In the many years of writing this column, I have written of my work.

To the point, my work of planning on livestock farms.

I deliver a lot of training. Specifically, the kind of training that helps our field staff evaluate nutrient management plans. Most of my work is geared towards planning on livestock farms. As you all know, these are called Conservation Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs).

I have taught portions of courses in several states, including one at the national level that is still ongoing. Yet, we can do better with our delivery. I have two complaints with the existing model. One, the courses are generally a combination of speaker after speaker delivering a PowerPoint slide show on a particular topic. The combination of land-grant university extension personnel, National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) personnel and perhaps a few private sector folks yields a cross-section of experts who know their individual subjects well. However, once the course is delivered, the attendees are still left with a fundamental question not answered: “In what order do I build the components of the CNMP?” I am suggesting that we answer this question, not by providing a sample CNMP, but by teaching folks the conservation planning model that we in NRCS consider our bread and butter. The model is a process, a timeline of action items that are done in a certain order over a certain time-frame.

Two, nearly all CNMP courses include two or three days of classroom exercises, but no field work. Speakers will make the case, and in some cases a valid one, that additional training is required … including field work. Indeed, nearly all folks attending these courses have come from some aspect of field work.


There is one portion of “field work” that is not taught. The inventory and evaluation of the headquarter site (HQS I and E) is sorely lacking in our course. Specifically, we should be teaching our planners the methods for conducting such a HQS I and E: finding the type and location of leaks of polluted runoff; which alternatives might the livestock owner select to mitigate them to meet quality criteria; and then which of these alternatives does the landowner select.” This three-phase or step process is not delivered at our CNMP courses. The proof is in what we find as the final product ... the plan contains an agronomic or nutrient management plan, but all the volume inputs to one, two or more storage facilities on the HQS are not estimated. Which means, of course, the effect of dilution is not accounted for and so the nutrient concentration is incorrect. Or, the design (footprint and volume) parameters are incorrect.

A CNMP planner must know the process and must know how to conduct a HQS I and E. The term “comprehensive” means just that: the CNMP includes the integration of many individual systems. All of them must be included: the livestock, the feed system, the manure production area on the headquarter site including precipitation and then, of course, the land application portion that is the crop nutrient budget.

This spring and early summer, I am fixing this model. For five days distributed over three months, 26 Michigan NRCS employees will attend a CNMP course in Clarksville. I will deliver 90 percent of the course, so this is my chance to put up or fail. While I have complained for years about the existing model, I now have the opportunity to deliver the model as I think it should be delivered.

My premise is simple: deliver a process training model – what components are needed and in what order are they completed? The military calls this approach an SOP, or Standard Operating Procedure. How do you get from point A to point B, and in the integration of these steps, the CNMP planner knows that you advance only after the previous step is done, and done correctly.

April 1 and 2 we began. Our area of interest is entirely the HQ site. As the instructor, I am writing a CNMP as well, and a farm in Ionia County is our case study farm. As you might expect it is a dairy farm, and it has multiple resource concerns (surface and groundwater). The landowner expects the CNMP to show how a cost-share program like EQIP can be used to help him pay for a waste storage facility and conveyance structures. And he will be finding additional acres for manure applications.

I have two goals in delivering this course: one, 26 planners make good use of their time as they develop their own CNMP because they have a process, a blueprint, an SOP, for completing the plan. We ought not to waste time nor should we drag out the process longer than necessary. Two, we have a CNMP the landowner can implement. This second goal is enormously important, and will require our complete focus on what we are trying to do: write a CNMP that helps the livestock producer be more efficient, be more economical (profit) and address environmental concerns.

These are the big three E’s I will drill into my students. And I suggest 26 landowners will have some of the best CNMP’s anywhere ... meaning they are not left gathering dust on the shelf. PD

By Mike Gangwer
USDA Adviser