The Rise Of The 4Rs

The concept of the perfect blend of production practices to maximize input efficiency, yields and environmental protection is hardly new. In fact, experts at the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) would trace its definition back some 20-plus years, developed through cooperation between the fertilizer industry and the scientific communities. But the idea has taken on new life over the past two years as The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) has expanded its implementation and outreach effort on the 4R initiative for fertilizer: Apply the Right Product at the Right Time at the Right Rate in the Right Place.

The current collaborative effort is the work of several organizations, including TFI, IPNI, the Canadian Fertilizer Institute (CFI) and the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA). IPNI provides the lead reading the science of the 4Rs, says Lara Moody, director of stewardship programs at TFI, while TFI and CFI work closely with IPNI to take the lead on outreach.

An important part of the 4R program is www.nutrientstewardship.org, launched in March 2011. It contains a host of helpful production information and links, and it introduces the organizations — more than 40 at this point — that partner with TFI in outreach and implementation. For instance, partners can contribute news articles and information about their initiatives. The site is a central meeting place to demonstrate the collaboration of organizations who implement the 4Rs and spread the message on the benefits, explains Moody. It’s also the place dealers can sign up to receive the 4R Quarterly Newsletter, a publication already going to more than 1,000 believers.

Dealers On Board

The retailers we talked with have actually been implementing many of the concepts behind the 4Rs for years. Mike Twining, vice president of sales and marketing, Willard Agri-Service, Lynch, MD, notes company founder De Willard’s original focus on liquid fertilizers that could be custom blended field-by-field based on soil tests still drives the firm’s thought processes 40 years later.

In 2009 the 4R concept “intrigued” Mike Wilson, agronomist with Wabash Valley Service Co., Grayville, IL, because it stated what his firm had been working toward since 1994 — using all the tools (soil testing, tissue testing, yield and planting data, soil type, etc.) available to decide on an appropriate course of action for a fertilizer prescription, be it soil- or foliar-applied.

And while the 4R concept may be simple, implementing the systems needed to practice it can be challenging and costly. For instance, Wabash Valley has created two departments within the company to deal with the challenges: an Agronomy Services Division offers the services needed to assess field needs and prescribe solutions, while a Specialty Products Division evaluates different products, both soil and foliar, to see if and where they fit in a total nutrient program. The company has made a substantial investment in people and equipment to help customers adapt. And shifting to a 4R mindset has meant a change in some employees’ and growers’ ways of thinking — for instance, in moving from one or two nutrient applications per year to spreading them out through the growing season, says Wilson. “Luckily, added yield and profitability has followed many of these practices,” he adds.

Willard Agri-Services has invested resources to create the HighQ decision support system which helps a grower evaluate the productivity of the fields, then staff “discuss rate, source, placement and timing of his plant food,” says Twining.

“Growers intuitively understand the 4Rs,” he adds. “It gets to the heart of helping them manage their economic and ecologic decisions, which we believe go hand in hand. We now articulate this as a focus both on a grower’s yield and his footprint.”

Cooperative Producers Inc. (CPI) has brought in the technologies to offer grid soil sampling, variable rate application, split application of fertilizers, nitrogen stabilizers, soil moisture profile monitoring and other fertilizer efficiency enhancement practices. In 2011, the company rolled out a new precision agriculture program called CPI300 to help drive the decisions necessary to fully tap both seed and soil potential. CPI Agronomist Harlan Schafer says the additional financial investment was reasonable and added marketable value to CPI’s services.

To promote 4R practices, Crop Pro­duction Services (CPS), Delphi, IN, has gone as far as to help customers update their planters with the technology it takes to deliver in-furrow pop-up fertilizers, extremely efficient products applied at just two gallons per acre. And in a cost-share program with growers, CPS will help install and implement complete fertilizer delivery systems on customer’s planters in conjunction with Sure-Fire Ag Systems, Atwood, KS.

CPS’ recent work with manure fertilizer shows how a company can tailor its 4R recommendations to local conditions and resources, says Nick Sommers, crop consultant. His location is in the heart of swine processing country. When growers use manure available there, CPS makes sure they receive adequate credit for this nutrient source, plus the firm offers a fertilizer catalyst called Accomplish LM that increases manure nitrogen, phosphate and potassium efficiency.

Great Timing

Ever more finely tuned fertilizer programs couldn’t come at a better — or more important — time. For one, crop prices continue to be strong, and growers are seeking advice on how to get maximum yields from wise fertilizer use. Secondly, input prices continue to be volatile, often trending high, and customers want maximum return on their fertilizer investments.

Third, communities are scrutinizing agriculture’s environmental impact more closely than ever and promoting the immensely positive 4R message here is critical.

CPI’s Schafer first heard about the 4R initiative at the same time he was working with local Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) and community wellhead protection areas as they considered new regulations on fertilizer application in Nebraska. “4R Nutrient Stewardship was the right message at the right time to help describe our company’s commitment to stewardship,” he says. It resonated with all stakeholders. “The 4R goals do not place environmental stewardship and farm profitability in opposite camps, it is truly a win-win.”

Doug Busdeker, senior manager of Northern Farm Centers with The Andersons Inc., Maumee, OH, describes another situation. Water quality in Lake Erie has gotten a lot of attention as a result of an algal bloom in 2011, and research shows an excess of phosphorus in the lake due to many factors — agriculture, sewage treatment and industrial waste, among others. “If past agricultural practices are contributing to the problem it seems prudent that we should help find the solutions,” says Busdeker. “The Andersons has a strategy to grow our precision program utilizing GIS-based variable-rate technology ensuring nutrients are 4R-consistent.” The move requires an investment in technology, people and field equipment.

The company is also working with partners in industry, government and environmental groups to find solutions to the lake problem and has provided financial and staffing resources to support research, to work with and educate its customers on best products and practices and to actively participate in the formulation of new policies.

Getting Growers On Board

Not all growers are familiar with — or may embrace — 4R systems. CPS’ Sommers recommends retailers take “baby steps” with some customers. “There are so many things we can do, we can overwhelm growers,” he notes. He suggests picking one practice and starting to implement it at a “base level.” The key is to remain professional and responsible, making sure an approach is good for both the farmer and the dealer.

Growers grasp 4R concepts very quickly, says Schafer, but when it involves practices and expenses new to them, as with any innovation, there is an adoption curve. “Our agronomy sales people and our company really emphasize placing the right product on the field, even if that means selling less or adapting our delivery methods,” says Schafer. “Once our customers recognize that commitment, I think they also recognize the difference between CPI and our competitors.”

Topics:

Leave a Reply

One comment on “The Rise Of The 4Rs

Fertilizer Stories

FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More

Trending Articles

Matt Hopkins15 Best New Agriculture Apps Worth Downloading In 2014
December 16, 2013
These latest agriculture apps are sure to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2014 and beyond. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More

Latest News

ManagementGreenfield Scholars Program Aims To Sustain Agronomy Wo…
October 21, 2014
The program encourages talented students to study agronomy, crop and soil sciences while cultivating networks to develop the necessary workforce to sustain the profession. Read More
Paul SchrimpfPrecision Ag: Taking It To The Hill
October 21, 2014
A new coalition took the good news message of precision agriculture to Washington, DC, last month. Read More
ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million In Small Business Research Gran…
October 21, 2014
The grants will provide high quality, advanced research and development that will lead to technological innovations and solutions for American agriculture. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Terminates Merger Discussions With Yara I…
October 21, 2014
CF Industries Holdings and Yara International have terminated their discussions regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Ranked A Top 10 Biotech Employer For Third tim…
October 20, 2014
Syngenta ranked in the top 10 among the world’s top biotech employers, according to an annual survey conducted by Science magazine. Read More
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Break Ground For New Facility At Kennebec
October 20, 2014
Wheat Growers has broke ground for a state-of-the-art shuttle loader grain handling, fertilizer and agronomy facility in Kennebec, SD. Read More
FertilizerVerdesian Life Sciences Signs Agreement With Los Alamos…
October 20, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has signed a licensing agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop and market LANL’s latest nitrogen enhancement technology for plants. Read More
MicronutrientsStoller Group Announces Groundbreaking At New Office Bu…
October 20, 2014
Jerry Stoller, founder and president of Stoller Group, announced the groundbreaking at the site of the company’s future headquarters in Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Opens New Production Facility In Nevada
October 20, 2014
BioSafe Systems has completed construction of a state-of-art production facility in Sparks, NV, for its line of activated peroxygen products. Read More
Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScien…
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechEPA Approves Dow’s Enlist Duo Herbicide
October 15, 2014
The Enlist Weed Control System, breakthrough technology to fight resistant and tough weeds, has received the long-awaited green light from federal regulatory authorities. Read More
MicronutrientsGypsum On Farms Could Help Keep Water Clean, Not Green
October 14, 2014
Gypsum, which has roots in the past as a farm soil treatment, also may have a bright future, and not just as a booster of crops but also as a protector of water. Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Crop InputsVerdesian Grows Sales Staff
October 14, 2014
The new account managers will drive sales growth and support relationships with key customers in the plant nutrition and seed treatment and inoculants product categories. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
October 14, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Purchases Six Grain Elevators, Four Agron…
October 14, 2014
The Andersons has acquired Auburn Bean and Grain of Auburn, MI, which will increase the storage capacity of its Grain Group by about 13%. Read More
StewardshipThree Ohio Ag Retailers Honored With 4R Certification
October 13, 2014
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced its first three agriculture nutrient service providers to achieve certified status. Read More
Eric SfiligojEntering Agriculture’s New Phase
October 13, 2014
The market’s giddy ride the past few years might be coming to an end in 2015, warns one industry insider. Read More
Eric SfiligojWar And Green Peace
October 11, 2014
A one-time member of Green Peace recently explained why he left the organization after 15 years. Read More