A front-end loader scoops up urea. A new NRCS code will guide how best to apply fertilizers and other nutrients to farm fields.

A draft Idaho version of a new USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service practice standard for nutrient management is targeted for completion this fall.

States on May 19 received a federal notice that a public comment period had concluded and the NRCS National Handbook of Conservation Practices now contains a revised Code 590.

The code, last updated in 2012, deals with managing the source, placement, application rate and timing of plant nutrients and soil amendments while reducing environmental impacts, according to USDA.

NRCS Idaho State Agronomist Travis Youngberg said states typically have a year to adopt the code. But ideally, his state’s version will be completed earlier so growers, field technicians and others can work with the updated guidance as soon as possible.

“Now I am in the process of getting together with our subcommittee,” he said. Meetings are slated to start in early July and occur at least monthly. A draft of state-specific revisions and supplements to Code 590 is targeted for completion this fall.

The panel comprises commodity groups, university researchers, state and federal agencies and the agronomy and organic-farming subcommittees of the larger State Technical Committee. The latter advises the NRCS state conservationist about areas of concern to the agriculture and natural resources communities.

Code 590 seeks to improve plant health and productivity, improve or maintain soil organic matter and reduce excess nutrients in surface water and groundwater, USDA said.

It also aims to reduce risk that potential pathogens from manure, bio-solid or compost application reach surface water and groundwater. Reducing emission of particulates, greenhouse gases and ozone precursors is among other goals.

States can add to or revise the code, but are not allowed to make their own versions that are less stringent.

Youngberg said some states will adopt the national standard.

“Here in Idaho, we need more specifics to make sure we meet state-law requirements and university-recommended sampling practices,” he said. NRCS practice standards are voluntary, but are designed to meet or exceed state requirements.

Youngberg said his state likely will add detail about how to sample soils and at what depths, what to look for, and how old soil samples can be to remain accurate as to how much nutrient value is present.

Higher pH ranges and more lime can be found in soils in the state’s southern region, while the north has more acidic soil. Soil testing methods can also differ, he said.

“This practice has to work everywhere in Idaho,” Youngberg said.

He said the code is updated periodically to reflect advancements in scientific research and technology, and fresh input from producers as well as other agencies. Parts are designed to be state-specific to reflect different soil types and climate conditions as well as variations in fertilizer guidance among land-grant universities.

The updated federal practice standard is more clearly worded than its predecessor, and includes improved plant health and productivity as an additional purpose, Youngberg said.

It also separates air-quality practice purposes including emissions, objectionable odor, particulate matter and greenhouse and ozone precursors. A producer will be able to target a specific air-quality issue rather than addressing all, as the previous standard required, he said.

Code 590 aims to minimize nutrients leaving agricultural land, keeping them out of waterways and “in the system where they are productive,” Youngberg said.

The state-revised version should clearly instruct producers about how they can best implement the standard and manage their nutrients to “get the most out of their inputs."

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