Farmers invested in efforts to improve nutrient uses, reduce losses

By Kay Shipman FarmWeek  

Mercer County farmer Jeff Kirwan also chairs the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

Illinois farmers are invested in tackling one of agriculture’s biggest challenges — nutrient management.

Mercer County farmer Jeff Kirwan, chairman of the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC), discussed the importance of farmers’ dollars funding research and education ahead of a recent NREC meeting on research updates.

Farmers fund NREC by paying 75 cents per ton on bulk fertilizer bought in the state. Since 2012 when it was formed, NREC has invested $31 million into research and education.

“We are unique in the United States,” Kirwan told FarmWeek. “Our state has a source of funding coming from farmers for nutrient research. Other states legislate dollars toward that.”

Not only do farmers invest in the work, but a broad spectrum also plays a role in directing research, according to Kirwan.

Farmers representing farm organizations and commodity groups from different parts of the state along with representatives of the fertilizer industry, environmental community and state agencies determine research priorities. When research proposals are submitted, NREC members evaluate those and determine funding.

The search for answers remains fluid, Kirwan noted.

“It’s living research,” he said. “It seems like we’re always learning new things from every project. We continue coming up with new things to study and questions we hadn’t anticipated.”

Those research questions are added to needs along with potential issues that surface during growing seasons.

As NREC work produces results, that information is evaluated for possible inclusion in the statewide Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS). “We find new information and keep that goal of addressing accurate assumptions” of nutrient losses, Kirwan said.

In the most recent NLRS biennial report, two new conservation practices were added to options available to reduce losses. Those were saturated buffers and terraces.

Not only is NREC funded by farmers across Illinois, but “all this (NREC) information is available to everybody,” Kirwan said. “It’s presented for everyone to use.” Farmers may apply NREC research information to their farming operations, he added.

Any solutions to improve fertilizer use are timely given the high costs of inputs.

“We’re providing research practices to help you (farmers) with nutrient efficiency,” Kirwan said. “We have the research backing up these strategies and helping you make decisions. In these economic times, we (NREC) have the research to provide farmers with support in these times we are dealing with.”


This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit

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