NRCS revises nutrient management standard


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.

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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.


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  1. The USDA NRCS needs reform to prepare for the future corn cob expansion of the POET ethanol plant in Ohio Seneca County near Fostoria, OH. Policy M_180_NFSA_511_B needs to be revised to use current year data instead of 1990 data. In some cases, USDA NRCS personnel are over-regulating private landowners by continuing to use obsolete 1990 data in making Highly Erodible Land (HEL) Determinations. Taxpayer dollars need to be used effectively and the USDA mission to be focused by using the best available science data in making HEL Determinations.

    The Problem: When will the best available science (current year versus 1990 data) be used by the NRCS to correct Highly Erodible Land Determinations so that corn cobs may be used for ethanol production without restriction?

  2. 1a. Past 1990 Data: M_180_NFSA_511_B – Subpart B – Determining HEL Fields for HELC Administration; 511.11 – Determining Highly Erodible Fields; The Highly Erodible Soil Map Unit List. The Highly Erodible Soil Map Unit List and associated FOTG data that was prepared as of January 1, 1990, will be used for ALL HEL determinations. For the Blount BoB Hi soil type in Ohio, Seneca County this may result in an RKLS factor of 25.3 with an R of 125; K of 0.43; and LS of 0.47. The Erosion Index (EI) needs to be greater than 8 to be Highly Erodible. EI=RKLS/T. In 1990, T was 3 for BoB soil resulting in EI=8.4.
    1b. Year 2009 Data: The Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation Version 2 (RUSLE 2) currently uses a BoB soil K of 0.37 and T of 4 that would result in an EI=5.4 (less than 8 meaning fields identified as highly erodible using 1990 data can be non-highly erodible using the best available science). These values are consistent with Seneca County, Ohio Table A-5.–Conservation Security Program Planning Data. Additional changes exist for many soils (e.g. Glynwood GxB2). How long will multiple sets of numbers continue to be used?


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