The keys to making a voluntary nutrient management plan

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We have all heard of H2Ohio in the Western Lake Erie Basin by now. The collaborative effort in reducing phosphorus levels to prevent algal blooms in Lake Erie. Maybe we haven’t put much thought into it because it is not our watershed, and we haven’t had to deal with it directly on our farms. This doesn’t mean that it is any less important for us. 

One way or another we will also have some of the same regulations in the Ohio River Watershed at some point. While phosphorus may not be the biggest pollutant problem in all our watersheds, like in the Western Lake Erie Basin, other nutrient runoff can be reduced with many different conservation practices. 

While many producers have nutrient management plans in place already the voluntary nutrient management plans (VNMP) will play a big role in all of this. There are four main requirements for the VNMP: soil testing, nutrient application documentation, identification of nutrients applied and field information. 

All the record-keeping information can be found in OAC-901:5-4-04. Some examples of record-keeping are date, place, acres applied to, rate, amount of fertilizer, soil conditions and current and future weather. Although not known at this time, there may be some sort of cost-share per acre for the VMNP and practices being applied. 

There are many conservation practices that can help reduce non-point source pollution to our streams, rivers and lakes. Some of the main one along with their purpose are listed below. 

You should always begin with soil testing. It should be the basis for all nutrient management decisions. The most important thing on a soil test is the date. Since nutrients are one of the largest input costs on the farm, we want to make sure we are only purchasing and applying what we need, especially with the current price of fertilizer. 

Variable-rate fertilization: Applying specific nutrient levels based on the needs of each acre to reduce fertilizer application without reducing crop yields. 

Subsurface nutrient application: Applying fertilizer below the surface to reduce nutrient loss. 

Manure incorporation: Injecting manure into the soil to keep it in place and minimize nutrient runoff. 

Cover crops: Planted after the cash crop to reduce erosion, hold nutrients in place and improve soil health. 

Conservation crop rotation: Planting crops in rotation each year reduces erosion, runoff, and sediment. 

Edge of field buffers: Planting trees, shrubs, and grasses between a crop field and stream to filter and absorb any nutrient runoff. 

Wetlands: Vegetation and soils of wetlands absorb nutrients, slow down water movement, and allow nutrients to filter and settle out. 

Drainage water management: Slowing down runoff to give nutrients more time to settle back into the soil. 

Two-stage ditch construction: Creating modified drainage ditches to slow water flow and allow nutrients to settle. 

While this is a voluntary program, I hope everyone can come together to see the need for these plans to get conservation on the ground and improve our water quality all across Ohio. You can contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District to find out more about the program in the near future and develop a plan that works best for you.

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