Taking soil samples for laboratory analysis. Photo Karl Hakanson.
Using GPS maps for more precise nutrient application. Photo courtesy Univ of Wisconsin Extension.
Nutrient management requires keeping and using good records. Photo Karl Hakanson.
Nutrient management is using crop nutrients as efficiently as possible to improve productivity while protecting the environment. Nutrients that are not effectively utilized by crops have the potential to leach into groundwater or enter nearby surface waters via overland runoff or subsurface agricultural drainage systems. Too much nitrogen or phosphorus can impair water quality. Therefore, a major principle of crop nutrient management is to prevent the over-application of nutrients. This not only protects water quality but also benefits a farm's bottom line.
The keys to effective crop nutrient management are developing and following a yearly plan and conducting soil tests to determine the nutrient needs of crops. (Increasingly, soil nitrate testing before applying fertilizer and plant tissue testing are also used.) It is essential to keep good records on the rate, method and timing of all nutrient applications. It is also important to note the source of the nutrients, be they purchased fertilizers, manure or other bio-solids, legumes or irrigation water. Residual nutrients in the soil must also be accounted for. Keeping good records help farmers compare expenses and returns from year to year. In short, good records provide solid information that helps farmers and crop consultants decide whether and how to adjust nutrient application rates, methods and timing.
Another important element of nutrient management is to consider the application rates recommended by private or public sector specialists. In 2006, the University of Minnesota Extension estimated that 86% of Minnesota farmers could save more than $6/acre and 56% could save more than $10/acre in fertilizer costs by following UM recommended rates. This was based on calculations by roughly 700 Minnesota farmers who prepared their own nutrient management plans at Extension workshops.
There are many ways to fine-tune or modify nutrient application rates, methods and timing to ensure that nutrients are used as efficiently as possible. Below are some examples:
For water quality purposes, nutrient management is especially important on slopes, on soils with high phosphorus levels and in environmentally sensitive areas. Sensitive areas include shoreland (land near rivers, stream, lakes and wetlands), areas around sinkholes, wells and surface drainage inlets, areas with sandy soil or shallow soil over bedrock (especially fractured bedrock) and wherever groundwater is close to the surface.
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Guidance from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Nutrient Management in General
Also see Manure Management and Conservation Planning resources.
See contacts for specific programs that fund this practice in the side-by-side payment comparison or contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District