The Fertilizer Institute's Response to the Environmental Working Group's Statement on Nitrate in Drinking Water


October 17, 2017

“Nitrate nitrogen is an essential nutrient for growing plants; it occurs naturally, and is present even in areas of the country where little or no fertilizer is used. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry does not characterize nitrate as a carcinogen. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Assessment Plan for Nitrate and Nitrite expressly states that “a quantitative cancer assessment for these materials will be particularly challenging, given the influence of concurrent exposure to dietary sources of nitrosatable compounds and antioxidants , conflicting results across studies, and design limitations in a number of epidemiological studies that have investigated associations between nitrate or nitrite exposure and cancer at different sites."

Commercial fertilizers and animal manures are the primary sources of nitrate nitrogen in agriculture. There is no agronomic difference between nitrates from commercial fertilizers and those from animal manures.

Regardless of the source, farmers must balance the use of commercial fertilizer and manure with their crops’ nutritional needs. Water quality impacts result when fertilizer or manure application exceeds crop and soil needs. Fertilizer is the most manageable source of plant nutrition, because it provides nutrients in guaranteed amounts, and often in slow and controlled release formulas. Because farmers know how much of each nutrient (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) they are using, they can farm with greater precision, and thus for reduced loss of nutrients to the environment.

To increase world food production in a sustainable manner, farmers are adopting best management practices. 4R Nutrient Stewardship is an innovative approach for fertilizer best management practices. The concept entails using best management practices to apply the right source of nutrient, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.

Scientific studies have shown that implementing 4R nutrient management practices can have a significant impact on reducing the amount of nutrients lost to the environment. These practices also help a farmer’s bottom line by ensuring they are only using what they need.

TFI supports scientific research, which is essential to giving farmers the information and tools necessary to minimize nutrient loss and ensure that fertilizer contributes to crop growth and soil health. We believe that Congress should make research projects examining nutrient management based on source, rate, timing, and placement of nutrients (the 4Rs) a “high priority” research initiative within the Research Title.

TFI urges Congress to provide funding to help farmers implement 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices in their fields. In addition, in order to examine the impacts that these practices are having when implemented on the farm, Congress should make funding for 4R Nutrient Stewardship research a high priority.

TFI urges Congress to direct at least 10 percent of funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to incentivize farmers to adopt 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices on their land. These investments are critical to helping farmers address the ever-growing challenge of growing more with less.”


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 Learn more about TFI’s nutrient stewardship initiatives at