More about State of the industry report

The goal of the industry’s nutrient stewardship efforts is for all plant nutrients to be applied using the 4R framework. This means implementing best management practices (BMPs) based on the right nutrient source applied at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. The 4Rs reduce the loss of nutrients to the environment while also addressing sustainability concerns, such as improved profitability of the farm, improved water quality, and reduced loss of greenhouse gases. Achieving that vision requires commitment from all industry members, including establishing a knowledgeable employee base and investing in product research, technology innovation, infrastructure, and stakeholder partnerships.The commitment also requires working closely with our farmer customers.


Investing in Research

Investments in research are essential to advancing 4R implementation on the farm. Knowledge gained from the industry’s research investment leads to innovations and improved fertilizer products, practices, and technologies. Research also allows for the evaluation of 4R practices’ impact on crop yield and understanding their benefits for reducing environmental loss.  

4R Research Fund: In 2017, TFI members contributed $1.1 million to the North American 4R Research Fund, which has awarded more than $5.9 million in research in the United States and Canada to better understand the impacts of 4R practice implementation. In 2017, the industry jointly funded a $2 million, multi-state 4R research effort with the Foundation for Food and Agronomic Research. 

Industry Investments in Research and Development: In addition to supporting the 4R Fund, fertilizer industry members invest in R&D to advance innovative products and technologies that improve on-farm implementation of fertilizer practices. In 2017, three members reported investing $5.5 million in R&D that supported 4R and innovative products. 

Industry HighlightData-driven Sustainability

Kyle Brase operates a family farm in Illinois growing 3,500 acres of winter wheat, corn for grain and silage, soybeans, and alfalfa. Implementing 4R practices is a mainstay on the farm, and Brase and his team continue seeking progress with the help of his crop adviser Joe Huebener, a YieldPoint precision ag specialist at CHS Shipman in Shipman, Ill.  

“Joe and I work closely to do what’s right for our farm,” Brase says. “We exchange a lot of ideas and look at ways we can test them to learn if they may or may not work.”

Technology and data are driving factors for Brase and Huebener. They sit down annually and examine multiple years of soil tests, yield results, and related items to arrive at a fertilizer prescription. Their decisions are guided by weighing profitability costs, environmental impact, and common-sense approaches to time management. 

Their efforts produce returns. Using variable rate technology, Brase is able to save $10 – $12 per acre yearly. Corn yields have increased three to five percent. And nitrogen use efficiency has improved from 1.5 to 0.9 pounds per bushel. 

TFI on Policy

Farm Bill

Ensuring Public Funds Available for 4R Research 
Research priorities for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are set in the Farm Bill. NIFA is an important funding source for university researchers. TFI was successful in adding a priority research area in the newest Farm Bill that is focused on the impacts of fertilizer practices ad-dressing source, rate, time, and place. The new priority will ensure university researchers have enough resources to help evaluate and advance the 4Rs. To educate members of Congress and other stakeholders about the 4Rs, TFI called on member companies, 4R farmers and crop adviser Advocates, and university researchers to share the importance of 4R practices. Next, TFI will work with NIFA to ensure the priority is fully implemented.

Beyond Corn, Soybean, and Wheat 
While the Midwest was an initial focal point for 4R efforts, other cropping systems and geographies are also important. A growing number of 4R Advocates represent a diversity of crops, including potatoes, tomatoes, citrus, rice, and hops.

Committed to Partnerships

Partnerships are fundamental to achieving the industry vision where all nutrients are applied using the 4Rs. Partnerships allow TFI and its members to leverage and extend resources and to amplify outreach and implementation efforts. Industry members partner with government and non-government organizations through organized collaboration and by contributing both in-kind and monetary resources to achieve change. In 2017, six participating companies reported contributing $3 million to support their 4R partners. The following organizations have been identified as industry members’ partners on 4R.


4R Plus (Iowa) Florida Research Center for Agricultural Sustainability Soil Health Institute
Agribusiness Associations in multiple states International Plant Nutrition Institute Soil Science Society of America
American Society of Agronomy Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council University of California – Merced
California Association of Pest Control Advisers Louisiana State University University of Central Florida
Certified Crop Advisers Mississippi State University University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences
Environmental Defense Fund The Nature Conservancy University of Georgia
Farm Bureaus in multiple states Nutrient Research Education Council, Illinois University of Maryland
Field to Market Oregon State University University of Wisconsin
    World Wildlife Fund
4R Plus

To reduce nutrient loss to the environment, 4R practices work best when paired with conservation practices, such as field borders and conservation tillage. With sponsorship from CF Industries, The Nature Conservancy and 40 other stakeholders collaborated to launch the 4R Plus campaign in Iowa to drive awareness of the benefits of 4R Nutrient Stewardship and conservation practices.

Industry HighlightGrowmark & Farm Bureau - 4R4U

A statewide partnership among Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois county Farm Bureaus, GROWMARK, and FS companies continues to demonstrate and investigate 4R nutrient stewardship practices at the local level. The 4R field demonstration program, entitled 4R4U (pronounced “4R for you”), is entering its third year in 2019. Its goal is to bring added use, awareness, and knowledge on nutrient stewardship via the 4R approach. Local plot tests compare common to advanced practices on nutrient stewardship. Some of the types of tests include nitrogen-rate trials, use of multiple nitrogen applications, stabilizer utilizations, no-till planting, cover crops, and soil samples. Illinois Farm Bureau and GROWMARK are providing support and resources for the local projects, while local FS companies and county Farm Bureaus work together to carry out the 4R field demonstration strategy at a local level.

Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers

Enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEFs) are one of the tools farmers can use to improve nutrient uptake by the plant and reduce losses to the environment. EEFs are used in conjunction with both nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers. The eight companies contributing to the EEF’s metric in 2017 reported that 21 percent of total nitrogen and phosphate sold was treated with EEF’s. For nitrogen products, five reporting companies manufactured 1,509,215 treated nutrient tons of nitrogen, and retailers sold 996,001 treated nutrient tons of nitrogen. This represents 24 percent of total nutrient tons of nitrogen sold by reporting companies. Three retailer companies reported selling 148,642 treated nutrient tons of phosphate, representing 12 percent of the total nutrient tons of phosphate sold by the reporting companies. The companies reporting EEF sales operate 1,653 U.S. agricultural retail locations. 

Agronomic Professionals Put the 4Rs to Work

In a 2017 survey developed to improve 4R communications, farmer responses indicated crop advisers are their most trusted source of information for fertilizer recommendations. Additionally, during the survey, when farmers heard information about the 4Rs and descriptions of potential benefits, their overall willingness to try new practices increased.3 

Agronomic professionals working in the fertilizer industry are instrumental in communicating the 4Rs to their farmer customers and guiding them toward greater on-farm implementation. Whether developing nutrient management plans or promoting precision agriculture technologies, agronomists are important in the farmer’s decision-making process. Among reporting retailers, the industry employs 2.3 individuals per branch operation who provide agronomic services. Among the non-retail sector, the industry employs 1.8 agronomy professionals per organizational location. 

Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs) are professional agronomists who have met rigorous standards prescribed by the American Society of Agronomy. The CCA certification provides farmers assurance that their adviser is equipped to apply leading-edge technical knowledge to their fertilizer recommendations. Re-porting retail companies employ 0.6 certified professionals per retail location. Reporting non-retail companies employ 1.4 certified professionals per location. Within all retail and non-retail reporting companies, 30 percent of agronomic professionals carry a professional certification. 

Three out of four farmers rely on their agronomist for fertilizer recommendations

on the farm
More about State of the industry report