YORK - Proposed new rules for fertilizer application will be aired in a public hearing at York.
The hearing to which all members of the public are invited, concerns proposed changes to the Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District’s Rule 5. It is scheduled for Nov. 1, 1:30 p.m. at the York City Auditorium (612 Nebraska Avenue).
Increasing nitrates in groundwater have been a concern in the Upper Big Blue NRD for several years. Several communities in the district have found it necessary to construct new wells to comply with state and federal drinking water standards. Some communities have built, or are considering, treatment plants. Many rural residents have also replaced wells or installed private water treatment systems.
Nitrate is found naturally in the environment, however excess nitrates that are causing groundwater contamination come primarily from the use of commercial fertilizers. Nitrogen fertilizer is needed to produce corn, however the amount and timing of the fertilizer application can reduce the risks of groundwater contamination. Anhydrous ammonia is the most common form of nitrogen fertilizer used throughout the district.
Since 1996, the NRD has required that farmers wait until Nov. 1 to apply anhydrous, and to wait until March 1 to apply other formulations of nitrogen fertilizer. In some parts of the district where groundwater nitrate is the highest, farmers are required by existing regulations to attend training classes, take soil samples and calculate crop nitrogen needs. Despite these efforts, groundwater nitrate levels have continued to rise. The proposed changes to Rule 5 are designed to encourage farmers to adopt fertilizer management practices that will reduce the opportunity time for nitrate leaching out of the crop root zone.
On March 1, 2012, the District held a public hearing for proposed changes to the district’s rules that would have required district-wide use of nitrification inhibitors. Several members of the public testified against that proposal and suggested that the district consider alternatives such as mandatory soil sampling and training on the use of fertilizer best management practices.
The changes proposed for the Nov. 1 public hearing have incorporated those suggestions from the March hearing. A summary of the major parts of the proposed changes are as follows:
1. To lower the Phase II Management Area trigger from nine parts per million (ppm) to seven ppm. The district is divided into 12 management zones. Currently, two zones are in Phase II management areas. The proposed limits would allow only one management zone into Phase II management per year. This would likely result in bringing three more management zones into Phase II management over the next three to four years. In a Phase II management area, producers are required to take deep (24-inch) soil samples for residual nitrate in a corn field where corn will be planted again. It also requires producer training and annual reporting of management practices.
2. To lower the Phase III management area trigger from 12 ppm to 10 ppm. There is currently one management zone (Zone 5) in York County with a median groundwater nitrate over 10 ppm. The proposal also requires that fall-winter application of anhydrous ammonia in a Phase III area must include a nitrification inhibitor. Spring anhydrous application would not require the use of a nitrification inhibitor.
3. Phase II and Phase III producers would also be required to use electrical resistance blocks or capacitance probes to schedule irrigation in one field. Scheduling irrigation using soil moisture information can reduce the risk of excess irrigation leaching nutrients from the root zone.
The public is strongly encouraged to attend this public hearing because it affects the entire Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District.