Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Long-Anticipated Revised National Nutrient Management Standard Issued by USDA

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has revised its national conservation practice standard on nutrition management, and released that standard ("Standard 590" - available here as a PDF file), along with an accompanying general National Nutrient Management Policy manual and National Instruction, earlier this afternoon (December 13).  In a press release accompanying the standard's publication, USDA said that it is the intent of the "national conservation practice standard on nutrient management to help producers better manage the application of nutrients on agricultural land," while protecting and improving "ground and surface water, air quality, soil quality and agricultural sustainability."

NRCS Chief Dave White, in a morning briefing for agricultural and environmental stakeholders prior to the standard's release, said that the revised standard will emphasize the concepts of (1) the four "Rs" of nutrient management (Right Source of Nutrients, Right Time of Application, Right Rate, and Right Method of Application); (2) new and advanced technologies, such as adaptive nutrient management; (3) soil nutrient tolerance levels; (4) coordination of multiple practices; and (5) effective management of manure (i.e., relating to application to frozen, snow-covered and saturated soils).  The nutrient management conservation practice is an important tool  to help farmers and ranchers apply their nutrients efficiently, while still assuring the protection of the nation's water resources, White stressed.

Two controversial issues addressed in the revised standard include manure application to frozen (or snow-covered or saturated) soils and phosphorus application management.

The standard will still generally preclude the direct application of manure to frozen ground, as did its predecessor.  But NRCS believes that there may be some conditions under which such applications could occur without degrading water bodies if additional nutrient control measures were to be implemented to protect water quality.  The standard will allow for that flexibility in such instances.

With respect to phosphorus application, NRCS has adopted the use of a phosphorus index - a risk-based evaluation tool - to estimate on a case-by-case basis the risk of phosphorus moving into waterways, and then plan phosphorus management accordingly (applying less when the risk is higher than when the risk is lower, and potentially adding additional conservation measures where a high risk warrants such action).

State NRCS offices will have one year during which to fully implement and be in compliance with the revised standard.  States have the ability to make further adjustments to the standard in an effort to improve its effectiveness before they are put into practice at the state level.

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