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Variable Rate Nitrogen Application: Eric Odberg

Variable Rate Nitrogen Application: Eric Odberg

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Georgine Yorgey, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, Sylvia Kantor, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, Kathleen Painter, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, University of Idaho, Hilary Davis, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, University of Idaho, Leigh Bernacchi, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, University of Idaho

Eric Odberg farms near Genesee, Idaho, in an area receiving about 22 inches of precipitation annually. In this publication, Odberg discusses his experiences with variable rate nitrogen application and direct seeding.

This case study is part of the Farmer-to-Farmer Case Study project, which explores innovative approaches regional farmers are using that may increase their resilience in the face of a changing climate.

Information presented is based on growers’ experiences and expertise and should not be considered as university recommendations. Mention of trade names or commercial products is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement. Grower quotes have been edited slightly for clarity, without changing the meaning.

Readers interested in other case studies in this series can access them at on the REACCH website, as well as in the WSU Extension Learning Library.

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Photo: Guy Swanson

Location: Genesee, ID

Average Annual Precipitation: 22 inches

Cropping System: 3-year rotation of winter wheat, spring grain (wheat or barley), and pulses (including lentils and several types of chick peas); he is also experimenting with a 4-year rotation that adds spring canola.

Watch the companion video, Precision Nitrogen Application: Farmer-to-Farmer Case Study Series, introducing Odberg, his production system, and his experience with variable rate nitrogen application.

Map: Kaelin Hamel-Rieken, Washington State University

Introduction

Eric Odberg is a fourth generation farmer who practices direct seeding (also known as “no-till”) and is an early adopter of variable rate nitrogen (VRN) application in the dryland production region of the Pacific Northwest. Odberg currently farms 2,200 acres, with the majority in a three-year rotation of winter wheat, spring grain, and pulses. On smaller acreages, he is also experimenting with incorporating Roundup Ready canola into the rotation to add diversity and weed control options.

Throughout their years of farming, Odberg and his wife, Malia, have been motivated by the desire to pass along an environmentally and economically sustainable operation to their three sons. “I’m fourth generation, and hope to be able to hand it to the fifth generation. Having a sustainable farm is an important part of that. I want to have land to be able to farm, but also want it to be profitable.”

Odberg sees VRN as just one strategy in his ongoing efforts to keep his operation profitable and to provide good stewardship. “You’re applying less nitrogen out there, which is better for the environment because excess nitrogen beyond what the plants need might go into the groundwater and into our rivers and streams. The direct seeding also helps reduce topsoil and nutrients that are going into our waterways. So I really see them working hand in hand, with direct seeding being the foundation.”

Getting Started with VRN

Odberg’s journey to VRN began long before he actually tried it, starting with his transition to direct seeding in 2000, a few years after he took over the management of his family’s farm (Figure 1). “I had a couple of big erosion events when I first started farming, and I could see that wasn’t going to be sustainable. We needed to change, and direct seeding was a good solution.” Direct seeding led Odberg to adopt a series of additional practices, including diversifying his rotations, adding additional classes of wheat, and applying nitrogen at variable rates.

Odberg first began experimenting with VRN, one type of precision agriculture, in 2005. (See the sidebar A Primer on Precision Agriculture for more information.) This was just after he purchased an Exactrix anhydrous fertilizer delivery system for his direct seed drill, seeking to improve the evenness of his nitrogen applications and reduce overall

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