NEW ORLEANS - It’s not a matter of ‘if’ U.S. cotton producers will be required to implement nutrient management plans on their farms – it’s a matter of when, and for some states it could come as early as 2007.

The good news is that the change could make them more profitable cotton producers, according to Michael Kenty, Helena Chemical Co., in Memphis, Tenn.

Kenty will moderate a symposium on nutrient management plans and cotton fertility from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m on Wednesday, Jan. 5, during the 2005 Cotton Beltwide Conferences in New Orleans. The session will be held in the Sheraton Ballroom A.

The purpose of the symposium, according to Kenty, “is to bring awareness to the cotton producer of what is going on behind the scenes.”

Participants will discuss the role the Clean Water Act has on nutrient management and cotton production and the impact of the global fertilizer market on cotton fertility.

State organizations in many states have already begun the process of establishing nitrogen and phosphorus levels that will be acceptable by Clean Water Act standards in various bodies of water, notes Kenty.

The next step is for each state department of environmental quality to present a package to its state legislature for enacting the new standards into law. Many states in the Mid-South are either at that step or close to it, according to Kenty.

Although there is data indicating that municipality discharge is partly responsible for levels being above the standards, agriculture is regarded as the primary non-point-source of pollutants.

The bottom line is that cotton producers “will be called upon to write and develop nutrient management plans,” according to Kenty. Plans will require soil tests, geo-referenced maps, detailed records and for producers to follow USDA and Natural Resource Conservation Service guidelines.

“Either you look at it as another mandate by the government that makes it more difficult for you to earn your living. Or you look at it as a tool that can help you fine tune fertility inputs, ultimately creating best management practices leading to higher production, and hopefully, more profit,” he said.

Nutrient management plans are essentially a documentation of how the producer uses nutrients on his farm “what goes in, what is used by the crop and what’s left,” Kenty said.

“Producers who have already started down that path are already making more money. They’re not necessarily spending less on their fertility, they’re placing it better.”

Two of those producers, Alabama cotton producer Shep Morris and California cotton producer Cannon Michael will discuss their current production programs relative to the Clean Water Act in a panel discussion during the symposium.

Other presentations will discuss options for managing nutrients while maintaining high yields. The symposium will conclude with an audience question and answer session.

The Clean Water Act was put in place by Congress in 1972 and modified several times since. The act establishes the basic structure for regulating discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters. EPA is empowered to implement pollution control and set water quality standards.

There are two key points for agriculture: establishing total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and developing management programs that describe methods to reduce non-point-source pollution nutrients from agriculture.

Nutrient management plans, “are going to become mandatory, the question is when,” Kenty said. “Three years ago, EPA was saying 2005. That’s not going to happen. EPA’s latest timelines is for written nutrient management plans to begin in 2007, with the bulk coming from 2008 to 2010.”

The Beltwide Cotton Conferences will take place Jan. 4-7, at the New Orleans Marriott and Sheraton New Orleans hotels. The National Cotton Council is the conferences’ primary coordinator.

For further information, contact the NCC’s Debbie Richter, P.O. 820285, Memphis, TN, 38182, or 901-274-9030, Fax 901-725-0510 or e-mail beltwide@cotton.org.

The theme of the 2005 Beltwide Production Conference is “Innovation and Application, the Competitive Edge.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com