A farm nutrient management strategy is a plan to get the most out of fertilizers (regardless of where they come from) in a way that also keeps water that’s close safe from contamination. This is usually quite simple, but for some there are special hurdles to jump. No matter what the plan, it needs to be thoroughly thought through and understood by the one who will implement it – the producer.
The basics of a nutrient management plan:
- Test results of the soil: Before any plan can be made, good, thorough testing must be done on the soil. That means all land that will have crops should have data that is at most four-years old. From these result, a farmer can determine what fertilizer to put on each field.
- Assess Nutrient Resources at Home: Whatever a farmer gives his crops from his own farm – such as legumes, manure or organic waste – should be accounted for and subtracted from what fertilization is needed. Manure adds nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur and organic material. Legumes like alfalfa, soy beans, clover and other add nitrogen for the next crop.
- Credit Nitrogen: When thinking of a fertilizer to buy, make sure to account for the nutrients you will be adding from home. This will help lower the cost of fertilizer and protect water supplies. Nutrient runoff occurs when too-much nutrition is added to a crop. This could also contaminate ground water. This crediting of nutrients takes skill. A farmer must know how much manure, for example they will be adding to any one part of a field and how much nutrition is in that manure. With a legume, a farmer must know the condition of the plant and its cutting date.
- Be Consistent With Conservation: Any federal farm program a farm is involved in most likely already has a soil conservation plan. This is a necessary piece of nutrient management, since it included crop rotation info, field slopes (needed info for manure management), and the rules to follow to keep soil erosion tolerable. Some farmers may not have such a plan, or doesn’t meet the “tolerable” standard. Those farmers need to acquire all the mentioned information before they can make a nutrient management plan. In this case, they will be making a new soil conservation plan.
- Calculating Cow Dung (or other manure): The hardest part of the plan is deciding and understanding how much manure to use on the crops. A farmer has to take an educated guess at how much manure the farm will make and then think about how much to put on each crop. It’s difficult, but there are a few hacks to the process. First, calibrate the spreader. Use scales (a platform scale or portable axle scale borrowed from the county Extension of Land Conservation office). Calibration allows you to know how much your spreader can hold, in tons. Then you can count how many loads you plan to put on a field to get your management plan.
- Spreading the Manure: Most farmers’ nutrient plans have a clause for spreading manure. How much manure goes on a field has to be good for the environment and for the crops. Be sure that the amount you plan to add to the crop is not more nutritious than the crop needs, according to the soil tests. The plan should first put manure on fields that are both needy of the manure and unlikely to run-off into water supplies. The plan will also take note of fields that have restrictions on spreading manure, such as a field next to a lake or stream; a field that slopes (where runoff in the spring makes it wrong to add fertilizer in the winter), and any field close to a sinkhole, well or cracked bedrock. What season to apply is also part of the plan. This depends on how the manure is processed. Farmers who have storage for manure will surely plan to use it at a different time and rate than those who must haul manure every day.