warm winter weather, Maryland farmers with small grain crops, such as wheat and barley, for harvest in the Commodity Cover Crop portion of the program can apply commercial fertilizer beginning February 15, rather than March 1 as originally stipulated.
"The unusually warm winter weather this year has allowed these crops to continue to grow, exhausting available crop nutrients," explains Maryland Ag Secretary Buddy Hance. "MDA, in collaboration with University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists, is concerned that these crops will suffer production losses if not provided more crop nutrients.
"Science and crop conditions indicate these cover crops have absorbed the nutrients left in the soil last fall. They need additional nutrients to keep them growing."
This small grain cover crop exception is a one-year exception, emphasizes Hance. Restrictions on application of animal manures or other organic nutrient sources to crop acres have not changed. Manure cannot be applied until March 1, in accordance with Nutrient Management regulations.
Commercial fertilizer may be applied to program cover crops acres that'll be harvested at rates of no more than 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre. And, MDA advises including a denitrification inhibitor with the commercial fertilizer to reduce risk of nitrogen loss.
Small grain acres not enrolled in the Cover Crop Program may receive an early spring application of fertilizer at "green up". In fact, the crops are at that critical stage now, according to University of Maryland researchers monitoring temperature conditions.
MDA advises the same application recommendations for non-program small grains – 40 pounds of N plus a denitrification inhibitor for the first spring application. Manure application is restricted until March 1 in Maryland on non-program cropland, as well, in accordance with state nutrient management regulations.
For more on Cover Crop Program provisions, contact MDA's Maryland Agricultural Cost Share Program Office in Annapolis on 410-841-5864, or the local soil conservation district.
Have any questions about winter application of fertilizers? Contact a regional MDA nutrient management specialist. That contact list is available online at nutmgtlist.