Take the headache out of nutrient management planning

Posted on
October 27, 2022
Buffy Uglow    buffy_uglow@rockriverlab.com

By: Kerri Helwig, CCA, Agronomy data and customer support specialist

In 2021, DATCP reported that 3.2 million acres, or 35 percent of Wisconsin cropland, were covered under a nutrient management plan. The acres enrolled in nutrient management plans fluctuates slightly year to year, but there is an overall upward trend. This could be due to a myriad of factors. But, a major driver is the Wisconsin legislature’s awareness of the need to support agriculture operations now and in the future. Activity at the capitol has only increased funding and availability for grants to implement sustainable and conservation practices on farms over the last several years with Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) often listed as a requirement. I believe it is likely to continue, as well as spread to neighboring states.

In order to accommodate the increasing number of nutrient management plans, we have to be sure we are operating at peak accuracy and efficiency. Growers are relying on us to collect their data, get them a good plan written and meet the expectations of whoever is requiring it. With effective and efficient communication, it can be an extremely easy process. To help fulfill this ‘easy’ prophecy, I have a few suggestions that can ensure a seamless update or establishment of a new plan.

Hitting deadlines

Timely submission of the data-collection questionnaire is often critical for NMPs, especially if the grower is relying on it for grants or compliance. Plans are generally due to the county before the beginning of each growing season, but each county sets their own deadline for submission. Knowing that date is important! Data-collection questionnaires should be submitted to Rock River Laboratory weeks (or months!) in advance to ensure there are no issues getting the plan to the county on time. Check out your county’s website, or contact an agent for their due date. A directory of county agents can be found at https://wisconsinlandwater.org/members-hub/members.

Thorough info

A nutrient management plan can only be as good as the information it is created from. So, to have a good plan, you have to submit good information to the nutrient management planner. This means filling out the questionnaire as completely as possible. Answer all of the questions! Even if the answer is “none” or “NA” or even just an X through the space. It is better to be clear rather than to leave it blank- a blank space could just be a question that was overlooked. Overall, the more detailed the questionnaire, the less likely it is that the planner will need to reach out for more information. 

Don’t forget grazing!

I often see plans submitted without any pasture or grazing information, but when looking more closely at the questionnaire I see that there is in fact some kind of grazing situation on the farm. Grazing information is important because it allows the planner to allocate that manure volume to a pasture and therefore lower the amount that must be stored or allocated to crop fields. Information needed to generate a rate for grazing manure includes: number and type of animals, percentage of the day on the pasture, number of days of the year on the pasture, and the pasture acreage. Whether it’s beef animals on corn stubble in the fall or heifers on grass pasture in the summer- it impacts the manure balance.

Current soil data

Updating soil samples is important not only for maintaining compliance - but for having a better idea of what is happening in the field. Especially in fields that receive manure and other organic amendments. The nutrient content of organic amendments is extremely variable, and while book values and calculations exist, testing is the only way to know with certainty what impacts they have on the soil.

Whether it is to meet compliance with the DNR or to participate in a local watershed grant program, NMPs are a staple in Wisconsin agriculture. Following the tips above will help you stay sharp and the growers satisfied.

Have a great harvest, and we look forward to a successful 2023 planning season with you!

Posted in:
Agronomy, Nutrient Management