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4 Reasons to 4R: Why You Should Be a Better Nutrient Steward

By Abimfoluwa (Gideon) Olaleye, AAg, Intern Extension Agrologist, Moose Jaw

February 2020

Food production must increase significantly to meet the demands of an increasing global population, which is estimated to exceed nine billion people by 2050. With farmland size staying the same, much of this will have to come from increased crop intensity and yield. To achieve this, reliance on fertilizers is expected to increase, thus the need to practice agriculture sustainably and develop public trust.

4R Nutrient Stewardship simply refers to following the agronomic recommendations of applying the right rate or amount of fertilizer for the right source or crop at the right time (when the crop needs it) and in the right place (where the crops can access the nutrients). All four 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles work together and cannot be isolated from each other.

  • Right Rate: applying fertilizer at the right rate ensures that we are not applying more fertilizer to the soil than it can hold or is needed.
  • Right Source: this involves using the appropriate fertilizer type that suits crop and soil needs and ensures a balanced supply of nutrients.
  • Right Time: timing the application of fertilizers ensures that we are applying the fertilizer at or near the time when the crop needs it.
  • Right Place: refers to the placement of fertilizers/nutrients where the crops can reach them.

The objective of 4R nutrient stewardship as a best management practice is to optimize nutrient supply and usage, while also minimizing losses to the environment. Below are four reasons why you should practice 4R nutrient stewardship.

  1. Environmental sustainability: poorly managed nutrient applications can increase nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air. Practising 4R principles minimizes such risks.
  2. Social sustainability: Being better stewards of our non-renewable and on-farm resources means you are contributing to and will continue to contribute an improved quality of life by producing safe, affordable and nutritious food.
  3. Public trust sustainability: You are carrying out sustainable and scientific based practices that you are able to communicate freely and openly about. This ensures consumers have easy access to information about farming practices.
  4. Economic sustainability: Helps sustain the economic viability of farm operations. By following these principles, you are optimizing nutrient management and increasing yield per unit of nutrient applied.

4R principles can be applied at any location and on farms of any size. It is important to note that these principles are adaptive. If we do not practice 4R principles and poorly manage our nutrients, the consequences could be grave, including damage to the environment, decreased profitability and an eroded public trust.

For more information on how you can adopt the 4R principles, please reach out to your local crops extension specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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