The AHDB Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) offers best practice guidance on the application of fertilisers and organic materials to crops and grassland.​

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About RB209​

The AHDB Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) offers best practice guidance on the application of mineral fertilisers, manures and slurries to crops and grassland. AHDB and its partners invest in research to ensure guidance reflects current commercial practice. All relevant research findings are considered by the UK Partnership for Crop Nutrient Management – the body responsible for agreeing changes to RB209.

RB209: Nutrient Management App
All seven sections of the Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) can now be downloaded as an app.

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Using the Nutrient Management Guide (RB209)

The Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) helps you make the most of organic materials and balance the benefits of fertiliser use against the costs – both economic and environmental. The guide outlines the value of nutrients and soil, and explains why good nutrient management is about more than just fertilisers. It can save you money as well as help protect the environment. AHDB first published the Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) in May 2017. Since its publication, recommendations have been revised, with the latest independent research funded by AHDB and its partners. A list of updates is available at ahdb.org.uk/rb209 To improve the accessibility and relevance of the recommendations and information, the Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) is published as seven sections that are updated individually.

The basis of good practice

Practices that make the best economic use of nutrients also help protect the wider environment. Obtain relevant information
• Soil type
• Field cropping, fertilising and manuring history every 3–5 years
• Regular soil analysis for pH, P, K and Mg
• Nutrient balances – surplus or deficit from applications to previous crops
• An assessment of Soil Nitrogen Supply every spring before applying nitrogen fertiliser
• Winter rainfall
• Crop tissue analysis where appropriate

Assess crop yield potential, economics and markets
• Take account of fertiliser nitrogen and crop produce prices
• Consider market requirements for quality and quantity of harvested produce
• Adjust phosphate and potash for expected crop yield (including straw where removal is planned)

Assessment of available nutrients from organic materials
• Apply manures in spring if possible and incorporate rapidly into the soil following surface application to tillage land or use of trailing hose, trailing shoe or injection equipment for slurry
• Make use of manure analysis (on-farm and laboratory testing) or use of standard values (Section 2: Organic materials)
• Calculate available nutrients based on manure type, method and time of application

Decisions on the rate, method and timing of fertiliser application for individual crops
• Apply nitrogen to meet periods of greatest demand for it
• Consider placement of fertilisers for responsive crops

Careful selection of fertilisers
• Consider the cost-effectiveness of alternative fertiliser materials
• Take account of the nutrient percentage and the availability of nutrients for crop uptake
• Make sure that the physical quality of the fertiliser will allow accurate spreading

Accurate application of fertilisers and manures
• Regularly maintain and calibrate fertiliser spreaders and sprayers • Regularly check and maintain manure spreaders

• Keep accurate field records to help with decisions on fertiliser use

Good nutrient management

Maintaining a profitable farming business requires continued development and use of a wide range of skills by farmers and their advisers. Good nutrient management is an important aspect of this and can contribute both to the efficiency of the farming business and to reducing environmental impacts. AHDB’s Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) provides information to help operate a profitable farm business, while protecting the environment.

This guide helps farmers and advisers to make the most of organic materials and balance the benefits of fertiliser use against the costs – both economic and environmental. It explains the value of nutrients, soil and why good nutrient management is about more than just the fertilisers you buy; it can save you money as well as help protect the environment. To help your forward planning, it also outlines possible future changes that could further affect fertiliser use.

The growing challenges

The agricultural sector faces a number of challenges, including producing more food to feed a growing population, while impacting less on the environment. Agricultural production relies on environmental resources such as soil, water and air and is vulnerable to climate change, including flood and drought.

Good nutrient management using a balanced long-term approach is part of a sustainable agricultural system that is resilient to climate and economic change. Sources of inorganic nutrients are limited and manufacture of fertilisers requires energy, so recycling of nutrients through organic materials and improving nutrient availability from well-structured biologically active soils makes better use of resources and economic sense.

Ensuring the carefully managed application of all nutrients, including manufactured fertilisers and organic materials, helps to close the ‘nutrient gap’ that arises when the crop is removed at harvest. Optimising nutrient uptake by crops helps minimise an excess in the soil where, for example, nitrogen can be lost as nitrous oxide or ammonia to the air or nitrate to water. Return to Contents Demand for land to grow non-food crops, such as biomass crops, and from non-farming uses may well increase. This is one factor which may mean that higher crop yields will be necessary to supply the increased demand for food.

Greenhouse gases

At present, agriculture is estimated to contribute around 9% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. An estimated 70% of the UK’s nitrous oxide emissions – a greenhouse gas around 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide – comes from agriculture. Soil nitrous oxide emissions come from three on-farm sources: grazing returns, storage and application of organic manures and nitrogen fertiliser. Careful planning that maximises the efficiency of fertiliser use and better management of manures can help reduce the amount of nitrogen that is lost as nitrous oxide. The farming industry has published its Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, which confirms its intent to play its part in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Water quality

Farming is one of many influences on water quality and water-dependent ecosystems. The main agricultural pollutants are nutrients (phosphates and nitrates), pesticides and other agrochemicals, faecal bacteria and sediment. Losses from the application of manufactured fertilisers and spreading of organic manures contribute to diffuse water pollution. In England and Wales, around 60% of nitrates and 25% of phosphates in our waters originate from agricultural land. Elevated levels of these nutrients can harm the aquatic environment and have an impact on biodiversity. In addition, excessive amounts of agricultural pollutants, including nitrates and phosphates, have to be removed before water can be supplied to consumers. The Water Framework Directive requires our rivers, lakes, ground and coastal waters to reach or maintain good ecological and chemical status. Therefore, it is important that agricultural land is managed carefully to avoid losses of soil, nutrients and faecal bacteria.

Key measures to reduce the risk of phosphate movement to water include:
• Avoiding build-up or maintenance above the target Index
• Following the recommendations in this guide to maintain the target level of crop-available soil phosphate, taking full account of the phosphate content of organic materials applied (Section 2: Organic materials)
• Minimising the risk of soil erosion
• Avoiding surface applications of inorganic fertilisers and organic manures (solid or liquid) when soils are snow-covered, frozen hard, waterlogged, deeply cracked, or on steeply sloping ground adjacent to watercourses
• Applying inorganic fertiliser in small amounts as annual dressings, rather than as a single, large dressing. Large applications of both organic materials and inorganic fertilisers aimed at increasing the Soil Index should be thoroughly mixed in the soil Return to Contents


Incorporating organic materials (e.g. composts, manure and biosolids) plays an important role in increasing levels of organic matter in soil. It can have important agricultural and ecological benefits, such as reducing fertiliser requirements, improving soil condition and biological activity and diverting materials from landfill. Certain materials spread on land can also contain low concentrations of pollutants, especially heavy metals, which, following repeated applications, can accumulate in the soil. This could pose a risk to human health and the environment. Remediating soils which contain pollutants is difficult and costly, so it is important to prevent unacceptable levels of pollutants getting into the soil.

Air quality

Agricultural activities account for around 90% of ammonia emissions. High concentrations of ammonia in the air can mean that nitrogen is deposited from the air onto the land. This can damage some habitats by changing the species of plants present and pollute streams, rivers and other water bodies. The ammonia can also be converted to nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, and released from soils. Ammonia also combines with other substances in the air to form fine particles, which can harm human health. There are strong pressures within the EU to reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture. Large pig and poultry farms are already covered by environmental permitting regulations which implement the EU Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive. There may be controls on a wider range of farms in the future. The UNECE Gothenburg Protocol and the EU National Emissions Ceiling Directive have been implemented to control ammonia emissions (among other pollutants) at the national level. Both the Protocol and the Directive have national emission ceilings for 2010, and both are currently undergoing revision to include more stringent ceilings for 2030. Several measures can be used to decrease the ammonia emissions from agricultural activities, e.g. effective manure management from collection and storage to application to land. Substantial reduction in ammonia emissions from slurry and digestate applications can be achieved through injection, trailing-shoe and trailing-hose techniques, when compared with splash-plate or broadcast application methods.


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