Nutrient Management

Nutrient management traditionally has been concerned with optimizing the economic returns from nutrients used to produce a crop. More recently, nutrient management also has begun to address ways to minimize the negative impact of nutrients on the environment.

The environmental problems associated with nutrients most often are caused by animal manure. Applying manure in excess of crop needs or at the wrong time, or handling it improperly may release nutrients into the air or water, where they no longer contribute to crop production and may act as pollutants. The leaching of nitrogen through the soil can raise groundwater nitrate levels. In addition, runoff and erosion may increase nitrogen and phosphorus levels in surface waters, which can lead to eutrophication and related problems such as algae scums, odors, and loss of fish populations. Good nutrient management planning can help to avoid some of these problems.


Nutrient Management Planning

Nutrient management plans are not new. All farmers have a plan for using the manure produced by their animals. In many cases, however, this plan is very informal and ad- dresses only manure disposal and possibly the crop response to the manure nutrients; environmental concerns usually are not addressed. Changing regulations now require farmers to implement more formal nutrient management plans that address environmental issues.

         A basic nutrient management plan includes the following:

  • An inventory of nutrient sources on the farm, including manure and crop residues.
  • Nutrient analyses of each of these sources. The compositions of many of these sources may vary considerably, so “book values” may be inadequate for planning purposes.
  • Handling and storage procedures for minimizing the potential for nutrient loss around the barnyard.
  • Lists of crops and crop rotations by field, or crop groups and expected yields.
  • Soil tests to determine the nutrient needs of the crops to be grown.
  • Prioritization of the fields based on maximizing the economic benefit and minimizing the environmental impact        of the manure nutrients.
  • Procedures for when and how to apply the manure to maximize the economic benefit and minimize the environmental impact of the nutrients.
  • A practical manure spreading rate for each field that does not apply the nutrient of greatest environmental concern in excess of the crop needs.
  • Best management practices that minimize the potential for nutrient loss from the fields.
  • Nutrient balances for each field to indicate any additional nutrient needs for the crop and/or any excesses that might be of concern.
  • Plans for dealing with any excess manure produced on the farm.

While all manure nutrient management plans should contain these basic plan elements, the actual plans themselves will take on many forms.


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