Producers can save money, reduce environmental impact

Farm Forum

Proper nutrient management and application methods can save agricultural producers money on commercial fertilizer and greatly reduce their environmental impact, a North Dakota State University Extension Service specialist says.

Using those methods is especially important this spring because the recent precipitation increases the risk of rapid runoff in North Dakota, according to Emily Kline, livestock environmental management specialist at the Carrington Research Extension Center.

Runoff water that comes into contact with livestock manure will collect excessive amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients can harm water quality and have other negative environmental effects.

For example, an excess of these nutrients can cause eutrophication in surface water.

“Eutrophication can generally be defined as an increase in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that cause an excessive growth of aquatic vegetation (phytoplankton and algae),” says Greg Sandness of the North Dakota Department of Health.

“Under extreme situations, the excess nutrients can degrade water quality and impair the recreational and aquatic life uses of the water body,” he adds. “As an example, significant increases in aquatic vegetation, such as phytoplankton, reduce water clarity and the depth sunlight penetrates the water column, and when the vegetation dies, the decomposition process depletes oxygen levels in the water. These combined effects can result in fish kills and/or negatively impact water-based recreation in the water body.”

These results also can occur if excessive amounts of commercial fertilizers come into contact with runoff waters.

She suggests replacing or supplementing commercial fertilizer with manure to save on fertilizer costs.

“Manure can be just as effective as commercial fertilizer,” she says.

Here are a few precautions producers should take when planning to spread fertilizer:

· Take into account soil and manure tests, and the recommended crop fertilizer needs. Assessing the fields’ fertilizer needs can prevent over- or underapplication.

· Take the time to calibrate the manure spreader. This also can lessen the possibility of over- or underapplying nutrients.

· Think before spreading fertilizer. Do not spread it near surface waters, including waterways, sloughs and creeks. Also avoid spreading it before, during or after a major rain event.

“Protect the environment and your pocketbook this spring by properly managing your nutrients,” Kline advises. Contact Kline or Mary Berg, also a livestock environmental management specialist at the Carrington Research Extension Center, at (701) 652-2951 or email them at or Also check out their website at, find them on Facebook at or follow them on Twitter at @ndsulem.

These publications also may be helpful:

· “Manure Spreader Calibration for Nutrient Management Planning,” available at

· “North Dakota Manure Fertilizer Use Recommendations,” at