The USDA released the new revised nutrient management standard on Tuesday. The standard will be used by the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service to help farmers and ranchers apply fertilizer and manure more efficiently. The release of the new standard follows assessments in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Upper Mississippi River basin, and the Great Lakes basin.
"Protecting America's supply of clean and abundant water is an important objective for USDA," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. "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."
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.
According to Vilsack, 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.
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 cropland studies. 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.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued support of the revision saying the new recommendations will most likely lead to increased demand for alternative uses for manure, including waste-to-energy plants that also have environmental benefits.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.