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There is so much information being provided to and generated by farms today that the entire process of record keeping can seem daunting. But the practice of maintaining and using records can have significant short and long-term rewards for the farm. This practice might include:
- using technology, such as apps or GPS equipment, to give flexibility to collect information anywhere
- hiring contractors, such as agronomists or custom applicators, to help keep records and automate as much of the record keeping as possible
- forcing yourself to sit down for half an hour at the end of the day
The key is to find a process that works for you. The true value of record keeping is realized when you use the information to take advantage of potential opportunities or to solve issues.
How records can be used
Recording cropping and manure history can help maximize crop potential, improve soil quality, minimize application costs and reduce fertilizer input costs. Manure, soil and plant analyses can save money, avoid deficiencies and crop losses, and are a vital part of manure and nutrient management planning. Keeping this information on file is important as it can be referenced to:
- help diagnose and explain cropping and soil problems
- identify areas where there are significant risks of nutrient loading or salt accumulation
- help minimize risk of nutrient loss and environmental impacts
Maintaining detailed farm records helps you assess current techniques and refine them for better agronomic, economic and environmental performance. Records can provide information on how manure and nutrient management is implemented on the farm, and where and when changes are needed. Records can also help collect accurate data over time to generate farm-specific information that can then be used to evaluate performance of existing or new practices, varieties or technologies.
Communications and planning
An often overlooked reason for maintaining a good record keeping system is communication. This is essential for any operation with multiple family members or employees. Unnecessary costs and ultimately profits can be lost quickly if decisions are made without the correct information. Records kept over several years can tell an accurate history of the operation and help with farm succession planning. Without records, the vital history of an operation can be lost, which can be essential to avoiding or solving future issues.
Sustainability program participation
Finally, many sustainability certification programs that exist today, such as the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef – Beef Sustainability program or the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) for Canola, provide consumer assurance through the maintenance of records along the entire product life cycle. To participate in these sustainability programs, at a minimum, record keeping is required.
Types of records
Manure and/or nutrient management records that could be kept include:
- manure inventory (type, production volume and weight)
- manure test results (by livestock type or storage facility)
- soil test results
- manure application information (field locations, timing, rates, methods, weather conditions)
- manure transfers (to whom, locations, dates, volumes and weights)
- crop production information (crop grown, planting and harvest dates, yields, tissue analyses)
- manure storage facility locations, inspections and monitoring information
- manure equipment calibration and maintenance records
- manure spill and response plans
- Keep records up-to-date (for example, record right away or set aside a specific time or day).
- Get organized and centralized (for example, keep similar records together).
- Designate a records manager.
- Keep detailed records (who, what, where, when, why and how).
- Assign a code or number to fields, or part of fields (to track activities easier).
- Use a system that works for you (for example, paper, software or consultant).
- Know what is necessary or required (for example, permit conditions).
- Ask for help or hire a professional.
Record keeping is a good business practice and a key component in managing potential environmental, nuisance and health risks, and can demonstrate due diligence. In the event that there is a complaint related to manure management, having records will help demonstrate that manure is managed correctly and you are complying with the legislation.
In Alberta, there are rules about keeping specific farm manure records according to the Standards and Administration Regulation under the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA).
Who must keep records
Records should be kept if the farm or operation applies more than 500 t or about 500,000 L of manure per year. Those records are to be kept for a minimum of 5 years.
Tip: To determine whether your operation needs to keep records for AOPA purposes, see the example calculation in Chapter 7 of the Nutrient Management Planning Guide.
What to record
Keep records for all fields that receive manure – from your farm or transported from other farms or operations. For a complete list of required records, see Manure Management Record Keeping Regulations.
Tip: To help with record keeping, download the Alberta-based, free ManureTracker app for Android, iPad or iPhone.