Why a nutrient management plan?

Tom Basden
Nutrient Management Specialist
WVU Extension Service

Congress passed the Clean Water Act nearly 30 years ago to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters and achieve water quality levels that are fishable and swimmable. Initially, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concentrated on industrial point source and sewage treatment sources of pollutants.

The Clean Water Action Plan, announced in 1998, refocused the cleanup of surface waters to include nonpoint sources of pollution. This type of pollution typically is described as coming from lawn care, agriculture, forestry, and construction activities. These nonpoint sources include livestock operations described by EPA as animal feeding operations (AFO) or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). An AFO is a feeding operation that does not have to be regulated; a CAFO is a regulated feeding operation that has been inspected and found to be a significant contributor of water pollution or that has more than 1,000 animal units in its operation.

Livestock owners and operators are becoming familiar with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). This system is being revised to address nonpoint source discharges. If approved, the system would identify individual livestock operations as an AFO or a CAFO, and then issue a permit to the operator if discharges of pollutants are found to be coming from the operation. These permits will require the implementation of a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) to address the nutrient, sediment, or pathogen discharges.

A nutrient management plan has six components. Four are necessary and two depend on the individual operation.

  1. Proper storage of manure and maintenance of the storage structure.
  2. Proper land application of the manure.
  3. Appropriate site management that looks at the risks on a particular field, such as sinkholes, streams running through the field, shallow groundwater, or erosion that needs to be controlled.
  4. Record keeping that documents land practices, so that if anyone has questions, there is proof of what is being done and why.

The two optional components under the plan are:

  1. Feed management to improve feed efficiency so that nutrient content of manure is reduced.
  2. Alternative uses for the manure. This component is needed by producers whose operations generate more manure than can be applied on their own land.

An NPDES permit will include a schedule for completing a nutrient management plan and the requirement that it be maintained and updated. The livestock operation’s owner is responsible for the development, implementation, and maintenance of the plan.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s role is to provide technical guidance in writing nutrient management plans. Independent certified planners or certified staff from the Soil Conservation Agency and WVU Extension Service also are available to area livestock producers interested in developing a plan.

Nutrient management planners in the Northeast are preparing to respond to the 80 percent of landowners who own livestock who are expected to have a nutrient management plan within the next three to five years. The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) has established a nutrient management certification program. Individuals are fulfilling the certification requirements in anticipation of the future workload.

West Virginia livestock producers should not see nutrient management planning as a regulatory hoop to jump through. It is a management tool that can improve farm profitability. Over the last 10 years, many farmers developed nutrient management plans before this regulatory pressure arose so they could safely apply nutrients to their farmland and get the most nutrient value from their animal manure.

A nutrient management plan is a method of demonstrating that the farm operator is minimizing the environmental impacts of raising livestock while improving the efficiency of the operation. Regulators will be looking at groups of farmers in watersheds to adopt nutrient management strategies as a whole. If groups of farmers voluntarily implement nutrient management plans, it eventually will allow them to defend themselves in situations where agriculture is accused of creating environmental problems.

If you are a livestock producer, how well do you recycle the animal manure generated on your farm? How well do you manage the winter feeding area on the farm? Are you currently using a nutrient management plan that is updated annually by a certified planner? If a Division of Environmental Protection officer visited your operation, could you document how you are minimizing erosion, utilizing manure, and applying fertilizer at the right time and rate?

Why do you need a nutrient management plan? Because a nutrient management plan makes sense from the environmental, risk management, and economic points of view. At this time, the WVDA has 42 certified nutrient management planners throughout the state. Contact the WVDA at (304) 558-2201 for assistance in locating one of these certified planners. The planner will help you become prepared for the changing regulatory environment and improve your ability to defend the actions you take on your farm.