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Overview of the
BMP Challenge

BMP Challenge for Nutrient Management BMP Challenge for Reduced Tillage BMP Challenge for Reduced Nitrogen

AFT's BMP Challenge for Nutrient Management

ARS photo by Bruce Fritz Fertilizer runoff has been linked to the contamination of local watersheds and the creation of more than 150 hypoxic dead zones in rivers, gulfs, bays and oceans worldwide. One of the best ways to shrink the dead zones is reducing the over-application of nitrogen fertilizers.

A 2005 study by American Farmland Trust [PDF] indicates farmers want to be good stewards, but often use extra fertilizer as economic insurance. However with an income guarantee, they are open to reducing fertilizer rates and using best management practices (BMPs).

AFT's BMP Challenge for Nutrient Management provides farmers with a financial guarantee for reducing the amount of fertilizer applied to fields, thereby avoiding the detrimental effects to the environment of over-application. When tested on fields across the Midwest, nitrogen fertilizer use dropped 24 percent (approximately 41 pounds) while fully protecting farm income.

How Does the BMP Challenge for Nutrient Management Work?

BMPs are designed to save farmers money. Recommendations are made based on field history and soil test results to cut fertilizer costs while maintaining yield. 

  1. BMP Challenge check stripFarmers enroll one or more fields—before applying commercial fertilizer—up to 160 acres per farm.
  2. Crop advisor prepares recommendation.
  3. Farmer applies traditional practice to check strip. On the balance of the field, the new practices are applied.
  4. Farmer manages the entire field the same way. At harvest, farmer and crop advisor assess yield v. check strip.
  5. Farmer is paid if there is a loss in yield minus fertilizer savings.

Farmers will earn at least as much as using typical fertilizer rates, and in most years, will make a profit. Participants help us expand the BMP Challenge to more farmers by reinvesting a portion of their savings up to $6/acre back into the program.

Side By Side Comparison of Nutrient BMP Challenge

Example, corn grown for grain:

Check Strip with Standard Practices
Nutrient BMP Rate
Amount of
Nitrogen applied
180 lbs/acre
x $0.28/lb.
= $50.40/acre
150 lbs/acre
x $0.28/lb.
= $42.00/acre
Amount of
Phosphorus applied
75 lbs/acre
x $0.30
= $22.50/acre
35 lbs/acre x
= $10.50/acre
Total fertilizer cost:

$72.90 - $52.50 = $20.40/acre fertilizer cost savings!

SITUATION 1: Yield loss with BMP
180 bu/acre
x $2.20/bu
= $396.00/acre
165 bu/acre
x $2.20/bu
= $363.00/acre
Net yield loss:
$396.00 - $363.00 = $33.00/acre yield loss
Net economic return:
$33.00 loss - $20.40 fertilizer savings = $12.60/acre performance guarantee paid for net loss
SITUATION 2: Yield gain with BMP
180 bu/acre
x $2.20/bu
= $396.00/acre
190 bu/acre
x $2.20/bu
= $418.00/acre
Net yield gain:
$418.00 - $396.00 = $22.00/acre yield gain
Net economic return:
$22.00 gain + $20.40 fertilizer savings = $42.40/acre net gain
$42.40/acre gain - $6/acre contribution = $36.40/acre net
= $3,640 on a 100 acre field!

The BMP Challenge is backed by a commercial service agreement provided by Agflex, an Iowa corporation. Agflex is not an insurance company and does not sell insurance. The BMP Challenge is not insurance and pays only for losses due to nutrient insufficiency.

Protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with the BMP Challenge

AFT is working on a pilot demonstration project in Pennsylvania to reduce farm nutrient run-off into the Chesapeake Bay. Participating farmers in the Lower Juniata River and the Lower Susquehanna River watersheds are taking the BMP Challenge for Reduced Nitrogen to reduce fertilizer applications up to 15 percent below recommendations, knowing they will be protected from financial loss. Our pilot program will serve as a model for Chesapeake Bay Watershed farmers to protect this important environmental resource without impacting their farm profitability.

Targeting 52 Million Acres for Conservation and Water Quality Credit Trading

Maumee River, OhioAlong with our partners, AFT is focused on implementing conservation incentives in 13 states in the Midwest and Great Lakes region, with a particular emphasis on developing water quality trading applications in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Water quality trading is a new opportunity for farmers to help protect critical drinking water supplies in the Susquehanna, Potomac River and Minnesota Watersheds.

Wastewater and other sources have greatly reduced nutrient emissions into these watersheds but now face high costs for incremental gains—creating a market for nutrient reducing improvements made by farmers. The new pilot project, funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, will establish a framework for farmers to trade nutrient use reductions (that improve water quality) for cash.

American Farmland Trust