Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Nutrient Management Planning

Ed Palmer plans on applying 175 lbs of ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) per acre for spring application (March) on his orchardgrass pasture. Application is done with a spin-type spreader. Given the following information, use the weight area method to determine if the spreader is properly calibrated. Application width = 20 ft. Length of calibration area = 100 ft. The amount of fertilizer in the collection container after Ed has driven over the calibration area at his typical gate setting and driving speed is 8 lbs. 4 oz. How many lbs. per acre is Ed actually spreading?

I swear to goodness, I did not make that up. For the past two weeks, I've been dealing with mono-cropping word problems from hell in a nutrient management planning class that I've been taking. Maryland law dictates that anyone with over 8 animal units (1,000 lbs of animal) or $2,500 gross income from the farm must submit a nutrient management plan. In large part, I think this is a good thing, as it helps protect the Chesapeake Bay from over-application of fertilizers at the agricultural level. Of course it does nothing to address all those homeowners who are over-applying fertilizer and herbicides to have their pretty green lawns.

I fell into the NMP category because I gross—certainly not net—more than $2,500 with CSA sales. So, there I was, sitting in this class to become certified to write my own plan, which will help maintain a certain level of independence by doing it myself. The interesting and not surprising part of it all is that no one quite knew what to do with me. These kinds of things simply aren't written for such a small farm. Over and over again, I'd bump up against issues of scale. The form wanted to know how much poultry I had in units of 1,000 birds; I had .09. It wanted plans for each separate garden/ pasture plot along with acreage. My kitchen garden is 1/16th of an acre; my market garden is a 1/4 acre. It wanted to know how many tons of manure I spread on my gardens; I spread compost by the wheelbarrow full. It had space for just three kinds of animals; I have 7.

Luckily, there were several nice extension agents there who held my hand and shook their heads right along with me as we tried to translate what I do into terms that their software and forms could understand. I will need to start keeping track of my yields per row, using whatever units make sense—probably bushel baskets. Their smallest unit of measurement is 1,000 square feet: about half my kitchen garden, which has a couple dozen crops in it, certainly not a 1,000 sf of any single crop! I was surprised to learn how much poo each animal produces in a year, based on their averages. It's quite a bit, actually, but since most of the year I have the animals spreading it themselves, I'm not collecting, storing, and spreading it, nor am I burning the fossil fuels needed to do so. Of course, I'm not feeding my animals like the large confinement operations either, so there's a good chance that those numbers don't accurately reflect our reality.

But, I've passed my exam and written my plan and can now say that despite the difficulties of scale, I am now in full-compliance with the law.


Christy said...

What do you think about what Joel Salatin had to say about Nutrient Management Plans? He seemed to think they did more harm than good, at least on a large scale.

Pichinde said...

Wow, what a headache.

At least you're compliant, aye? lol


karl said...

google says there are 43560 sq feet per acre. 8 pounds 4 ounces for 2000 square feet or 132 ounces for 2000 square feet. at .066 ounces per square foot that is 2875.96 ounces per acre. or 179.68 pounds per acre.
179 pounds 10.88 ounces

did i get it?

Woody said...

Huh? can I copy off my neighbor?

Danielle said...

Awww, geez, Karl, now you've gone and made me have to figger it own my own, and yes, I also got 179. My little formula tells me to multiply for square feet, divide the lbs by sf, then multiply by 43,560 to get the lbs/ acre.

Sheesh. Some people. ;)

Woody, yeah, that's pretty much how I felt when it came to the calculation questions, and I'm sure those are the ones I got wrong. I just freeze up when it comes to math.

Sarah, yup, I'm a docile body. What can I say?

Christy, I'll have to take a look at what Salatin has to say. Off the top of my head, there are definitely some downsides to the NMP process.

First of all, sacrifice areas don't need to be figured as long as the manure's not being collected. Total manure output is reported on the final form, but the focus is really on collected and applied manure. Often with these old farms, you'll see a barn right next to a stream, and all that sacrifice area run-off is heading you-know-where. That's a really big problem in terms of the water health.

Secondly, there's the possibility of NMP requirements forcing a farmer to purchase synthetic fertilizers in order to control the N-P-K numbers rather than applying their own animal manure/ compost. So, for instance, if phosphorous levels are too high on the farm—a likely scenario in Maryland and one of the biggest Bay issues—a farmer may be told not to apply any additional P at all, which means no manure applications. That translates into purchasing Nitrogen only fertilizers and trucking manure off-farm. That's a real problem, imo.

At any rate, I'll read what Salatin has to say and share my thoughts.

linda said...

Well, thought i had finally slipped into some alternate reality when i dropped by your blog last night.
i've spent the week computing nutrient related problems - 'If you need to apply a 1 lb per acre nutrient to the 80' d. drip area (not to be confused with the 160' d. root area) of a tree, how much do you need?' - for the MMG program i was crazy enough to sign up for (i was sort of inspired to do this by you) which started before our busy season had actually settled down.
So, it took me actually making myself focus to understand that you were involved in a similar process.
i think, with a little help from my ex math teacher dh, the answer is 179.69... and i wonder will Ed Palmer will get in *trouble* for the overspread?
Also, do you all have to work with 'Baywise' up there? And if so, do large farms report what they are spreading?

Glad you were able to come up with a *plan*... and that things are still going well.

Hope to see you soon... we still miss you down here!


sugarcreekfarm said...

Oy, what a headache! My hat's off to you.

Erikka said...

congratulations on completing your own plan. it must be more work for you, but i wonder if it is not useful for you to see all the different aspects of farming and government?

i found out that the farm I was talking about is called The Small Farm Institute.


Hayden said...

eiiii! my head hurts just thinking about it!

Nita said...

Jeez - I thought we had it bad in Oregon. Our farm is now zoned CFU (Commercial Forest Use) so now we have to "prove" that we're farming. So even though my family has farmed this land continously for more than 100 years, we still have to fill out these ridiculous forms. Meanwhile our hobby farming neighbors with a pygmy goat, and a pot belly pig qualify for a farm exemption on their taxes. Love your blog - check out our new one. I like reading farm blogs from around the country. It's too bad we aren't all closer together. Thanks for all the time you spend on your post and pics.
Visit me at

Danielle said...

Thanks to all for the commiseration!

linda, are you going for your master gardener's certification? That's something I've wanted to do for years—I keep saying as soon as the kids are old enough to get away a bit. Good for you!

Nita, I really enjoyed visiting your blog and look forward to reading many more posts about your amazing farm. Thanks for leaving a link.