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Reducing the Loss of Crop Nutrient to Waterways
By Ben Pratt, Vice President of Corporate Public Affairs at The Mosaic Company, and GHI Board of Directors Member
|The 2015 United Nations Year of Soils has drawn global attention to the critical importance of soil health and balanced crop nutrition to maximizing productivity today and sustainably feeding the world for generations to come. For more, see GHI’s 2015 Global Agricultural Productivity® (GAP Report®): Building Sustainable Breadbaskets.|
The nexus of water availability and quality and the demand for producing food to feed a growing population is arguably the most pressing challenge of our time.
Crop nutrients help plants grow and produce the food, fiber and fuel we all need. Unfortunately they can also nourish algal blooms in waterways, which is in no one’s best interest. The Mosaic Company – the world’s leading producer and marketer of finished phosphate and potash crop nutrients – supports and promotes the 4R Nutrient Stewardship framework to achieve the agricultural benefits of fertilizer and reduce nutrient loss to the environment.
Fertilizer is a vital agricultural input and investment—one that requires agronomic knowledge and careful planning. Mosaic wants farmers to achieve maximum plant nutrition and yield benefits from our crop nutrition products. But when crop nutrients run off farmland into a waterway, they can contribute to impaired water quality. It is in everyone’s best interest that nutrients remain in the crop’s root zone.
Because soil fertility is not self-sustaining, nutrients must be replaced to ensure each year’s crop grows a nutritious supply of food. Fertilizers replenish soils with those nutrients that are removed with each harvest.
4R Certification Improves Water Quality
While farmers need phosphorus fertilizer to help improve crop yield, application in the right amount, at the right time and in the right locations on the field is essential to reduce runoff of nutrients.
In recent years, algal blooms on Western Lake Erie have increased, growing large enough in some areas to be seen from outer space. Phosphorus runoff from surrounding agricultural lands contributes to the problem — and groups, from government and businesses to farmers and NGOs, are joining together and taking action.
To help keep phosphorous on farmland and reduce loss to water, The Mosaic Company and The Mosaic Company Foundation are partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in support of a multi-sector initiative to pilot the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program.
The program is governed and guided by the 11-member Nutrient Stewardship Council, a diverse set of stakeholders from business, government, university and non-governmental sectors with a common goal of maintaining agricultural productivity while also improving the long-term quality of Lake Erie and its contributing watersheds. The Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) spans 7.2 million acres across Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and provides drinking water to 11 million people and habitat to more than 50 percent of Great Lakes fish species.
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program encourages agricultural retailers, service providers and other professionals in the Western Lake Erie Basin to adopt proven nutrient application best practices of the 4R concept: Right Nutrient Source (matching the fertilizer type to the needs of the particular crop) at the Right Rate (optimizing the right amount for the particular crop) and Right Time (applying fertilizer when it can be optimally used and avoiding application on frozen ground or when a large rainfall is forecast) in the Right Place (apply precisely where the fertilizer is needed).
Adoption of these best practices helps farmers achieve sustainable plant nutrition management while also considering water quality. The approach also provides a science-based framework for sustained crop production, while considering specific individual farms’ needs.
Measurable Stewardship Progress
As of October 2015, 4R-certified nutrient service providers deliver service to 2,230 farmers on 956,000 acres in the Western Lake Erie Basin. In addition, 50 nutrient service providers have begun the 4R certification process. The Ohio AgriBusiness Association estimates that the program will hit the million acre mark in WLEB-4R certifications by late 2015.
Studies show that between 2009 and 2014, the new steps farmers are taking with collaborative assistance of the USDA National Resources Conservation Service have reduced annual nutrient and sediment losses by approximately 7 million pounds of nitrogen, 1.2 million pounds of phosphorus, and 488,000 tons of sediment in the Lake Erie Basin.