Nutrient Planning on Swine Farms


LESSONS LEARNED – See links below for more detail.
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Thirteen swine producers from Corn Belt states participated in a project with faculty from University of Nebraska and Purdue University to understand the movement of nutrients (nitrogen and phohsphorus) on commercial swine facilities. These farms ranged in size from 2,000 to 16,000 head finishing capacity with most farms being wean to finish or feeder pig to finish operations. The project team developed a whole farm nutrient balance for each farm for both 2006 and 2007 based upon farm specific data.

Primary project outcomes include an understanding of the primary sources of nutrients arriving on these farms, the magnitude of imbalances experience by these farms, and the value of specific nutrient management practices to minimizing the nutrient imbalances experienced by swine production.

To learn more about the concept of Whole Farm Nutrient Balance (WFNB), the lessons learned from this on-farm research, and the tools developed for use by producers, the following introduction is suggested:

WFNB for Pork Production – An Introduction

Lessons Learned


Archived Workshop on WFNB

  • Introduction to WFNB
  • Lessons Learned from 13 Commercial Swine Facilities
  • Introduction to WFNB Tools


This project was funded by The National Pork Board. The authors wish to extend their appreciation for the financial support provided for completing this on-farm research project.

Snap-Shot Assessments of Nutrient Use on Dairy Farms

Nutrient Use Efficiency

Escalations in feed and fertilizer cost, and ebbing milk prices are motivating many dairy farmers to find new ways to improve nutrient use efficiency (NUE) on their farms. But how can NUE be determined and monitored easily on dairy farms, and what improvement in NUE can be realistically expected? Over the past several years researchers at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been developing and using rapid assessment methods to provide snap-shot assessments of feed, fertilizer, and manure use on dairy farms in various settings. The most recent work was a survey of 54 Wisconsin dairy farms known as On Farmers’ Ground.

Snap-Shot Assessments of Nutrient Use on Dairy Farms Webcast

This webcast describes and demonstrates the usefulness of using rapid assessment methods to provide snap-shot assessments of feed, fertilizer, and manure use on dairy farms in various settings.

Resources Available Through “On Farmers’ Ground”

  • Fact Sheet which outlines the procedures used to provide ‘snap-shot’ assessments of feed, fertilizer and manure use. Some examples are provided of the information obtained using snap-shot assessment techniques.
  • Survey Questionnaire designed to compile information on herd size and composition, livestock facilities, land use, management practices, and motivations and goals related to feed, fertilizer and manure management.
  • Manure Tracking Book used to systematically tract how, when and where farmers spread manure, and factors that influenced farmer decisions related to manure management.
  • Final Farmer Report which contains analytical results of feed and manure samples taken during the farm visits, including information on how farmers may use these results to improve feed and manure management. The Final Farmer Report also contains estimates of manure collection, as well as a series of farm maps depicting crop rotations, manure spreading practices, nitrogen and phosphorus applications as fertilizer, manure and legume-fixed N, and farm cropland areas that are impacted by USDA-NRCS 590 Nutrient Management Standards.
  • Four scientific journal articles related to the On Farmers’ Ground project


J. Mark Powell
Soil Scientist-Agroecology, USDA-ARS US Dairy Forage Research Center
Professor of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
1925 Linden Drive West
Madison, WI 53706

Implementing a Nutrient Management Plan

Why Develop a Nutrient Management Plan?

Developing a nutrient management plan can be a large undertaking. And once it is completed, implementing it puts a livestock producer well on the way to environmental stewardship. A plan may be written for one or more purposes: to satisfy regulatory programs, to qualify for financial assistance or maybe just to gain peace of mind.

The plan should have been developed in close working relationship with the producer, and in so doing, many of the management practices that needed improving will have been worked out and the producer understands the need for the practices and is willing and capable to achieve the items as detailed in the plan. No plan will ever be followed exactly as it was written as weather conditions, soil conditions and market fluctuations create a constant flux for any farming operation. But as these changes arise, the producer who has been involved in the development of the plan is also skilled in how to make changes that continue to be in the spirit of the plan for environmental protection, nutrient accounting and conservation needs. The plan is then teamed up with records that show the plan is either being followed, or documents any deviations.


Contributed to eXtension CC2.5

Also check out the archived webcast on Improving Implementation of Nutrient Management Plans

Strategic Planning

The planning process needs to include strategic (long term) and tactical (annual) planning. A strategic plan needs to be developed for the whole farm. The strategic plan articulates the policies and guiding principles for the entire farm operation. This type of plan needs to present clear concise statements that reflect the farm’s commitment to conducting operations according to the plan. A good starting point is to create a Whole Farm Nutrient Balance Report This report will provide the farm with a snapshot of the nutrient flows onto and off of the farm. The ideal scenario would be for the nutrients imported onto the farm in feed and fertilizer to be balanced by the nutrients being removed in commodities that are sold off the farm. For farms that have more nutrients than the farm can deal with the options to consider include, reducing purchased inputs (fertilizer and feeds), moving nutrients off the farm, through manure or compost, acquiring more land or reducing animal numbers.

Once the farm knows where it stands with regard to nutrient balance it can begin to formulate the strategy needed to deal with the situation. Farms with too few nutrients or just enough nutrients needed to meet crop requirements can take a straightforward approach to developing a strategic level plan for the farm. In these situations the farm simply needs to commit to making maximum use of the available nutrients by applying the nutrients to a crop field when the field needs the nutrients and at a time of year when the crop can take them up. On the other hand the farm that has too many nutrients has a more complex problem. This farm also needs to apply nutrients to fields needing them when the crop can take them up, but it also needs to develop a strategy to deal with the excess nutrients.

Annual (Tactical) Planning

Plans should be reviewed annually, to see how closely last year’s actions matched the plan, to make any updates to the plan and to project ahead for the next twelve months. This annual update is the time to input any new soil tests, develop the coming crop rotation, document yields, add new fields or delete ones no longer farmed, update animal numbers and incorporate new manure analysis. If major changes are being planned or have occurred, the plan may need significant changes.

These factors will keep the plan current and meaningful. Conceptually, implementing a nutrient management plan can be thought of a cyclical process composed of a series of steps. Due to the continuous nature of farming several of the steps in the cycle may be happening simultaneously, but for clarity we will consider them one at a time. The figure below shows these steps and the cyclical arrangement of their relationship to each other.

There are instances where the annual/tactical plan can be functional for the coming year, but the strategic/long range plan indicates that annual planning will become more difficult each year. For some farms, it may be easy to nitrogen base the plan, but coming into phosphorus balance will be more difficult, or impossible. P-index strategies should be considered a short term solution; but when a farm is generating more phosphorus than it can utilize, eventually, a P-index strategy will lead to over applications of phosphorus and potential concerns in the years to come, especially if regulations and policy tightens nutrient planning in the future. There will be situations where livestock numbers increase on an operation but there is less land base in the neighborhood. Scenarios such as these, point to the importance of considering both the long term and the annual planning process.

Communicating the plan

Implementation of a plan often hinges on communicating the plan to other family members or hired employees. First, the farm owner needs to show, by his/her actions and words, that the plan is important. Next, a system of communications to the farm employees on what they should do to follow the plan and reporting back, by the employees, of what they have done needs to be put in place. If the farm doesn’t place sufficient value on the plan then the workers will have no incentive to follow the plan and it will collect dust on a shelf.

The tactical/annual plan will be a field-by-field, day-by-day, plan that needs to be communicated to the farm employees or family members. For some workers, training may be needed to impart the skills required to farm under the constraints of the plan. For example operators of manure spreading equipment may need to be taught how to adjust tractor gearing or throttle settings to obtain spreading rates as defined in the plan. This section of the plan will require things like:

  • Field 1 needs 2000 gallons of liquid manure applied per acre in the spring.
  • Field 4 needs to be harvested by September 1 in order to establish a cover crop to protect the slope from erosion during winter.
  • Field 25’s soil P levels are above threshold levels, no manure can be applied.
  • Field 6 needs 200 lbs. of potash.

Records of actions

In return, there needs to be a track record of what did occur, noting any changes to the planned activities. Records are critical to the process because they provide the proof that the plan is being adhered to, as well as valuable information to be used in the formulation of the following year’s plan. If your farming practices are questioned by a regulatory agency or an unhappy neighbor, your records may be your only defense.

Nutrient management plans need to be based on realistic yield information. CC 2.5 Rich Meinert.

There are a number of websites that can provide sample record keeping forms and field worksheets that can be used as is or modified to meet the specific needs of the farm. A couple of suggestions to get started are:

Analyze & Evaluate

This section of plan implementation is where crop records get put to use. One needs to analyze the records kept, to determine on a field by field basis how closely the plan was followed. If the records deviate substantially from the plan the farm needs to provide a reason for the deviation. These explanations need to become part of the permanent crop records so that if someone looks back at the crop records he can obtain a clear picture of what happened and why. The farm may have experienced a wet spring and needed to remove manure from storage to avoid a discharge, but the only field that was dry enough to work had already been spread. By determining what happened and why, the farm presents a rationale to outsiders that it is being environmentally responsible.

Evaluation is the final determination of how well the plan worked. After the individual field comparisons are completed, summary information should be calculated to provide a report card on the nutrient management practices as a whole. It is this summary information that can point out the weak points in the plan. For instance, if fields consistently yield less than the yield goal in the plan then adjustments need to be made. If a number of fields are increasing in soil P over time the application rate for manure or fertilizer may need to be lowered to reduce the accumulation of P.

This management information is the hidden benefit of the NMP process. Detailed farm records will allow farms to use input costs, production data, operating costs and revenues to conduct cost/benefit analysis on production practices. This will allow the farm to see which aspects of the operation are helping or hindering profitability.

Another aspect of evaluating a NMP is to do periodic checks on practices and procedures. Farms need to take a proactive approach to quality control in the area of nutrient management. Manure and fertilizer spreader calibrations will change over time. Farm personnel will begin to forget practices and they do not perform the same task in exactly the same way every time. Field conditions can vary due to weather.

For these reasons farms need to conduct periodic spot checks of manure and fertilizer application. Results from these types of measurements can be used to verify how accurately practices are being followed, and will provide a measure of confidence for the accuracy of the farm’s records in the event of a complaint. For example, if a complaint were filed stating that the farm misapplied liquid manure, it would be in the farm’s best interest to not only produce the crop records to show what was applied, but also to show a series of spot check results, that showed that the applications made on the farm that year were accurate to within plus or minus a real number of gallons per acre. Knowing this confidence interval can provide an extra measure of assurance that the farm actually applied what it said it had.

Implementing a nutrient management plan on a farm can be a daunting task. There is a lot of information to be managed. There are decisions to be made and records to be kept. You don’t need to do it all at once. See what specific resources are available in your state and use this web site to provide suggestions that you can tailor to suit your situation. When a plan is written and implemented correctly a farm can learn a lot about itself, and how to position itself to be in business over the long term with a minimal environmental foot print.

Page Manager: Richard Meinert, Extension Educator, University of Connecticut
Reviewers: Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska and Doug Beegle, Pennsylvania State University

Whole Farm Nutrient Balance

What is Whole Farm Nutrient Balance?

Nutrient management is a process of planning for manure and fertilizer applications to individual crop fields. Whereas whole farm nutrient balance considers the location and flow of nutrients onto, within and off the entire farm. Whole farm nutrient balance involves taking a step back and also comparing the amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) and other nutrients entering the farm as purchased feed, fertilizer, animals etc. with the amount of nutrients leaving the farm as milk, animals, crops, manure exports to other farms, etc. Such a comparison can help in determining the economic and environmental impacts of nutrient management on dairy and livestock farms.

A comparison of the flows of nutrients onto and off dairy and livestock farms results in whole farm nutrient balance assessment. This balance is usually calculated from records of the nutrient-containing materials coming onto the farm (feed, fertilizer, purchased animals) and those leaving the farm in the form or products (milk, meat, eggs, crops, etc.). Balances can be expressed as percentage remaining, lbs/acre remaining or, for dairy farms, as lbs remaining per unit milk produced. For an example, see the Cornell Whole Farm Nutrient Balance Software or other such tools.

An estimate of the whole farm nutrient balance can also be determined from the density of livestock on the farm. Animal Density is usually estimated from the number of animal units per acre. (See box below)

Animal Density=Animal Units (AU)/Acre on an annualized basis,

  • AU=1000 lb live weight/A
  • Acres=acres available for manure application
  • Annualized=days our of 365 animals are on the farm producing manure

Animal Density=AU/Acre*(Days/365)

Go to the Animal_density_Calculator (Excel file)

Source: Doug Beegle, Pennsylvania State University.

Why Is the Whole Farm Nutrient Balance Important?

When the inflow of nutrients is greater than the outflow, annual losses and/or accumulation of nutrients will occur. The whole farm nutrient balance can indicate the potential for non-point source pollution from nutrients on the farm which can help to target management efforts to minimize the impact of nutrients on the environment. As such, the assessment of a farm’s nutrient mass balance can assist producers in determining the need for and identification of management practices that can reduce nutrient imports or enhance exports such as off site movement of manure, manure treatment, feed ration adjustments, land purchases and herd size adjustments to land acres. Knowing a farm’s nutrient balance is especially useful for farms looking at expansion or costly upgrades of equipment and buildings to ensure the long term sustainability of the farm.

The whole farm nutrient balance brings a number of important characteristics of the farm to the forefront that can optimize the economics of manure management while minimizing the environmental impacts from manure nutrients. Some of these are summarized in the table below.

The economics of nutrient management are often linked to the whole farm nutrient balance. For example, most people assume that improved nutrient management will always result in a positive economic return for the farm, but in fact, on many of the farms with a high potential for nutrient pollution, the economics of improved nutrient management to protect the environment will be costly. For farms that have excess nutrients the goals become maximizing safe utilization of nutrients and developing a strategy for removing excess nutrients from the farm. Examples of different nutrient management strategies based on nutrient balance can be seen by selecting the appropriate link in the table below.

Characteristics of Farms Based on Manure Nutrient Balance
Manure Nutrient Balance Deficit Balanced Excess
Animal Density* Low (<1.25 AU/A) Medium (1.25-2.25 AU/A) High (>2.25 AU/A)
Feed Source (% Off Farm) <50% 50-80% >80%
Land for Manure Application Adequate Limited Inadequate
Manure Management Strategy Deficit Balance Strategies Nutrient Balance Strategies Excess Nutrient Strategies
Economics of Nutrient Management Positive Neutral Negative
Non-point Source Pollution Potential Low Low to High High

*For P balance assessment, animal densities shown here should be halved.

Recommended Resources for Calculating Whole Farm Nutrient Balance

Excess Nutrients Management Goal = Reduce the Excess

  • Remove manure nutrients from the farm
  • Reduce the animal density
  • Manage nutrients remaining on the farm based on nutrient balance.
  • Example tactics:
    • Sell manure
    • Give manure away
    • Acquire more land
    • Reduce animal numbers

“In Balance” Management Goal = Maximize Safe Use of Manure Nutrients

  • Manage manure based on nutrient balance
  • Manage nutrients so that over time inputs balance outputs
  • Example tactics:
    • Spread manure on legumes
    • Don’t incorporate manure. Note: This strategy is currently sustainable but will likely change if air emissions need to be reduced.
    • Increase intensity of cropping system
    • Detailed plan needed

Deficient Management Goal = Maximize Efficient Use of Manure Nutrients

  • Manage based on expected crop response to manure nutrients.
  • Manage nutrients to increase yields or decrease purchased inputs.
  • Example tactics:
    • Spread manure in the spring as near to the time of crop utilization as practical
    • Use cover crops to conserve nutrients from fall and winter applied manure
    • Incorporate manure immediately to conserve nitrogen
    • Spread manure on N requiring crops
    • Don’t spread manure on legumes – they don’t need the N
    • Spread manure on fields with low P & K soil test levels

Page Manager: Douglas Beegle, Penn State University

Nutrient Planning on Small Farms

livestock and poultry environmental learning center logo with cow, pig, and chicken sillhouettes over a map of the U.S. with three circling arrowsThe LPE Learning Center hosted a webcast on Nutrient Planning on Small Farms in June, 2008.

Positive Impacts of Manure

When managed properly, manure can be a valuable resource on a farm. Manure can be a source of nutrients for crop production and improve soil quality. The organic matter present in manure can improve both tilth and water holding capacity of the soil. Livestock and poultry manure is a valuable fertilizer for crop and pasture production. Most farm owners do not realize the value of the manure that is produced on their farms.

Negative Impacts of Manure

When not managed properly, manure can pollute the environment; mainly as ground or surface water pollution due to the nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and carbon (organic matter). In addition manure can lead to air quality concerns, pathogens in water supplies, odors, dust, and the presence of vermin.

Manure Nutrients

Manure nutrients can be beneficial for the soil and plant growth; however, manure application rates should be based on plant growth needs. Excessive manure application to the soil can result in nutrient leaching and increased losses through runoff. In addition, manure contains soluble salts and minerals such as arsenic, copper, and zinc which in excessive amounts may negatively impact the soil quality.

Manure nutrients, (N, P, and organic matter) can be major pollutants in lakes and estuaries as well as rivers. Nitrogen and phosphorus attached to soil particles may reach waterways through surface runoff or wind deposition. Dissolved N and P may leach through the soil, ultimately reaching water bodies. Organic matter can enter water bodies in the form of manure, vegetative matter, or animal carcasses. Waters rich in minerals, organic matter, and nutrients promote a proliferation of plant life, especially algae. This process is called eutrophication. Algae growth and the decomposition of organic matter in water bodies reduces the dissolved oxygen content of the water, which may lead to the death of aquatic life.

Pathogens and Vermin

In addition to the concerns regarding nutrients, pathogens may be present in manure. Some examples of the pathogens are E. coli, Salmonella, and Cryptosporidium parvum. These pathogens can impair water bodies and potentially pose human health risks when manure or contaminated water comes in contact with food sources. Flies and rodents are other manure related concerns on livestock farms. These problems can be minimized by proper design of animal housing and manure storage, and proper handling procedures when turning or moving manure piles.

Air Quality

Air quality concerns arise from odors, particulate matter, and aerial pathogens. Ammonia released from manure can result in odor and may react with other compounds in the atmosphere producing particulate matter (PM 2.5) which can affect the environment and public health. There are a variety of other compounds released from manure such as hydrogen sulfide, green house gases (methane and nitrous oxide), and some volatile organic compounds that can also cause air quality concerns. Particulate matter that arises from dust and reaction of ammonia with other compounds in the atmosphere are also a concern.

Why Implement Nutrient Management Planning?

The purpose of nutrient management is to implement practices that permit the efficient use of manure for crop production while protecting potential environmental damage that may be caused by nutrients. Nutrient management planning is a site specific exercise; and, if the recommendations are followed, nutrient losses should be minimal. In general, nutrient management considers the nutrients available on a farm, how best to use them, and the potential impacts of the nutrients on the environment. Factors typically considered in nutrient management planning are: goals of the farming operation as well as any constraints; available farm resources (land, equipment, financial resources); potential critical areas on the farm (sensitive water bodies, neighbor concerns, erosion, manure storage); and nutrient balance analysis (shown in the figure below).



CC2.5 Mike Westendorf

Farm nutrient inputs consist of animals, feed, fertilizer, legume nitrogen, and bedding. Outputs are animals, milk, meat, eggs, manure, and crops. Recycling also occurs on the farm with nutrients moving from feed through livestock, applied to soil, utilized by plants, and back to feed again. The optimal goal (Whole Farm Nutrient Balance) is for the farm to remain in balance between inputs and outputs without losses as runoff or leachate from either the soil or manure. Soil can store some nutrients assuming that the amount of manure applied to the soil is not excessive.


Small Farms are Different than Large Farms

The challenges of managing manure nutrients are different on a small farm than on many larger farms although the principles are similar. Small farms have fewer animals and sometimes several animal species on the same farm. They also may have limited acreage and/or lack equipment for spreading manure. The nutrient management planning section provides information on feeding animals and managing their diets; manure production; basic soil science and soil fertility; and nutrient (manure) management. The section details on- and off-farm use within the context of a nutrient management plan.

The following articles are coming soon!

  • Basic soil science and fertility
  • Nutrient management on the farm
  • Crop utilization
  • Nutrient management plans
  • Off-farm utilization
  • Soil and manure testing
  • Record keeping

Additional Resources

Nutrient Management–SIMPLIFIED! by Randall James, Ohio State University Extension

Authors: Jactone Arogo Ogejo, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and Michael Westendorf, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey