USDA Revises National Standard to Improve Nutrient Efficiency and Water Quality

On December 13th, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the publication of its revised 590 Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standard to help producers better manage the application of nutrients on agricultural land.  The nutrient management standard provides a roadmap for NRCS’s staff and others to help producers apply available nutrient sources using the four “R’s approach:  the Right amount, from the Right source, in the Right place, at the Right time for maximum agricultural and environmental benefits.

While the standard offers a holistic approach to nutrient management with a goal of protecting water quality, several items in the standard for state water programs to be aware of include:

  • The exception for applying fertilizer on frozen soil “when specified conditions are met and adequate conservation measures are installed to prevent the offsite delivery of nutrients” (see standard page 590-3); and
  • The requirement for a “NRCS-approved nutrient risk assessment for phosphorus to be completed (see standard page 590-1) when:
    • The phosphorus application rate exceeds land-grant university fertility rate guidelines for the planned crop(s), or
    • The planned area is within a phosphorus impaired watershed (contributes to 303d-listed water bodies), or
    • Where the NRCS and State water quality control authority have not determined specific conditions where the risk of phosphorus loss is low.”

USDA will begin training with its state conservationists next week on the revised standard and will encourage them to work with the appropriate state water quality agencies to target technical and financial assistance to farmers.  State drinking water programs should reach out to their water quality programs and state conservationist to help prioritize drinking water protection.

To review the revised standard and to learn more about how nutrient management fits into NRCS’s conservation work, visit the USDA web site at: