Data Collection for Nutrient Management Plan Development

The first step in nutrient management plan development is the gathering of all the pieces of information that need to be included in the plan or are used in the process of developing a complete plan. Following is a “comprehensive” list of the information that needs to be collected before beginning to write an Act 38 nutrient management plan.

Beginning Act 38 nutrient management plan writers, when faced with writing their first nutrient management plan, are understandably met with a daunting task.  After making arrangements with a farmer to write a nutrient management plan for their operation, the immediate question is, “Where do I start?”

The first step in nutrient management plan development is gathering all of the information necessary to fully complete the plan.

The primary purpose of this planning resource is to provide, as much as possible, a comprehensive list of all information that needs to be collected before beginning to write an Act 38 nutrient management plan.  Using this list will help planners to be more efficient in the collection of data by avoiding repeated visits to the farm or calls to the operator.

However, for this data collection list to be helpful planners must invest some time in reviewing and understanding each of specific items listed.  Simply setting up an appointment with the farmer and showing up with this list will be largely frustrating and unproductive.

Beginning planners are encouraged to review each item on the data collection list and determine the source of each information item.  The items should then be organized into source categories.  Following are some possible categories with a few examples for each category:

  • Farmer Interview – pasture management (season length and hours on pasture), manure incorporation management, manure sampling protocol, crop rotation, yield goals, etc.
  • Farm Records & Documents – soil test reports, manure analysis reports, conservation plans, calibration records, etc.
  • On Site Evaluation (may also involve farmer) – animal concentration areas, manure storage and handling, pasture animal congregation areas, stormwater runoff areas, etc.
  • Online or References – special protection watersheds, animal weights, soil test recommendations, rainfall additions to manure groups, P Index contributing distance, etc.

After becoming familiar with the range of plan writing data needed and organizing into categories, it may be helpful to prepare a written document to give to the farmer prior to the initial data collection visit.  This document could include the following:

  • A brief overview of what the data collection visit will entail including what will be expected of the farmer and a realistic estimate of the time required.
  • A list of documents and records, such as soil test reports, that should be readily available for the visit.
  • A list of the possible questions that will be asked during the data collection visit.
  • Tables or charts for the farmer to record field by field cropping information and history, animal group information, manure group information such as bedding amounts, etc.

Investing this kind of preparation into the data collection process will make it less intimidating and much more efficient.

Critical Information

(If missing, can render the NMP administratively incomplete.)

  • Current soil tests for each CMU/Field from laboratories using the Mehlich 3 test for P.  Tests must be within 3 years of the plan submission date. Tests combining fields into a CMU must meet the CMU and acreage requirements.  Soil test reports must be on file on the operation.
  • Current manure analyses for each manure group.  The latest test must be within 1 year of the plan submission date and include the required analyses.  Manure analysis reports must be on file on the operation.
  • Calibration records, including tractor make and model, spreader make and model, tractor settings, spreader settings, and calibration method, for each planned manure application rate that will be included in the plan.  The records of the calibration events must be on file on the operation.  If a commercial manure hauler or broker is used, obtain their calibrated rates.
  • Verification of the existence of a current Ag E&S or Conservation Plan.
  • Verification of the existence of Site Specific Emergency Response Plan addressing all manure storages and manure application.
  • Verification, if applicable, of notification the owners of rented/leased land to be included in the plan.

Operator Information

  • Operator name(s), address, phone number(s).  Operation address if different from operator’s address.

Operation Information

  • Counties (in-state and out-of-state) where the operation is located.
  • Names of receiving stream(s) and/or watershed(s) on the operation.
  • Identification of special protection watershed(s) on the operation.
  • Identification of each property (farm), owned and rented, that is an integral part of the operation.  Total acreage and acreage available for nutrient application for each farm.
  • Names and addresses of owners of rented or leased land.

Farm Maps & Mapping Information

  • Operation boundaries for each farm; owned and rented.
  • Roads and road names adjacent to and within the operation.
  • Field boundaries, identification number and/or name, and acreage.
  • Location and type of each landscape feature that will require a manure application restriction area or setback delineation – perennial streams, intermittent streams, lakes, ponds, open sinkholes, active private drinking water sources, public drinking water sources, above-ground intakes to agricultural drainage systems, and NWI wetlands.
  • Determination of whether a setback or buffer will be used for each required restriction area.
  • Location of existing or proposed structural BMPs including manure storages and animal concentration areas.
  • Location of existing or proposed in-field and emergency stacking areas.
  • Identification of the soil types and slopes covering all acreage included in the plan.
  • Topographic map to scale.

Animal Information

  • Identify each animal group (types and ages) present on the operation during the year.
  • Number of animals in each animal group on a typical production day.
  • Weight of animals in each animal group and, if necessary, beginning and ending weights for growing animals.  Documentation if weights are not in the Standard Weights Table.
  • Number of days each animal group is present on the operation during the year.
  • Description of animal housing and management systems, including handling, collection, and storage of manure.

Manure Storage Information

  • For each existing storage on the operation – location of storage, type of storage, dimensions, useable capacity, freeboard, top or bottom loaded, dimensions and description of contributing runoff area, description of wastewater additions, types and amounts of bedding.
  • For each proposed manure storage on the operation – type of storage, dimensions, volume, and free board.

Manure Group Information

  • Actual manure production records if available; loads hauled, storage levels.
  • Manure group name, storage location, and season of application for each manure group included in the plan.
  • Number and weight of each animal group that contributes to the manure group.
  • Beginning and ending month timeframe and total number of days manure is collected for each manure group.
  • Rainfall and runoff information for each manure group – surface area dimensions of roofs and animal concentration areas that contribute water to the storage.  Surface area dimensions of storages that receive rainwater.
  • Type and amount of washwater or waste water added to each manure group.
  • Type and amount of bedding added to each manure group.
  • Pasture and grazing management information – overall beginning and ending month timeframe of the grazing season for each pastured animal group, specific pastures (fields) grazed by each pastured animal group, source(s) of water (barn and/or pasture) during grazing season, and location of supplemental feeding (barn and/or pasture) during the grazing season.
  • Uncollected manure information for each animal group that is pastured during the collection period of each manure group – number and weight of animals, number of days on pasture during the manure group period, and number of hours per day on pasture during the manure group period.
  • Sources, types, amounts, and application seasons of other organic sources of nutrients such as biosolids, compost, imported manure, etc.

Crop and Manure Management Information

  • Crop rotation including crops, sequence of crops, and number of years for each crop.
  • For each Field/CMU – identification number, acreage, cropping history (previous crop, planned crop), expected yield, manure application history (type, typical rate, analysis, frequency), legume crop history (yield, quality), planned fertilizer management regardless of manure application (type, rate and analysis), and other planned organic nutrients (type, rate and analysis).
  • Manure application season.
  • Manure application management; specifically incorporation timing.

Phosphorus Index Information

  • For each Field/CMU - erosion soil loss values, subsurface drainage, contributing distance, and modified connectivity.
  • Management changes operator is willing to consider to lower P Index values.

Manure Management Evaluation

(Manure Storages & Animal Concentration Areas)

  • Identification of all sites to be evaluated, including feeding, watering, and shade areas in pastures.  Refer to Appendix 6: Manure Management in the Nutrient Management Technical Manual for a comprehensive listing of these sites and locations.
  • Evaluate each identified site, recording a listing of inadequate manure management practices and conditions and listing specific BMPs and management changes to address each of issues identified.  Refer to Appendix 6: Manure Management in the Nutrient Management Technical Manual for guidance on conducting these evaluations.

Stormwater Control

  • Evaluate all fields including in the plan for the existence of critical runoff problem areas, recording a list of these areas and listing the specific BMPs and management changes to address each of the areas identified.  Refer to Appendix 7: Stormwater Control in the Nutrient Management Technical Manual for guidance on conducting these evaluations.

Manure Export Information

  • Amount of manure and season or export for each manure group exported off the operation.
  • If exporting to known agricultural operations for land application – fully completed and signed Exporter/Importer agreements for each importer.  Completed Nutrient Balance Sheets will be required for each importer requiring information on the manure group importer, manure analysis, crop groups that may receive the imported manure, manure and legume history, other source of nutrients that will be applied, rate, timing and method of manure application for the importing farm(s).
  • If exporting to entities that will use the manure for other than agricultural land application – fully completed and signed Exporter/Importer Agreement for each importer.
  • If exporting to brokers – fully completed Exporter/Broker agreements for each broker.

Jerry Martin, Penn State Extension, Nutrient Management Education Program

Contact Information

Jerry Martin
  • Senior Extension Associate
Phone: 717-394-6851

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Data Collection for Nutrient Management Plan Development

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