Welcome to the DIFM Project

Hello.  Welcome to the Data-Intensive Farm Management Project website.  

What is the Data-Intensive Farm Management (DIFM) Project?

Our society manipulates the nitrogen cycle to great benefit, particularly for food and agricultural systems, but chronic inefficient use of nitrogen fertilizer has led to the hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico and the leaching of nitrates into groundwater (Rabalais, et al. 2002). The National Academy of Engineering (2012) has declared managing the nitrogen cycle a “Grand Challenge,” and the cycle has been labeled a “planetary boundary that has been transgressed” (Rockström, et al. 2009).

As a result, in 2015 the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy developed by the Illinois Water Resources Center, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, called the state to reduce it’s phosphorus and nitrogen loads by 45 percent by 2025.  The DIFM project is one strategy to help reach this goal.

No one knows much about how crop yields and water quality respond to variations in fertilizer management because sufficient data on yields, fertilizer runoff, fertilization rates, and other crop growth factors have not been generated and collected.  In recent research, however, we have shown that it is possible to run large-scale agronomic field trials at very low cost by using GPS-based precision agriculture technology. This may present a dramatic “win-win” situation by allowing more data to be generated on how yields and water quality respond to variations in fertilizer management, and making it possible to provide far superior fertilizer management advice to farmers, increasing farm income and reducing fertilizer contamination.

Our approach will be to expand our current close collaboration with farmers conducting large-scale, on-farm field trials into an on-farm research/extension/teaching infrastructure that will enable us to conduct hundreds, even thousands of farm trials all over the world, to conduct properly rigorous statistical and economic analysis of that data, and to efficiently return the information thus learned to farmers in the form of improved fertilizer management advice, and to government in the form of better information about how proposed policies will impact water quality and farm income.

If you have questions about the DIFM project or are interested in having your farm participate in our on-farm field trails, please do not hesitate to contact us at kmontes2@illinois.edu.

Background on the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy:

Nutrient pollution is a serious threat to water quality in Illinois. Over the decades, state and local efforts to control nutrients have yielded positive results, but new strategies are required to enhance the effectiveness of existing water quality programs and secure the long-term health of water bodies in Illinois and throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

Plants and animals need nitrogen and phosphorus to survive. However when  too much of either is carried in runoff from city streets and farm fields or flows out of wastewater treatment plants, it can fuel algal blooms that reduce oxygen needed by aquatic plants and animals. In the Gulf of Mexico, nutrients washed down by the Mississippi River have
formed a ‘dead zone’ that spreads across thousands of square miles.

To help protect local streams and the Gulf, Illinois and 11 other states in the Mississippi River Basin have agreed to create strategies to decrease the nutrient loads leaving their borders. These strategies are part of a national plan established by the Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force to reduce the size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. In 2015, the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is founded on existing efforts by state and local governments, as well as non-profits and industry, to protect and restore Illinois waterways.

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy provides a comprehensive suite of best management practices for decreasing loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban
and agricultural runoff. Recommended activities address the state’s most critical watersheds and are based on the latest science and best-available technologies. Along with water quality standards currently being developed, these practices will aid the state to achieve its ultimate goal of reducing phosphorus and nitrate loads by 45 percent.