Nutrient application

The Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM Code) sets requirements on the use of nutrients supplied to crops to make sure nutrients are applied at the right amount and right time to optimize crop growth and minimize risks to the environment.

Nutrient sources that are a source of nitrogen or phosphorus include manure and other agricultural by-products, commercial fertilizers, soil conditioners, soil amendments, agricultural composting materials, digestates from anaerobic digestion, wastewater, and materials treated under the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation or the Municipal Wastewater Regulation. Leachate and contaminated runoff may also be a source of nutrients.

General rules for applying nutrients to land

Make sure nitrogen application rates meet crop needs and that nitrogen is not over-applied. Do not apply nutrient sources:

  • Where there is standing water or saturated soil
  • On frozen ground, or a field with at least 5 cm of ice or snow over 50% or more of its area
  • At a rate or method that may cause nutrient sources to enter a watercourse, cross your property boundary or leach into the water table

Keep records of the type of nutrients applied to your field, how much, when and where.

Restrictions in high precipitation areas

The spreading of manure and other nutrient sources to land in high-precipitation areas is restricted at certain times. If your operation is in a high precipitation area the following applies to you (in addition to the general nutrient application requirements):

  • Nutrient sources must not be applied between November 1 and February 1
  • Do not land apply nutrient sources during heavy rain or in strong winds
  • Nutrient sources can only be applied in February, March or October if a risk assessment has been prepared (wood residue is exempt)
  • As of October 1, 2022, the risk assessment must indicate that the risk of contaminated runoff entering a watercourse is low
  • Nutrients may only be applied in the fall to bare soil, if: 
    • A crop is planted before the winter non-growing season begins
    • The application is to medium or fine-textured soils with a low risk of leaching
    • Nutrients must not enter a watercourse or go below water table

Nutrient management planning 

Soil testing 

If your total agricultural land base is two hectares or more and you apply nutrients, soil tests for each field must be taken for post-harvest nitrate and for phosphorus.  Nitrate and phosphorus tests must be completed at least every three years, and nitrate tests must be completed annually on fields with high nitrate results (≥100 kg/N/ha).

A total agricultural land base includes one or more parcels of land that are owned, rented or leased and used in the agricultural operation.

Nutrient management plans

A nutrient management plan helps guide the application of nutrients to the land. If the results of your soil test are high and your land base is in a high-risk area, you may be required to have a nutrient management plan prepared and follow that plan.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is guidance only. Please refer to the Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management for specific regulatory requirements.