The USDA has revised its national conservation practice standard on nutrient management to help producers better manage the application of nutrients on agricultural land. Proper application of nitrogen and phosphorus offers tremendous benefits to producers and the public, including cost savings to the producer and the protection or improvement of ground and surface water, air quality, soil quality and agricultural sustainability.
"Protecting America's supply of clean and abundant water is an important objective for USDA," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This precious resource is the foundation for healthy ecosystems and sustainable agricultural production. USDA provides voluntary technical and financial assistance to help producers manage their nutrients to ensure a clean and abundant water supply while maintaining viable farm and ranch operations."
The nutrient management conservation practice is an important tool in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation toolbox. The agency's staff uses this conservation practice to help farmers and ranchers apply their nutrients more efficiently. Proper management of nitrogen and phosphorus, including the use of organic sources of nitrogen such as animal manure, legumes and cover crops, can save producers money. The nutrient management standard provides a roadmap for NRCS's staff and others to help producers apply available nutrient sources in the right amount, from the right source, in the right place, at the right time for maximum agricultural and environmental benefits.
NRCS's nutrient management experts worked with universities, non-government organizations, industry and others to revise the standard to ensure it is scientifically sound. Key changes in the standard include expanding the use of technology to streamline the nutrient management process and allowing states more flexibility in providing site-specific nutrient management planning using local information when working with producers. NRCS staff offices will have until Jan. 1, 2013 to comply with erosion, nitrogen and phosphorus criteria for their state nutrient management standard.
The revised national standard is being released at a time when the agency is working with various partners to address nutrient management concerns identified in three recently released Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) cropland studies. These CEAP studies assessed the effectiveness of conservation practices in the Upper Mississippi Basin, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the Great Lakes Basin. One significant resource concern identified in all three studies is the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus from cropland. Most nitrogen losses are attributed to nitrate leaching through the soil to groundwater. Most phosphorus is lost due to erosion because phosphorus attaches itself to displaced soil particles that are transported by runoff to nearby waterways. Improved nutrient management and effective erosion control work together to reduce the loss of nutrients from agricultural land, resulting in improved water quality in downstream rural and urban communities. The revised standard will provide tools and strategies to help producers address the natural resource concerns relating to excess nutrients on agricultural land.
NRCS offers voluntary technical and financial assistance to producers nationwide for planning and implementing on-farm nutrient management plans. Producers can use this assistance to help meet federal, state, tribal and local environmental regulations.
For more information about how nutrient management fits into NRCS's conservation work, see here.