The International Plant Nutrition Institute: The Mission Continues

The International Plant Nutrition Institute: The Mission Continues

The organization currently known as the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) will cease operations this year. Since 1934, when it began as the American Potash Institute, the organization has developed and delivered scientific information in support of the responsible management of plant nutrition. That was its mission. This article on has been one of the venues for that delivery.


Changing institutions and evolving structures have been prominent features of the crop nutrition industry for many years. But many of the same people remain. In presentations over the past few months, I have noted those faces who have changed employers many times but continue their involvement in the industry, providing products and services to agricultural producers.

When I joined 24 years ago the organization was known as the Potash & Phosphate Institute (PPI). It employed 10 agronomic scientists in North America. We regularly contributed articles to an agri-retail publication called Farm Chemicals (now CropLife). In 2007 we transformed into the International Plant Nutrition Institute, adding many new international colleagues. Now, in 2019, here I am writing a final column for CropLife.

I want to take this opportunity to recap some of the messages we’ve supported in this space over the last few years and to highlight a few of our latest new products.

We wrote about data stewardship. What does it mean for an agri-retailer? For many years “good recordkeeping” has been emphasized. You are likely stewarding a lot of customer data. You may know a lot about their operations, their soils, their crop performance — and the specific combinations of source-rate-time-place they are using to apply nutrients. This data, aggregated, has value both to your customers and to the industry’s public image. It has value to your customers because these data can help you discern which practices work and which don’t and improve the quality of your recommendations and custom applications. It has value to the industry’s public image, supporting industry efforts to report metrics reflecting adoption of 4R practices and their impacts on things that matter to our ultimate customers, the people of this planet. To be a good steward of nutrients, we all have to do a better job of stewarding the data that serves as our evidence base.

We wrote about the principles of 4R Nutrient Stewardship, scientific principles associated with choosing the right source, rate, time, and place for nutrient application as well as for accountability and sustainability. These principles (many more than four!) have been carefully selected for consistency with the sciences of soil fertility and plant nutrition and with global standards for sustainability verification. This consistency is important for the extensive collaboration that is essential to improving sustainability and communicating those improvements to a wide range of stakeholders. The 4R path is the one most likely to harmonize profitable agronomics at the field scale with improved sustainability of the agricultural system as a whole. The 4R principles make a difference to our industry’s ability to participate with sustainability organizations like Field to Market.

4R has more than four principles. Selection of the right four components for nutrient application is governed by scientific principles for economic, environmental, and social success. It’s important for your growers to understand that 4R is the framework for the collaboration that is essential to improving agricultural sustainability.

We addressed the challenges of integrating manure and mineral sources of nutrients. The nutrient availability of organic nutrient sources varies widely, which is a major challenge for organic nutrient management. As a result, the mineral fertilizer equivalents of the manure’s organic nutrients can range from zero to almost 100% in the year of application. Solid manure typically has a lower mineral fertilizer equivalent than slurry, although both sources continue to provide nutrients in subsequent years. As a result, the nutrient availability of manures must be analyzed before their application to utilize the sources appropriately. At the long-term trials at the Rothamsted research station in the UK, a high rate of manure tripled soil organic matter over a hundred years but also resulted in the highest rates of nitrate loss through tile drains as compared to mineral N applied without manure. Mineral fertilizers in the same trial produced only modest increases in soil organic matter but did not increase nitrate losses nearly as much and attained the same level of productivity.

In 2007, when IPNI was formed from the Potash & Phosphate Institute, Dr. Paul Fixen noted: “The new institute will continue the tradition of providing technical and educational support on nutrient management. … There is a long history of PPI providing agronomic support to the fertilizer industry, as well as research funding to a number of important management projects over the years. Agricultural producers face a number of challenges as they strive to remain economically competitive while ensuring that their farm operations are in harmony with the environment.” Producers today continue to face the same challenges.

IPNI’s partnership with CropLife enabled delivery of information on scores of topics. The following list of titles in the publication references IPNI’s information pieces just in the past year:

Coming Soon

Before it closes completely in June, IPNI plans to release several new products. Among them is the final issue of Better Crops, a special edition focused on phosphorus, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the discovery of the element. A newly revised version of the Soil Fertility Manual is in preparation. New guidebooks and posters with deficiency symptoms for potatoes and bananas have recently been produced. Plans are being made to continue the availability of these and other informational materials through The Fertilizer Institute and Fertilizer Canada.

Other organizations are stepping up to meet the demand for practical information on the responsible management of plant nutrition. The challenge for the crop nutrition industry is to support an agriculture that supplies the people of the world with food, fiber, fuel, and much more, while conserving the resources of the ecosystems that ultimately serve them. As you consider your business plan to do your part to address this challenge, be sure to seek out this practical information and lend your support to the organizations committed to its delivery.

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