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What is Nutrient Management?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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Nutrient management is the practice of applying nutrients, also known as fertilizing, when crops most need it while minimizing the effect on both local and surrounding areas. Applying the proper amount of fertilizer to a crop at the right time can maximize the yield. Improperly fertilizing crops can lead to groundwater contamination or runoff contamination of bodies of water nearby, such as a lake or ocean. Some farmers do not practice nutrient management due to the costs involved.

Potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus are important nutrients to plants. Crops need these nutrients the most during their growing season, which is usually around spring, but varies depending on the crop. The timing is especially critical when it comes to applying nitrogen and phosphorus. An appropriately timed application is not always made, however, because equipment and equipment operators are more widely available at other times.

In nutrient management, the amount of nutrients is also taken into account. The most efficient and beneficial amount differs from crop to crop. To determine this amount, a soil test is usually carried out by a local test lab. The soil test tells the farmer what nutrients are currently in the soil and how this affects the crops being grown there. Many farmers skip this nutrient management step in favor of applying the standard amount suggested by crop consultants or fertilizer dealers.

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When crop nutrition is not properly managed, both people and animals can be negatively affected. Some nutrients do not bind to soil and runoff during rainstorms. Excessive amounts of some nutrients can cause the rapid growth of algae that eventually consumes enough oxygen to suffocate animals that live in the water. For humans, groundwater contamination is a severe health hazard for newborns.

In some jurisdictions, a nutrient management plan is required by law. For example, the Mississippi region of the United States requires nutrient management planning under certain circumstances. These plans must adhere to the Practice Standards of the Mississippi Natural Resources Conservation Service and can be developed with the assistance of a local agent or other pre-approved provider of conservation planning services.

Nutrient management can also take place in an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO). Some countries require anyone who keeps a particular number of livestock animals to properly manage his or her waste and prevent contamination of nearby surface water. Properly managing manure can also maximize its nutrients as a crop fertilizer. Nutrient management that involves collecting the manure rather than applying it is more commonly called manure management.

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