Nutrient management plans

by Laura Lecker, Somerset County Soil & Water Conservation District

Nutrient Management Plans: Why should you have one? Are your fields less productive than you would like? Do you see muddy/polluted water leaving your barnyard or fields? High levels of on-farm production depend on an adequate supply of nutrients. However, if nutrients are present in the soil in greater quantities than are needed or at times when they can not be used by crops or soil microbes, they may lose their benefits as soil fertilizers and become pollutants.

A nutrient management plan (NMP) is an important planning tool for producers. The Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District writes nutrient management plans for producers upon request, as a fee-for-service. These plans are written in conjunction with the producer and will reflect specific management and resource needs and issues on your farm.

An NMP uses soil and manure test results to match manure fertilizer value to needed nutrients in each field and for each specific crop. In addition, timing of manure applications are planned to reduce the possibility of nutrient runoff and increase the fertilizer value to the crops. Sensitive environmental resources are inventoried and safe setback distances for spreading and stacking are delineated.

Plans are intended to help the farmer provide crops with the nutrients they require while preventing these nutrients from contributing to water quality impairment. This is achieved by managing the storage, amount, source and timing of the application of nutrients and other soil amendments.

An NMP, therefore, serves several purposes:
• Allows for appropriate spreading of essential nutrients needed for optimum crop growth
• Addresses possible erosion and other water quality issues on the farm.
• Provides efficient and effective use of scarce nutrient resources
• Helps landowners maintain and improve the physical chemical and biological condition of the soil
• Minimizes or prevents environmental degradation caused by excess or inappropriate nutrient application
• Protects your right to farm under Maine’s Right To Farm law.

In an effort to protect our valuable water resources, the state of Maine requires all farms with over 50 animal units (an animal unit = 1000 lbs) or more than 100 tons of imported manure to have a certified NMP. Even farmers that do not fall under these guidelines may well wish to obtain a NMP. A well written plan is an invaluable management tool for all producers, large or small. Efficient and effective use of farm nutrients is an important issue for everyone, and a nutrient management plan can help producers look at the “big picture” while managing the specific details to make the farm as profitable as it can be. Consult your local NRCS or Cooperative Extension office for a list of certified nutrient management planners.

Once you do have a nutrient management plan, what do you need to do? Once the plan is written, the landowner’s work has just begun. Each year, it is important to be sure to keep accurate records of:
• what is spread on each field
• how much is spread on each field
• when inputs are applied
• crop yields attained for each field
• weather conditions
• other issues that have an effect on the timing and nature of the nutrient application

Your plan is a dynamic document that should be used to help you manage your farm. Farm records and soil tests monitor crop response to nutrient additions and management practices. This helps to maximize crop yields as well as help a landowner save money on unnecessary fertilizer and other inputs.

An NMP will need to be updated and re-certified any time there is a significant change in the farm operation (such as a change in animal numbers, land base or feeding/bedding used). State law requires that the plan be reviewed by the landowner once a year and updated by a certified nutrient management planning specialist at least every five years. New soil and manure tests are required at this time.

Be aware that many certified nutrient management planners, including SWCD personnel, are very busy in the early spring and fall, so it is highly advisable to schedule an appointment several months in advance of when you need the plan. Remember that a plan update can not be completed until current soil and manure test reports have been obtained, and those who have their tests in hand will be served first.

When used correctly, a nutrient management plan can be a powerful tool to help you get the most out of your fields and protect our natural resources. Contact the SCSWCD to help you with nutrient management plan creation, updates and questions.