#WorldWaterDay: 4R Partners Promote Water Quality

Posted by on March 14th, 2018 | 0 Comments »


Water availability and quality are critical for human health, recreation and agricultural production.

Water quality and agricultural production methods are closely interlinked. There is an urgent need for farmers and agricultural retailers to adopt best practices that protect water quality and to become advocates to scale up these practices more widely.

To improve crop yields and soil health, farmers apply nitrogen and phosphorus in the form of commercial fertilizer or manure.

When these nutrients are not properly applied, or when storms and heavy rainfall occur, nutrients flow off the fields through streams, eventually reaching large bodies of water where they enrich harmful algal blooms or “dead zones” that lack sufficient oxygen to support aquatic life. Such areas in Lake Erie, the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay pose a serious challenge today.

A stream flows through agricultural land on its way to Lake Erie carrying nutrients that have run-off from the surrounding fields. The 4R Nutrient Stewardship certification program helps farmers reduce nutrient run-off into the streams and rivers. The program is administered by the Nutrient Stewardship Council and the Ohio Agribusiness Association and includes more than 20 agriculture and environmental organizations. Photo and description: Chad Douglas/USDA NRCS

To meet these nutrient management challenges, farmers are increasingly using 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices: choosing the right nutrient source to apply at the right rate in the right place at the right time.

Farmers work closely with crop consultants, agronomists and agricultural retailers to develop annual plans for their fields, including how to ensure that crops maximize the uptake of nutrients and how to prevent sediment and nutrient runoff into waterways.

Agricultural Retailers Hold the Key

Crop advisor, Scott Bergsieker, helps grower Lynn Fahrmeier of Missouri (left to right) develop a nutrient management plan.

Today’s agricultural retailers reach more farmers and acreage than ever before, and they provide high quality agronomic services and advice as part of their business model.

Recognizing this opportunity, agricultural, environmental and community groups formed the Nutrient Stewardship Council to create the 4R Certification Program for retailers.

Since 2012, The Mosaic Company and The Mosaic Company Foundation have played an active role in the development, launch and funding of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB).

The certification process includes 44 standards across three categories: 1) training and education in 4R practices; 2) monitoring 4R implementation; and 3) nutrient and application recommendations. Annual audits conducted by third parties help the retailers maintain and verify their practices.

A report by the International Joint Commission on fertilizer application patterns and trends in the WLEB concludes that 4R nutrient stewardship, when combined with various land management practices, is a key strategy for reducing phosphorus loss from fields. [2]

The Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) encompasses parts of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana and spans 8.3 million acres; most of the land is used for agriculture, industry and urban development.

As of September 2017, 45 retailers across the WLEB and the entire state of Ohio have achieved certification in the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program.

Together they are reaching 5,900 farmers and 2.77 million acres with science-based, proven practices that keep fertilizer in the crops and soils rather than in Lake Erie.

After just 2 years, the 4R Program impacted 35% of the farmland in the WLEB, with the potential to soon reach nearly all farmland in the watershed. [1]

Ongoing evaluation of the program’s progress is made possible by a five-year grant from the 4R Research Fund, sponsored by companies in the fertilizer industry including The Mosaic Company. Efforts continue to expand the program and reach more farmers each year.

[1] Vollmer-Sanders, C. et al., “Building partnerships to scale up conservation: 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program in the Lake Erie watershed,” Journal of Great Lakes Research, 2016.
[2] Allan, J. David et al., “Fertilizer Application Patterns and Trends and Their Implications for Water Quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin, ” International Joint Commission, February 2018.
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