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Planning nutrient management prior to harvest

Planning nutrient management prior to harvest

Rock River Laboratory
Harvest is always a fast-paced season for growers, that's why it is important to meet nutrient management goals prior to harvest.

Harvest is always a fast-paced season for growers and nutrient management planners alike. With the busy schedule, including manure application, commercial fertilizer application, and tillage, it can be tough to find the time to establish a fertility game plan. That is why it is important to meet with your nutrient management planner prior to harvest.

“Pre-harvest meetings are also a good time to clear up any questions that may exist when it comes to manure application restriction maps,” says Scott Fleming, Rock River Laboratory Nutrient Management Specialist and Sampling Director. Fleming shares his insights on the key topics all farmers should discuss with their nutrient management planners prior to harvest season.

Rotation changes

Farming is a dynamic industry. Many factors can change cropping intentions.

“Whether it’s adding more corn to capture strong commodity markets, or alfalfa stands that will make it one more year before termination, a plan is constantly in need of updating,” explains Fleming. “Be prepared for nutrient management decisions by making a list of what alfalfa fields will be terminated.”

He also suggests creating a list of fields that will have rotational changes for pre-planning. Keep in mind that these cropping intentions are not set in stone, they are just a look into the future to guide the actions for optimal use of the ground available

Management changes

Just as crop rotations can change, so can other aspects of management – such as purchasing a new tillage implement that may change soil loss calculations. Another common example is beginning no-till planting of some or all crops.

“If the method chosen to work the soil changes, be sure to tell the planner. All of these changes are documented during the creation of the NMP,” shares Fleming.

Livestock changes

Changes in cattle numbers or composition are a constant when you are raising livestock. Fleming suggests, “be prepared by documenting approximate livestock numbers prior to meeting with your planner.”

The numbers should be broken down based on size. It is generally easiest for the farmer to break the groups down based on how they are housed on-farm. “The planner can then take these numbers and enter them into their manure generation estimator,” explains Fleming.

Fertility changes

Just like equipment is always being updated on-farm, so is the fertility program. This may be a change in starter fertilizer analysis or the addition of sidedress nitrogen.

“All commercial fertilizer applications must be documented as they occurred,” says Fleming. “Documenting all fertilizer applications offers potentially monumental benefits to the grower - including a reduction in bulk nitrogen fertilizer application due to crediting of all sources of fertilizer. The moderate amounts of nitrogen in phosphorus and sulfur fertilizers add up to reduce in-season nitrogen application.”

Failing to plan is planning to fail. A nutrient management plan is just that. It’s not a logbook for applications that have already occurred prior to the planning season. It’s not a document that is written once new soil samples are analyzed and then left on the shelf for four years. “A nutrient management plan is a living document that is meant to help decide how to use manure and fertilizer for the greatest benefit to the farmer and the environment,” states Fleming. “The only way to realize the true value of a plan is by revisiting it annually, prior to nutrient application season.”