Farming Smarter Hinges on 4R Best Management Practices

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June 22, 2017

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2017 -- Preserving water quality while feeding another 2 billion people by 2050 is the challenge facing North America's farmers and its agricultural supply chain. The annual 4R Summit, sponsored by The Fertilizer Institute, was held in Minneapolis June 12 and 13 to share effective nutrient stewardship tenets and practices. Farmers, scientists, manufacturers, field agronomists, state and federal government specialists, and non-profit organizations were among the 238 attendees at the third annual 4R summit. Also present were conservation organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Technology Information Center and the National Association of Conservation Districts, collaborating to make farming more efficient, sustainable and profitable.

This multi-stakeholder effort champions stewardship and sustainability using "4R" Best Management Practices: applying the right fertilizer source at the right rate at the right time and in the right place. These science-based practices deploy the right types of fertilizers more efficiently, at precisely the most effective rate, time, and place. Many research efforts are underway to identify sustainability and profitability impacts of 4R practices, and the Summit provided an opportunity to hear directly from the experts on the outcomes of their work.

Fourth-generation Wellington, Missouri, farmer Lynn Fahrmeier, informed the audience on his use of 4R principles. He uses nitrogen stabilizers to protect fall-applied nitrogen fertilizer from fall and winter precipitation, before his crops need them the following growing season. He also uses precision farming technology to tailor his fertilizer rates, seeding rates and hybrid type to each of three soil-productivity zones. He determines these zones with soil tests and GPS mapping technology, which guides applicators and planters as they traverse his fields. He was an early adopter of no-till and reduced tillage, which leave crop residues undisturbed behind to decompose into soil organic matter and make soils more resilient.

Minnesota hosted the TFI 4R Summit because it has a variety of public-private partnerships empowering farmers to identify what works best for their individual farm to use nutrients most effectively: The farmer-led Minnesota/Wisconsin Discovery Farms program collects and interprets confidential edge-of field data on nutrient losses and how to prevent them using the 4R approach. Edge of field water-monitoring equipment gathers surface runoff and tile flow data 24/7 every day to track sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus loss. They use 4R solutions to prevent these going forward.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association partners with the University of Minnesota to increase farmers' nitrogen use efficiency. They also fund innovation grants to explore more efficient nutrient use, cover crop use and nitrogen-use modeling.

In the private sector, certified field agronomist Kevin Cruize, with Central Farm Service, helps Southern Minnesota farmers collect and analyze soil data for precision nutrient application prescriptions, and establish replicated test plots to identify what works and what doesn't with various nutrients, nutrient levels, and by hybrid. Nitrogen models such as Adapt-N and Encirca correlate weather events, soil types and nitrogen rates to improve farmers' nitrogen-use efficiency. His company also offers advanced strip-till custom and nitrogen sidedressing services, to try reduced tillage and split nitrogen applications without a huge equipment capital outlay.

The 2018 4R Summit will meet in Des Moines, Iowa next summer. Look for details next spring.

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The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) is the leading voice of the nation’s fertilizer industry. Tracing its roots back to 1883, TFI’s membership includes fertilizer producers, wholesalers, retailers, and trading firms. TFI’s full-time staff, based in Washington, D.C., serves its members through legislative, educational, technical, economic information and public communication programs. Find more information about TFI online at TFI.org and follow us on Twitter at @Fertilizer_Inst. Learn more about TFI’s nutrient stewardship initiatives at nutrientstewardship.organd on Twitter at @4rnutrients