Feed Management Planners Certification Program to Reduce Nutrient Loads in Impaired Watersheds

Waste to Worth: Spreading science and solutions logoWaste to Worth home | More proceedings….

Why Develop a Feed Management Certification Program?

To develop a program to train ARPAS-certified (American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists) dairy and beef nutritionists on how to prepare and evaluate Feed Management plans as it relates to the NRCS Feed Management (592) practice in Pennsylvania. The objective is to compare how formulated diets match to the consumed diets. Phosphorus is monitored through manure testing and nitrogen by milk urea nitrogen and calculating milk nitrogen efficiency. Dry matter intake efficiency is also monitored as this can affect the total manure volume excreted.

What Did We Do?

In 2007, Mid-Atlantic Water Program (MAWP) scientists applied the national feed management program to meet the needs of dairy consultants to implement feed management in the Chesapeake Basin. This program certifies consultants in precision feed management, a practice that reduces nutrient loads in animal wastes by minimizing the phosphorus and nitrogen content in the feed. 

With the recent release of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Total Maximum Daily Load for the Chesapeake Bay, the agricultural community is looking for the best practices to control nutrient pollution while minimizing impacts to profit. Over the years, the work of this project team has established precision feed management as both an economically and environmentally viable best management practice.  As such, state watershed implementation plans include precision feed management as a method to meet load allocations.

Pennsylvania currently has twenty-four NRCS qualified nutritionists to write feed management plans. In 2011, fifty-one operations received EQIP or CBWI funding through USDA-NRCS for feed management, with the majority consisting of dairy farms.  An additional 10 farms entered into contracts with NRCS in 2012.  Farms are currently in the process of being assessed on how well they implemented recommendations from the first year of quarterly reports and are working through their second year of implementation.

Additional efforts have been implemented to educate consultants about the regulations and issues affecting dairy producers. Currently, the Pennsylvania team is working with producers to monitor income over feed costs and to develop cash flow plans, which provides the opportunity to implement precision feeding practices while monitoring the economic benefits to the herd.  A study of six component fed dairy herds in Pennsylvania is also being completed to evaluate the effects of the feed, forage, and manure sampling protocols along with feeding order on fecal phosphorus levels and to update current sampling recommendations.

Funding from the MAWP was critical to providing these trainings and projects and establishing precision feed management as a best management practice that farmers can realistically utilize.  The infrastructure is in place to address the demand for more feed management plans and the MAWP will continue to meet the educational needs of this audience.

What Have We Learned?

There are a lot of opportunities on farms to improve feed management and nutrient balance. Challenges have been observed pertaining to nutrient reduction strategies that could impact overall nutrient balances in dairy and beef rations. Many of these challenges are greatly influenced by the volatility in today’s commodity pricing. Producers need to become more engaged in what they are feeding and how it affects their profitability.  It has been observed that inorganic phosphorus is still being used in grain mixtures when rations contain high phosphorus forages or inclusion of byproduct feeds. We have also observed some challenges in obtaining test analyses for complete grain and mineral mixes on a regular basis.  More education is needed for both industry professionals as well as producers.

Future Plans

As the feed management program in Pennsylvania progresses, pounds of phosphorus excreted can be tracked to monitor the effects of reducing phosphorus in dairy and beef rations. This can be used to evaluate its effect on water quality and potential phosphorus accumulations in the soil when manure is applied to crops at nitrogen-based rates. Crop rotations, inclusion of alternative forages and whole farm nutrient balance will be included in future trainings and feed management plans. The Penn State Extension Dairy team is also working on the development of a Feed Management mobile app for producers and nutritionist to be able to track and monitor their progress on nutrient reductions in their rations.


Daniel Ludwig, Natural Resources Specialist, USDA – NRCS, dan.ludwig@pa.usda.gov

Virginia Ishler, Dairy Complex Manager/Nutrient Specialist, Penn State University

Rebecca White, Program Manager-Penn State Extension Dairy Team

Additional Information

Feed Management for Producers

Pennsylvania NRCS on Feed Management


The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2013. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Denver, CO. April 1-5, 2013. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.