WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Natural Resources Conservation Service is revising its nutrient standards to help improve nutrient management on farms across the country.
NRCS Chief Dave White briefed reporters on the change during a Dec. 13 conference call. The national standard — known as the Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standard — will see more emphasis on what officials are calling the “4-Rs” of nutrient use: The right amount, applied at the right rate, at the right time and with the right placement.
The national standard serves as a basis for all states to follow, but the revised standard also provides more flexibility so states can work with local officials and farmers, to address issues on a more local basis.
“We believe we have achieved a scientifically credible approach that will result in real environmental protection while maintaining the flexibility that a producer needs to stay in business,” White said.
He said all NRCS standards are updated every four-five years, but this one definitely stands out.
“This one by far engenders the most controversy and interest,” he said.
In Ohio, farmers have been working with farm organizations, as well as the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio EPA to devise new statewide nutrient standards that are appropriate for the environment and for agriculture.
The 4-Rs have been a popular theme throughout the group’s discussions, as well as the possibility of adding new regulations to fertilizer and nutrient application, and voluntary educational programs.
A big concern for livestock producers is maintaining the right to apply manure during the winter, and before manure storage lagoons reach holding capacity. White estimated about 25 states will be most affected by the new standards, and said allowing the states flexibility to resolve the issue locally will be good for farmers who may have different needs based on different regions of the country.
The new standard orders NRCS staff offices to comply with erosion, nitrogen and phosphorus criteria for their state nutrient management standard by Jan. 1, 2013.
Kevin Elder, director of Ohio’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, said he was pleased to see the emphasis on the 4R concept, which Ohio’s nutrient work group already has been pushing.
He is still reviewing the changes in the standard, but said Ohio likely will have as aggressive, or more aggressive of a standard as the national mandate.
“They’ll (NRCS) allow flexibility but at the same time we (in Ohio) need to make sure that water quality issues are addressed,” he said.
A wide range of issues are currently being researched, including how the phosphorus travels to Ohio’s water bodies and the best conservation, tillage and nutrient application methods.
The Ohio work group is expected to make recommendations to Gov. John Kasich by February.
White said NRCS is currently determining the effectiveness of conservation practices by using Conservation Effects Assessment Projects — multiagency partnerships with federal and state government, universities and nonprofits, to conduct and analyze thousands of soil condition tests.
CEAPS were recently used in a Great Lakes regional study, which confirmed farmers’ conservation practices have resulted in a 50 percent decline in sediment entering rivers and streams, along with 36 and 37 percent declines, respectively, in phosphorus and nitrogen loading.