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Current Project: Whole Farm Nutrient Balance

How does your farm nutrient balance compare to others?

Funding Sources:

Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (Northern NY sites), Federal Formula Funds, USDA-Conservation Innovation Grants, and Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (NESARE).


Farmer Impact Stories

Nutrients on dairy farms have four basic fates: 1) they are imported to the farm in purchased products; 2) they are exported from the farm in products sold; 3) they remain on the farm to be recycled; or 4) they are lost to the environment. To date, nutrient management regulations in New York and most other states in the US have addressed the Clean Water Act through implementation of the NRCS 590 standard for nutrient management. The NRCS 590 standard focuses on reducing risk to water quality as the result of over-application of fertilizer and manure, and prevention of direct manure losses to our streams and lakes; this is accomplished through development of plans that include the use of the P runoff index, the nitrate leaching index, and land grant university crop nutrient guidelines. Unfortunately, current nutrient management practices may not sufficiently address importation and subsequent loading of nutrients onto farms and watersheds as shown, among others, by a steadily increasing number of acres testing high or very high in P in New York. Losses could be significantly reduced if fewer nutrients were imported onto the farm in the first place. The key solution lies in finding ways to increase nutrient use efficiency on farms and, thereby, decrease nutrient imports and reduce loadings to watersheds. Knowing a farm's mass nutrient balance is one step towards improving our understanding of nutrient movement onto, within, and away from the farm. Mass nutrient balances provide a useful and achievable metric for assessing nutrient loadings and potential losses on farms. We improved upon a Microsoft Excel program that was originally developed by Stu Klausner to assist in developing a mass nutrient balance. This software can be used to develop a mass nutrient balance for any type of livestock operation (dairy, swine, poultry, etc), or for non-livestock farms.

To address issues of nutrient enrichment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) became interested in testing the software and the mass balance approach and including a whole farm assessment. We are currently working with producers/planners, USC and districts to analyze 12 farms (of variable size, animal density, crop rotation, geographical location and whole farm N, P and K budgets). Caroline Rasmussen, research support specialist with the Nutrient Management Spear Program, is training planners (CCE, NRCS, SWCD, private sector) and students on the use of the software and accompanies them on their first farm assessments. Each participating farm will receive its MNB and the summary of all farms to which the MNB could be compared. We will analyze the datasets for nutrient balances and commonalities among farms (including economic parameters where farms participate in the Dairy Farm Business Summary or other summaries) and, in dialogue with producers/planners, identify best management practices (BMPs) that could improve farm balances and long-term sustainability of the farm. Active participation by the producers and their advisors (nutrient management planners, nutritionists, accountants) is needed for the development and implementation of BMPs that address the long-term sustainability of the farms. Producers and advisors will be better able to identify farm-specific opportunities to reduce nutrient loadings. The project will set the basis for identification of more inclusive nutrient management policies (possibly including nutrient trading) and action plans for the development of BMPs across the cropping, herd, and manure management components of farms.

In the fall of 2010, a new version of the software was released (visual basic based). This new software facilitates data entry and is now available from our website (see links above). If you are interested in participating in a New York whole farm nutrient balance project, contact Quirine Ketterings ( or 607-255-3061). You can also write to: Quirine Ketterings, Nutrient Management Spear Program, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, 323 Morrison Hall, Ithaca NY 14853.