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Create and use a nutrient management plan

The guidance on this page is for SFI pilot participants only. Please visit GOV.UK for the official Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme guidance.

Find out how managing nutrients can help land managers reduce ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality and increase productivity.

If you’re completing this action as part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot, how you do it is up to you.

The advice on this page can help you get better environmental and business benefits, but you do not have to follow it to get paid.

Why you need a nutrient management plan

Nutrient management planning matches nutrient inputs (fertilisers and organic manures) to crop demand.

By applying nutrients in the best way you can:

  • increase crop yield and quality
  • minimise the amount of artificial and organic fertilisers you use
  • reduce ammonia emissions and improve air quality and human health
  • reduce damage to sensitive habitats caused by excess nutrients carried in the air or through water
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help reduce the effects of climate change

If you apply more nutrients to the soil than the crop can use, the excess may be lost to the environment as:

  • gases like ammonia or nitrous oxide
  • nitrates that leach into watercourses
  • phosphates that are carried into watercourses by soil erosion and runoff

How to plan nutrient needs

To plan the right amount of nutrients for the soil:

  • calculate the nutrient and pH requirements of the crop
  • sample and test the soil in each field every 3 to 5 years for phosphorous, potassium and magnesium
  • sample and test the soil pH in each field every 3 to 5 years to check whether it’s optimal for taking up nutrients
  • calculate the nutrient levels that will be supplied from organic sources like manure, slurry or digestate
  • calculate the amount of artificial fertiliser you’ll need to apply

The best time to prepare a nutrient management plan is in late winter or early spring, before crops are most likely to take up nutrients.

Resources available to help you record your nutrient plan include:

Ask an adviser qualified under the Fertiliser Advisers Certification and Training Scheme (FACTS) which tools or systems would be most suitable for you. Your agronomist may be FACTS qualified.

Take soil samples at a time when nutrient levels are likely to be lowest. This would usually be between September and March after the previous crop has been harvested. This will identify the residual nutrients left in the soil that will be used by the next crop.

You must base your applications of nutrients and lime on the results of your nutrient management plan.

You must follow the farming rules for water. These require you to take steps to stop manure, fertiliser or soil getting into water bodies.

You must follow additional rules on using and storing manure or fertiliser if you’re in a nitrate vulnerable zone.

Keep your plan up to date

You should:

  • complete a new plan every year
  • update the plan if you change your cropping programme