Nutrient Management

Crops need nutrients to grow and thrive, but effective nutrient management is not one-size-fits-all. A nutrient management plan is specific to your land, the crops you grow, and many other factors that change over time. No matter the crops you produce or size of your operation, USDA can help you reduce input costs, maximize yields, and efficiently manage nutrients to support your bottom line and protect the environment. 

On average, farmers can save nearly $30 per acre on land currently receiving excess nutrients by implementing a nutrient management plan. Watch USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie discuss the importance of nutrient management.

SMART Nutrient Management

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with farmers to develop nutrient management plans that optimize plant yields while reducing the amount of nutrients lost to the environment, where they can impact greenhouse gas emissions and air and water quality.

SMART Nutrient Management includes the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship – the right Source, right Method, right Rate, and right Timing – and emphasizes smart activities to reduce nutrient loss by Assessment of comprehensive, site-specific conditions.

A SMART Nutrient Management Plan considers all conditions on the farm and how they influence one another. It is tailored to the unique farm location, soil, climate, crops grown, management conditions, and other site-specific factors.

Below are the factors to consider when developing a SMART Nutrient Management Plan.

SMART seal

Get Help with a SMART Nutrient Management Plan for Your Land

NRCS offers voluntary programs and free one-on-one technical assistance to support a range of conservation goals, including nutrient management. Contact the NRCS office at your local USDA Service Center to get started with a nutrient management plan for utilizing and applying nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) on your cropland operation.

A local NRCS conservationist can help you evaluate your specific nutrient needs, assess your site-specific risks for nutrient and soil loss, and discuss opportunities to address those risks. This will result in a plan that includes details such as:

  • Soil information – soil type, surface texture, drainage class, permeability, available water capacity, depth to water table, restrictive features, and flooding and ponding frequency.
  • Available test results – for soil, water, compost, manure, organic by-product, and/or plant tissue sample analyses – to be leveraged in planning.
  • Results of appropriate risk assessments for potential N, P, and erosion losses specific to your operation.
  • Crop nutrient budget for the crop rotation, using your recent crop average yields.
  • Science-based recommendations for the right source, application method, rate, and timing for all nutrient sources that are planned for use.
  • Tips to support implementation and maintenance of your individual nutrient management plan.

Many of the tools for nutrient management planning don’t require a big investment. Using methods like soil and manure testing, in-season plant tissue testing, enhanced efficiency fertilizer products, and split application are examples of low-cost ways for managing nutrients more efficiently.


Climate-Smart Agriculture and Nutrient Management

Nutrient management is an important part of climate-smart agriculture. Excess nutrients on the land can lead to nitrogen losses to the atmosphere. Nutrient management maximizes crop-nitrogen uptake and has a compelling and cost-effective role to play in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

The Inflation Reduction Act will deliver $19.5 billion in new conservation funding to support climate-smart agriculture, including for NRCS to improve opportunities for nutrient management. NRCS will target funding, increasing program flexibilities, launch a new outreach campaign to promote nutrient management’s economic benefits, and expand partnerships to develop nutrient management plans. This is part of USDA’s broader effort to address future fertilizer availability and cost challenges for U.S. producers.

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Find Your Local Service Center

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