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Neuse River Watershed Crop Management Project

Project Period:

3 years (extended one year due to weather) 1999-09-01 - 2001-10-01

Principal Investigator:

The Neuse Crop Management Project in North Carolina is a multi-year weed IPM and nutrient management project in the Neuse River Basin. By the year 2003, state water regulations require a 30 percent reduction in nitrogen levels in the Neuse River basin watershed. In addition, many widely used agricultural chemicals, particularly soil-applied herbicides, may be lost or their uses restricted under the Food Quality Protection Act. The project is an unprecedented, cooperative effort to expand IPM as well as nutrient management practices. The team includes representatives of the National Cotton Council, Cotton Incorporated, North Carolina Soybean Growers Association, North Carolina Farm Bureau, North Carolina Corn Growers Association, North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association, North Carolina State University and Cooperative Extension Service, independent crop consultants, and agribusiness and their organizations, including Southern States Cooperative, Royster/Clark and the North Carolina Plant Food Association. The end goal is to implement nutrient management practices to reduce the use of nitrogen by 10-20 percent and weed IPM to reduce the use of herbicides by 10-30 percent on 100,000 acres. Targeted crops include corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat and comprise 84 percent of the planted acres in the basin. A parallel effort is being made by Cooperative Extension to educate the urban population in the basin and reduce their use of fertilizers and pesticides as well.

The Neuce Crop Management Project accomplished its goals. They completed nutrient management plans for more than 105,000 acres of cropland. To meet this challenge, project personnel developed a simplified computerized nitrogen fertilizer spreadsheet for commercial fertilizer plans and held group nutrient management planning sessions for the farmers. The project succeeded in reducing the application of nitrogen fertilizer applied per acre of cropland by 23 percent. Their nutrient management cost-benefit study found that many farmers can save $20 to $40 per acre of cropland by using nutrient management.

They also tested complete systems of best management practices on several farms using funding provided by the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund including grassed waterways, field borders, sod-based rotation and flashboard risers (controlled drainage). Their BMP cost-benefit analysis found that the benefit of BMPs was highly dependent on the practice and the physiographic region.

They were able to reduce the application of soil-applied pre-emergence herbicides by over 40 percent. To help producers make better herbicide choices, the project used a computer-based decision support systems called HADSS (Herbicide Application Decision Support System) that allows users to identify the most cost-effective, environmentally sensitive and effective herbicide. By making decisions on a field to field basis, more precise selection of herbicides, application rates, timing and placement of weed control measures are possible. During the project, however, the weed control situation changed dramatically when Roundup Ready technology was introduced. Growers quickly embraced the Roundup Ready system for cotton and soybeans and by 2002, over 90 percent of the soybean acreage and upwards of 60 percent of the cotton acreage were planted to Roundup Ready varieties.

The project attributes its success to a unique set of circumstances:
The existence of the Neuse Education Team and the many other agencies and organizations working in the Neuse River Basin;
The extensive consultation and feasibility study at the beginning of the project which led to the creation of strong working relationships;
Funding from multiple sources;
A highly competent staff;
The multidisciplinary, multi-agency, and multi-partner nature of the project structure;
Willingness of farmers to be part of the solution;
Intensive, one-on-one work with growers
An egalitarian structure that allowed staff to make decisions and do their work relatively independently
Regulatory pressures for nitrogen reduction

American Farmland Trust