New Educational Initiative Aims To Fill The Void In Crop Nutrition Education

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A new educational initiative, created by Dr. Ray Hoyum, well-respected agronomist, soil scientist and marketing executive, strives to help fill the void in crop nutrition education which spans across the agricultural retail industry. FOCAS “Beyond the Basics” is a non-profit, soon to be launched, educational effort that will provide relevant programs with the goals of maximizing crop production and grower profitability.

With nearly 60 percent of the cost of producing a crop coming from plant nutrient inputs, it is imperative that retail dealers and growers stay well informed on the best crop nutrient management practices.

“It’s just as critical today to pay special attention to managing plant nutrition, especially with so many new plant varieties, more intensive management, and much higher yields expected by growers,” explains Dr. Ray Hoyum, Affiliate Professor in the Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department, College of Agriculture, Auburn University.

The ultimate goal of FOCAS, which stands for Foundation of Crops Agronomy and Soil fertility education, is to provide information that will allow for a change in attitudes and practices. Program recipients will better understand the critical role that crop nutrition plays and how the effective management of this key input can ensure better agronomic and economic success.

Presently, there are limited crop nutrition education programs available for agricultural retailers, growers, and livestock producers. Feedback in recent years from agricultural retailers suggests a growing need for broad-based educational opportunities which focus on up-to-date, science-based crop nutrition management.

As a result, there is an on-going demand to provide Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs) better access to continuing education credits in many areas of the US and Canada.

In the past, the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which was a non-profit, science-based organization dedicated to the responsible management of plant nutrition for the benefit of mankind provided significant agronomic educational programming. IPNI, formerly the Potash and Phosphate Institute (PPI), had active national and international programs.

Through cooperation and partnering with respected institutions around the world, IPNI added its strengths to agronomic research, education, demonstrations, training, and other endeavors.

The Land Grant University System, which over the past 20-30 years has been a hallmark in crop nutrition education, has undergone significant changes. There have been substantive reductions in existing programming, especially in the crop nutrition sector.

Clearly, reduced funding has impacted staffing levels and negatively affected overall agronomic programming. In addition, in recent years there has been a trend among corporations to minimize agronomic staffing, thus reducing overall training opportunities for the remaining staff as well as for their customers.

“To achieve our mission with FOCAS “Beyond the Basics”, we plan to communicate quality information to agricultural retailers, and in particular, the International Certified Crop Advisers (ICCA),” says Hoyum.

FOCAS “Beyond the Basics” will go to market with five primary objectives:
• Foster awareness of the value of proper plant nutrient management in crop and forage production through better nutrient stewardship.

• Inform growers and input suppliers that consistently maintaining optimum soil fertility levels will help ensure profitable crop production while maintaining or improving soil productivity, soil health, and crop yields and the environment.

• Communicate the importance of science-based plant nutrition management through strategic partners such as international, national and state associations and societies.

• Employ agronomic data available from today’s precision farming technologies for better crop production decision making.

• Promote an awareness for continued professional development by supporting the International Certified Crop Advisers program.

The new program will use a variety of tools to deliver the messages and training. A website will be the “hub” of the program but webinars, traditional training at in person meetings, conferences and forums along with social media tools will be used to tell the proper soil fertility story. FOCAS will also be a repository for relevant research sourced from industry experts.