1C – Nutrient Management

Content last updated June 23, 2014

Management Measure

Develop, implement, and periodically update a nutrient management plan to (1) apply nutrients at rates necessary to achieve realistic crop yields, (2) improve the timing of nutrient application, and (3) use agronomic crop production technology to increase nutrient use efficiency.

Management Practices

The purpose of this management practice is to reduce the nutrient loss from agricultural lands, which occurs through edge-of-field runoff or leaching from the root zone. The most effective way to manage nutrients is to develop a nutrient management plan (NMP) in accordance with USDA NRCS Standard 590. NMPs should be updated at least once every 5 years or once per crop rotation period. Records of nutrient use and sources should be maintained for easy reference. Components of an NMP include the following:

  • Farm and field maps with identified and labeled: acreage and type of crops, soil surveys, location of any environmental sensitive areas including any nearby water bodies and endangered species habitats.

  • Realistic yield expectations for the crop(s) to be grown based primarily on the producer’s yield history, State Land Grant University yield expectations for the soil series, or USDA NRCS Soils-5 information for the soil series.

  • A summary of the nutrient resources available to the producer, which (at a minimum) include (a) soil test results for pH, phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium; (b) nutrient analysis of manure, sludge, mortality compost (birds, pigs, etc.), or effluent (if applicable); (c) nitrogen contribution to the soil from legumes grown in rotation (if applicable); and (d) other significant nutrient sources (e.g., irrigation water).

  • An evaluation of the field limitations and development of appropriate buffer areas, based on environmental hazards or concerns such as (a) sinkholes, shallow soils over fractured bedrock, and soils with high leaching potential; (b) lands near or draining into surface water; (c) highly erodable soils; and (d) shallow aquifers.

  • Use of the limiting nutrient concept to establish a mix of nutrient sources and requirements for the crop based on realistic yield expectations.

  • Identification of timing and application methods for nutrients to (a) provide nutrients at rates necessary to achieve realistic yields, (b) reduce losses to the environment, and (c) avoid applications as much as possible to frozen soil and during periods of leaching or runoff.

  • Provisions for the proper calibration and operation of nutrient application equipment.

  • Provisions to ensure that, when manure from confined animal facilities (excluding CAFOs) is to be used as a soil amendment or is disposed of on land, subsequent irrigation of the land does not leach excess nutrients to surface or ground waters.

  • Vegetated Treatment Systems are discussed in Management Measure 6C of this NPS Encyclopedia.


  • Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) is a program to help growers enhance environmental quality while maintaining yields and profits. BIFS projects use on-farm demonstrations and a collaborative model of outreach and extension involving public-private partnerships.

  • California Certified Crop Advisors (CCA) can help producers grow economically and environmentally sound crops. The California CCA program is a voluntary certification program for individuals who provide advice to growers on crop management and inputs. Their Web site lists certified crop advisors for California. For more information contact the California CCA (Telephone: (916) 928-1625).

  • California Dairy Quality Assurance (CDQA) Program was created to assist dairy producers with navigating and complying with the rules and regulations governing the industry. The CDQA program is a voluntary partnership between dairy producers, government agencies, and academia to address environmental stewardship, animal welfare, and food safety issues. The environmental stewardship module has three components: education, self-assessment, and third-party evaluation, terminating in certification, and focuses on compliance with federal, state, and local water quality regulations. A comprehensive checklist is used as the assessment tool in the certification process.

Information Resources

  • California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) was created to advance the environmentally safe and agronomically sound use and handling of fertilizer materials. FREP facilitates and coordinates research and demonstration projects by providing funding and developing and disseminating information. It funds research to develop information on crops, irrigation methods, and nitrate in the soil as well as other environmental issues related to fertilizer use, such as heavy metals.

  • Fawecett, R., A Review of BMPs for Crop Nutrients and Conservation Tillage to Improve Water Quality. This paper is published on the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and provides information on nutrient management.

  • Midwest Plan Services, Livestock and Poultry Curriculum: Module D Land Application and Nutrient Management is a national curriculum developed for U.S. livestock and poultry industry advisors and producers to help them acquire certification and achieve environmentally sustainable production systems.

  • USDA Natural Resrouces Conservation Service, Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans provides guidance to agricultural producers in developing and writing CNMPs. The site provides visitors with national and state-specific information to complete the manure management, land application, and nutrient management planning required for animal feeding operations. The site includes news, events, case studies, tools, technologies, guidelines and regulations, and links to other pertinent information.

  • UC Davis, Pomology Department: Nitrogen Fertilization Recommendation for Almond. This model calculates the nitrogen requirement for almond production based upon the yield history, current conditions, and previous nitrogen applications. This model can be used to calculate both timing and rate of fertilizer application required to maintain optimum yield. Site-specific information is required for accurate projection of nitrogen requirement; hence this model should be applied to each distinct management unit, such as a block or field. The data used in this model were derived from exhaustive tree-nitrogen budget determinations.

  • University of California, Davis, Department of Animal Sciences: Dairy Waste Management offers tools for planning and designing dairy waste management facilities, estimating the nutrient application rate of dairy manure, and assessing the risk to ground and surface water resources.

  • University of Purdue, Manure Management Planner is a Windows-based computer program developed at Purdue University that's used to create manure management plans for crop and animal feeding operations. The user enters information about the operation's fields, crops, storage, animals, and application equipment. MMP helps the user allocate manure (where, when and how much) on a monthly basis for the length of the plan (1-10 years). This allocation process helps determine if the current operation has sufficient crop acreage, seasonal land availability, manure storage capacity, and application equipment to manage the manure produced in an environmentally responsible manner. MMP is also useful for identifying changes that may be needed for a non-sustainable operation to become sustainable, and determine what changes may be needed to keep an operation sustainable if the operation expands.

  • USDA NRCS, Nutrient Management: this Website contains planning tools, databases on comprehensive nutrient management planning.

  • USDA NRCS, Web Soil Survey provides a mechanism to access our official SSURGO/STATSGO soil survey data. It does not physically store the pre-packaged datasets, but instead generates them in real-time as a request is made from a customer. The Soil Data Mart will only provide access to the current version of data for a soil survey area.

  • USEPA National Agriculture Compliance Center, Crops: provides information about environmental requirements specifically relating to the production of many types of agricultural crops, including food, feed, and fiber crops, and specialty crops, such as tobacco, herbs, spices, mushrooms, seed crops, and aquatic plants.


USDA. No date. Electronic Field Office Technical Guide for California. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service.

USEPA. 2002. Chapter 4: Management Measures. In National Management Measures for the Control of Nonpoint Pollution from Agriculture. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC.

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