Water Quality

Nutrient Management

Small, pasture-based dairy farms along the north coast of California face a unique set of management challenges both economically and environmentally. In recent years, stricter water quality standards, rising energy and feed costs, and a shift to organic dairy farming have all converged to increase demand for more intensive management of silage fields and pastures. Throughout the country, there is a clear trend towards developing more sustainable agricultural production systems. The concept of comprehensive nutrient management planning has developed over the last decade to provide dairy operators with clear definitions and technical guidance on ways to optimize the value of manure nutrients, while at the same time reducing potential nutrient losses to the environment in stormwater runoff and leaching to groundwater.

According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), the purposes of a nutrient management plan are:

Nutrient Management Planning is a tool that can help ensure that you are getting optimal forage production from your pastures and silage fields. The goal of nutrient management planning is to apply the right amount of each nutrient required for plant growth at the proper time, based on crop/forage requirements and soil nutrient availability—this is what is meant by agronomic rate. The best on-farm source of nutrients is manure. Determining the amount of manure generated on the dairy, the amount of manure nutrients that will be available to growing crops and forages, and the appropriate application rates for individual farm fields can be a difficult process. Recognizing and accounting for potential nutrient losses to the environment during the handling, storage, and application of manure is an additional challenge.

Nutrient Management Planning Involves:

Basic Components of a nutrient management plan

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