Fertilizer is one of nature’s most complex and beneficial resources, as it allows soil to become more productive and yield better crops. Without it, we simply could not produce enough corn, wheat, rice or other crops needed to feed the world’s population.

Faced with a growing global population, less arable land, and environmentally-conscious consumers, farmers are looking for ways to grow more crops on the same land while protecting the environment. A tall order to be sure, but farmers are up to the challenge.

4R Nutrient Stewardship: Creating better soil health

That unique solution is the aim of 4R Nutrient Stewardship, a science-based fertilizer management program. This innovative, Canadian-made program encompasses a set of principles that encourages farmers to apply the right source of fertilizer at the right rate, the right time, and in the right place.

Each 4R plan is tailored to the unique needs of those involved. How the fertilizer is applied depends on such factors as the type of crop, regional climate, and soil type.

Research has demonstrated that using the 4Rs to determine the right source, rate, time and place of nutrient application leads to better uptake by the crop, increasing yields and reducing losses to the environment – including greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen.

“The agriculture industry is a dominant player in the reduction of greenhouse gases,” says Mario Tenuta, the Canada Research Chair in Applied Soil Ecology at the University of Manitoba. “Using the 4Rs allows growers to achieve better nitrogen efficiency while addressing environmental issues and embracing sustainability.”
“Research demonstrates that 4R practices can reduce nitrous oxide emissions released during fertilizer application by up to 35 percent,” says Garth Whyte, President and CEO of Fertilizer Canada. “Annually, that’s a two to three megatonne reduction of nitrous oxide emissions in Western Canada alone.”

Supporting Canada’s sustainability goals

One of the major benefits of the 4R program is that it creates sustainability without sacrificing productivity or profitability.

Fertilizer Canada has several programs available to capture verified acres under 4R Nutrient Stewardship, which helps to tell the story of how the agriculture industry is adopting sustainable farming practices. Through 4R Designation nationally, or 4R Certification in Ontario, agri-retailers are able to align their business practices with 4R Nutrient Stewardship in order to advise their grower customers on sustainable nutrient management practices. Agreements with conservation groups, provincial governments and stakeholders are helping to advance this program across Canada.

To this end, Fertilizer Canada offers a number of 4R eLearning courses and certifications to agri-retailers, farmers, and crop advisors that take an in-depth look at the practices and planning required to implement 4R Nutrient Stewardship. It also works with provincial and federal governments to deliver sustainable solutions to producers.

“We want to be a part of the solution for Canada and the world,” he says. “We want to help Canadian farmers meet the global Sustainable Development Goals and produce enough food to feed over 9.6 billion people.”