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By Nick Kordsmeier U of A System Division of Agriculture Nov. 15, 2019
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(Newsrooms, with art at: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJnDpPj)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The International Fertilizer Association has named University
of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture soils and water quality scientist Andrew
Sharpley the 2019 Norman Borlaug Award winner.
Sharpley is a Distinguished Professor of soils and water quality with the department
of crop, soil, and environmental sciences in the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment
Station. Sharpley investigates conservation effectiveness in agriculture related to
nutrient management and water quality.
“I am honored and humbled to receive this award,” Sharpley said.
Phosphorus and nutrient management have been at the center of Sharpley’s research
throughout his career. In particular, Sharpley said, the goal has been to engage farmers
and provide tools that empower them to participate in practical conservation efforts.
“We need to better manage phosphorus for future generations,” Sharpley said. “Transferring
scientific research on the subject to the field enables more sustainable farming that
benefits the farmers, society and the environment.”
IFA is a fertilizer association that promotes efficient and responsible production,
distribution and use of plant nutrients and has a global membership. The Norman Borlaug
Award is presented each year to a person for significantly advancing crop nutrition
through research or extension, Sharpley said. IFA chooses recipients on a four-year
cycle, alternating between work done in developing countries and developed countries,
and between research and extension work.
“This award is really a great way for IFA to give back to scientists, to specialists
in extension,” said IFA’s Director-General, Charlotte Hebebrand.
IFA relies on the efforts of these individuals to come up with new advances and disseminate
best practices to farmers, she said.
“This is yet another prestigious award for Dr. Andrew Sharpley who is widely recognized
internationally as one of the premier experts in the world on the fate and transport
of nutrients and other potential contaminants associated with agricultural production,”
said Mark Cochran, vice president for agriculture for the University of Arkansas System.
“His pivotal work on such issues as the Phosphorus Index and the discovery farm approach
has influenced nutrient management worldwide.”
“Dr. Sharpley is the world’s foremost authority on phosphorus management and his work
to develop conservation strategies to protect water quality is widely recognized,”
said Jean- François Meullenet, senior associate vice president for agriculture-research and director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment
Station. “We feel very fortunate to have Andrew on our faculty and I congratulate
him on receiving IFA’s Norman Borlaug Award.”
“We are delighted to distinguish someone who has worked so tirelessly to ensure that
farmers have the right tools and techniques to manage phosphorus properly to grow
more crops while minimizing their environmental footprint,” Hebebrand said.
Developing the P Index
In the late 1990s, at the prompting of the National Resources Conservation Service,
Sharpley developed a risk assessment tool to help farmers estimate the possibility
of phosphorus runoff from their fields, he said. This tool eventually became known
as the Phosphorus Index, or the P Index. Farmers use details about their specific
operations along with this tool to locate high-risk areas. The data for the P Index
was gathered from across the U.S.
“We coordinated groundwork in about 20 different states, running the same kind of
experiments on soil with different levels of phosphorus to come up with the background
science to put in this index,” Sharpley said. He also used soil survey information
that was already available.
“Really the P Index was an educational tool to help farmers understand which fields
were more risky in terms of phosphorus runoff, and therefore adapt their management,”
At the time the P Index was developed, there was less concern about phosphorus runoff
than today, Sharpley said. It wasn’t until phosphorus-related water quality issues
emerged in the Chesapeake Bay area that the P Index came to the forefront, he said.
“It was already there, it was already being used, it was fairly well-accepted. It
was especially well-accepted by the farmers because they understood the science behind
it as it made sense to them,” Sharpley said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NRCS eventually accepted the P Index
as well. NRCS made it a mandatory part of its nutrient management conservation standard,
Code 590, he said.
“It became widely used to determine what the appropriate level of fertilizer or manure
application was to minimize the risk of phosphorus runoff as well as provide nutrients
to the crops,” Sharpley said.
Nutrient levels in bodies of water have decreased as use of the tool spread, Sharpley
said. But the broader effect of the P Index was how it changed watershed conservation
“It identified those areas of a watershed that were at greater risk,” Sharpley said.
“We went from a broad application of conservation practices to a targeted application.”
A more targeted implementation of conservation practices allows for more focused conservation
efforts on the riskiest areas, he said, leading to a more efficient use of limited
Arkansas Discovery Farms
Another of Sharpley’s research projects originated around 2008, following a trip to
“I was involved in a review of Wisconsin’s Discovery program and felt that it was
a good program that might be adaptable to Arkansas,” Sharpley said.
The Arkansas Discovery Farms program centers on engaging farmers in the conservation
process by conducting monitoring and research on farmers’ fields rather than on Division
of Agriculture properties, he said.
The Discovery Farms program installed monitoring equipment at participating farms
throughout Arkansas to measure nutrient runoff in real-life farming scenarios. Sharpley
and co-director Mike Daniels, professor of crop, soil, and environmental sciences
with the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, worked with farmers to address conservation
issues that are important to them.
“We would ask them what do they want to know more about on their farm? What is their
main concern?” Sharpley said. “The whole idea of the program is to work with farmers,
not tell them what to do, but have a conversation.
“We are involving the farmers in addressing the problem so they’ll feel like a part
of the solution,” Sharpley said. “We’re also empowering them.”
Sharpley said that farmers participating in the Discovery Farms program have been
vocal supporters, sharing data and conservation practices with their fellow farmers.
“In the bigger scheme of things, it’s really helped extension and our outreach to
other farmers,” he said. “It also showed that farmers were being very proactive and
involved in addressing these problems.”
Sharpley will be traveling to Versailles, France, to officially receive the Norman
Borlaug Award at the 2019 IFA Strategic Forum on Nov. 20, 2019.
“For me, as a researcher, to receive this recognition from the International Fertilizer
Association, is very humbling,” Sharpley said. “In the past, many of these awards
have gone to fertilizer production technology or crop nutrition yield improvements,
so I think it’s a recognition that there is a role in the environment.
“Production and good water quality can go hand-in-hand,” he said.
Sharpley credits his collaborators’ roles in receiving this award. “It’s not just
about me or my work,” he said. “It’s more a recognition of that teamwork with the
people that I’ve been very fortunate to work with.”
Looking ahead, Sharpley says he’s excited about expanding the Discovery Farms program.
Logistical difficulties prevent adding more participating farms, but Sharpley expects
the focus of the research will be transitioning.
“Moving forward, we’re adapting the Discovery Farms program to current and emerging
fields of interest,” he said.
For additional information about the Discovery Farms program, visit http://bit.ly/AAES-DiscoveryFarms.
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uark.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch and Instagram at ArkAgResearch.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Nick KordsmeierInterim Asst. Director of CommunicationsArkansas Agricultural Experiment StationU of A System Division of Agriculture(479) firstname.lastname@example.org