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Working for Solutions on the Farm

Commercial fertilizers supply half of the nutrients necessary to grow the crops that feed the world. However, using nutrients from either organic or commercial sources comes with risks to the environment, particularly for nitrogen and phosphorus. Through 4R Nutrient Stewardship, the fertilizer industry is working to achieve solutions.

Selecting fertilizer best management practices (BMPs) based on the right nutrient source, at the right rate, the right time, and in the right place is the first step to reducing nutrient loss.

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When they are used in combination with other conservation practices, the 4Rs reduce nutrient loss to the environment and increase the return on a farmer’s fertilizer investment.


Success Through


There are many stakeholders involved in efforts to increase implementation of 4Rs on the farm. Partnerships with these stakeholders are key to success. 

In 2016, TFI and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) entered into a memorandum of understanding to enhance existing collaboration on 4R Nutrient Stewardship. Through this agreement, TFI and TNC are seeking opportunities to increase farmer adoption of BMPs by leveraging research and stakeholder outreach to increase understanding of 4R practice impacts. Together, TFI and TNC have hosted conference symposiums, held educational sessions, and collaborated on research. 

TFI and participating member companies partner with government and non-governmental organizations to advance 4R implementation on the farm. Partnerships allow TFI to leverage and extend resources, amplify outreach for implementation, and advance research on innovative products and practices.

4R Research Fund Illinois Nutrient Research Education Council Oregon State University University of Florida
Ag in the Classroom International Fertilizer Association Purdue University University of Illinois
AgQuest International Joint Commission Soil Health Institute University of Maryland
Agricultural Retailers Association International Plant Nutrition Institute Soil Science Society of America University of Vermont
American Society of Agronomy Iowa Nutrient Research Education Council State Agribusiness Associations University of Wisconsin-Madison
Auburn University Iowa State University State Farm Bureaus USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Conservation Technology Information Center Mississippi State University The Nature Conservancy Utah St. University
Ducks Unlimited New Era Ag UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Virginia Tech
Field to Market North Carolina State University University of Arkansas Western Lake Erie Basin Nutrient Stewardship Council
Future Farmers of America (FFA) North Dakota State University University of California – Davis Westwind Ag Research
Hubbard Ag Science Nutrients for Life Foundation University of California – Riverside  
Nutrients for Life Foundation

Industry Spotlight: Nutrients for Life Foundation

The Nutrients for Life Foundation (NFLF) works with educators in classrooms in all 50 states teaching the key concepts of sustainability and the importance of 4R Nutrient Stewardship. To complement its collection of sustainability resources for middle and high school students, NFLF released its 4R Reader in the spring of 2016. The activity booklet introduces the 4Rs in a way that relates to the students’ lives: health and eating. Through colorful comic strips and a class experiment, students learn more about the 4Rs in the context of soil nutrition. In its first year, NFLF distributed 2,517 4R readers and impacted 45,884 students with the 4R Nutrient Stewardship message. Combined with its other sustainability resources, the key message specific to nutrient stewardship reached 55,519 students. Since its inception in 2004, more than 30 million people have been impacted by using NFLF’s educational resources.

Filling the 4R

Knowledge Gaps

In 2013, the fertilizer industry created the 4R Research Fund to help establish sustainability indicators and environmental impact data to expand 4R nutrient stewardship implementation across North America. The fund provides needed resource support with a focus on measuring and documenting the economic, social, and environmental impacts of 4R nutrient stewardship. 

The industry is committed to providing growers the tools they need to remain profitable while protecting the environment. In 2016, the U.S. fertilizer industry contributed $996,500 to the research fund.

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Efforts in 2016 included a research stakeholder workshop to assess proposed project areas, which led to development of a $2 million, multi-state effort that was ultimately jointly funded in 2017 by the Foundation for Food and Agronomic Research and the 4R Research Fund.

Collaborating for a 4R Future

in the Western Lake Erie Basin

4R Nutrient Stewardship can help reduce algal blooms linked to fertilizer loss in the Western Lake Erie Basin. This is the goal of TFI’s partnerships with university and federal agency researchers, local agribusiness, conservation and agricultural organizations, and local farmers.

  • Research efforts supported by a $1.2 million grant from the industry’s 4R Research Fund and other partner resources continued in 2016. The focus is aimed at evaluating fertilizer BMPs to reduce nutrient loss to the lake.
  • In 2016, 38 4R Certified agronomic service providers were audited to verify 4R practice recommendations to farmers. The certified organizations provide 4R practice recommendations on 1,875,000 acres in the Western Lake Erie Basin watershed.
  • Farmer and retailer 4R Advocates in the area help share information with their colleagues about practice implementation on farms in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

Industry Spotlight: Become a 4r Advocate

The fertilizer industry annually honors five pairs of crop advisors and growers as 4R Advocates, acknowledging their efforts to implement 4R practices on the farm.

Industry Spotlight: 4R Advocate, The Andersons

Selling fertilizer and providing recommendations in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) means managing nutrient losses from farm fields to reduce the potential for algal blooms in the lake. In 2015, The Andersons’ retail location in Fremont, Ohio, was one of the first retailers to receive recognition as a 4R Certified Agronomic Service Provider. In 2016, The Andersons’ Fremont-based crop advisor John Fritz and his farmer customers Lowell and David Myerholtz were named 4R Advocates for their work in implementing 4R practices on the farm. “The Andersons work closely with our customers to encourage them to use best management practices in their farming operations,” said Fritz.

Science-based 4R best management practices that optimize nutrient use efficiency and reduce the impact of fertilizer in the WLEB can create economic savings on the farm. Practices include strip till farming to place phosphorus and potassium in the soil and prevent nutrient runoff, variable rate fertilizer application across the field to optimize placement and yield, side-dressing nitrogen in the spring to time application closer to crop needs, and planting cover crops to reduce erosion and nutrient loss during the non-growing season. The Myerholtz’s estimate converting to strip till achieved a 20 percent savings in fuel costs, while precision nutrient application has reduced fertilizer use by 10 percent by eliminating overlaps.

Agronomic Professionals

Put the 4Rs to Work

Agronomic professionals work across the industry to spread science-based information on 4R practice implementation to their customers. Whether creating custom blends of bulk fertilizers or promoting precision agriculture techniques for soil analysis and crop mapping, agronomists are a valuable farmer resource. These individuals lead the way toward farmer adoption of the 4Rs with every fertilizer application.

Among reporting retailers, the industry employs 2.21 individuals per branch operation who provide agronomic services. Among the non-retail sector, the industry employs 2.15 individuals per organizational location who provide agronomic services.

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Many industry agronomists are Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), having met rigorous standards prescribed by the American Society of Agronomy. CCA certification provides assurance to farmer customers that their crop advisers are equipped to apply leading edge technical knowledge to fertilizer recommendations. For the reporting companies, 31 percent of the agronomic employees maintain a professional certification as either Certified Crop Advisors or Certified Professional Agronomists. 

31% CCA

Enhanced Efficiency


Enhanced efficiency fertilizer (EEF) products were developed to enhance plant nutrient uptake and reduce nutrient losses to the environment relative to similar fertilizers that don’t use these additives. Selected and used properly, these products can increase crop productivity, offsetting their cost as a premium product.


In 2016, reporting fertilizer retailers sold more than 631,000 treated nutrient tons of nitrogen. This represents 13.3 percent of the total nutrient tons of nitrogen sold by the nine reporting companies combined.

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Nitrogen Sold

These nine companies operate nearly 2,000 retail locations across the United States.

on the farm
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