January 5, 2011
Meet Joe Nester
Joe Nester, a certified crop consultant at Bryan, Ohio, is the top man on the ground for the Maumee On-Farm Network®. He coordinates efforts with growers and other consultants locally, and with Karen Chapman and Suzie Friedman of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Tracy Blackmer, director of the On-Farm Network.
The Maumee On-Farm Network, in the western Lake Erie basin, includes about 80 growers from Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. From Bryan, in the Northwest corner of Ohio, Nester is located in the midst of the area it serves. It is part of the western basin of Lake Erie.
Nester became involved with the On-Farm Network after working with EDF on installation of filter strips and other conservation practices intended to improve nutrient management. He believes the collaboration with EDF has been a big benefit to local growers, despite occasionally having to explain why growers should partner with an environmental organization.
"I’m convinced the nitrogen recommendations we’ve been using for years are all wrong,” Nester says. "We’ve seen the highest yielding area of the field performing best at the lowest overall nitrogen rates and find the tougher yielding areas taking more nitrogen than the high yield areas. What that boils down to is recoverability in soil structure and conditions. It's something that's been ignored in the process of making nitrogen recommendations and I think that's where we get into situations where we can apply too little or too much nitrogen and we get off target," says Nester.
Nester added, "Each farmer’s operation is different. With the On-Farm Network approach, each farmer can apply a proven approach on their farm using their systems at their operation to find the optimum way to handle nitrogen, so it has been a real interesting project to work with."
Nester said there is an added value to the program. "Once we set up nitrogen and phosphorus evaluations, a framework is in place to evaluate anything. Now it's a question to the farmer of what do you want to prove or observe that can add profit to your operations, or are we wasting input money on something that doesn't add profit?
"The On-Farm Network is a team effort! As much as you can learn to do - you can learn what not to do. We learn as a team, so new farmers coming in are already on a fast track as they benefit from learning from us," says Nester.
Nester says participating in the On-Farm Network is part of a process. "In the end, it's about the bottom line. Farmers are excellent stewards, but they've got to be profitable. Fortunately, the most profitable way to farm is also the soundest way to improve water quality. The precision ag part really helps, since farmers can vary nutrients and record what they're doing to evaluate performance, and then can make future management decisions based on their plots. They take ownership in it, which is good. It's not something handed to them and told to do what someone else did, it's their data and they're part of the process," says Nester.
Nester says participating in the On-Farm Network is contagious. "Farmers with yield monitors and GPS experience were the first ones we approached, because they had the equipment required for the program. They brought in neighbors and other farmers, and now the word is out that we can do a better job,” says Nester.
"It's exciting to work with growers and see their satisfaction when they realize they can buy and apply nutrients and keep them on the farm as assets. There is still an awful lot to learn and I'm having fun doing it," says Nester.