In the mid-1970’s, when public support of agricultural research declined, the University of Wisconsin began seeking new sources of funding to continue the practical, applied research that directly benefits Wisconsin farmers. Soil fertility, plant nutrition and soil management were important research areas that needed additional funding.
With the cooperation of fertilizer dealers and manufacturers, farmers, and the Wisconsin legislature, a law was passed in 1978 that created the Wisconsin Fertilizer Research Fund. The law has since been amended to include a focus on environmental issues. The current law states that the fund is
“to be used for research on soil management, soil fertility, plant nutrition problems and for research on surface water and ground water problems which may be related to fertilizer usage; for dissemination of the results of the research; and for other designated activities tending to promote the correct usage of fertilizer materials.”
As state and federal research money continues to decline, private sector funds from fertilizer sales will become even more important in terms of helping farmers make wise decisions regarding fertilizer use in Wisconsin. The benefits of this research are shared with the same members of the private sector that provided the investment, Wisconsin farmers.
The Wisconsin Fertilizer Research Fund
For every ton of fertilizer sold in the state, the Wisconsin Fertilizer Research Fund currently receives 17 cents (10 cents from 1978-2013) for fertilizer research. This money is part of a larger tonnage fee created to cover other programs, such as nutrient and pest management and agricultural chemical clean-ups. The fee is collected by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and, by law, forwarded to the University of Wisconsin system at the end of each fiscal year.
The research dollars are used to fund applied research projects within the University of Wisconsin system. Typically, the projects have small budgets, with average an annual requests of $15,000-$45,000. These projects produce research that directly benefits Wisconsin farmers. Results make their way to their intended audience through area meetings, field days, and industry conferences. Other results are incorporated into the fertilizer recommendations provided with soil samples submitted to Wisconsin laboratories. Finally, many of the results are included in UW-Extension Factsheets, commodity group proceedings, and technical papers that are shared between scientists.