The USDA recently revised their national nutrient standards to reduce the application of nutrients through the use of new technologies and strategies.  State NRCS centers and local nutrient management specialists are working together to develop state specific nutrient management policies to meet the new national standards.  Tools and resources related to nutrient management are provided by the NRCS Nutrient and Pest Management Division.

The new strategies focus on reducing fertilizer use through technological advancements and local, site-specific information.  Recent technology advancements allow for more precise agricultural measurements, using tools and devices that provide information on local agriculture needs that improve material efficiencies, a classic source reduction approach.  The 4 R’s of nutrient management that guide a successful source reduction strategy are:

  • Right Amount (rate)
  • Right Source
  • Right Placement (method of application)
  • Right Timing

Agricultural nutrient use is a major cause of environmental pollution.  Fertilizers used in agriculture disrupt the nitrogen cycle and phosphorus flows and contribute to contaminants in the surface and groundwater, and can also cause detrimental effects to soil quality.  Nutrient runoff has become a major problem for downstream coastal waters, causing hypoxic zones that deprive fish and oceanic organisms of oxygen.   Nitrogen also accumulates in land systems and is a non-CO2 GHG that contributes to an increase in radiative forcing.  Phosphorus use is becoming a problem as well because of the vast amounts being deposited into oceans, and use of the fossil mineral is eight times the natural background rate of influx1.

Pollution prevention (P2) efforts focus on efficient methods of nutrient management and soil conservation in order to minimize fertilizer use and the nutrient runoff downstream.   The goals of the new NRCS conservation practice standards coincide with P2 programs through improving air, water, and soil quality as well as agriculture sustainability by properly managing the application of nutrients and reducing overall fertilizer use.


1.  Rockström, J. et al.  Nature 461, 472-475 (2009).