The Nutrient Stewardship Council, the governing body of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, announced that more than 1 million acres in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) are now under the guidance of nutrient service providers that have earned certification through its program.
The voluntary certification program is a regionally concentrated effort by the agriculture industry to significantly reduce and prevent applied nutrients from running off fields, which has contributed to algal blooms in Lake Erie, such as the one responsible for the shutdown of Toledo’s water supply in early August of 2014.
Twenty-five nutrient service providers – advisers to farmers for soil, nutrient and crop management – have achieved certified status through the program since its inception in March 2014. These certified facilities provide nutrient recommendations or nutrient application services to 4,350 farmer customers covering 1.8 million acres, with 1.2 million of these acres located in the WLEB watershed. Over 20 percent of total farming acres in the WLEB are now supported by certified nutrient service providers through the program.
“The one-million acre milestone is significant because it represents a change in attitudes throughout the basin,” said Carrie Vollmer-Sanders, chairwoman of the Nutrient Stewardship Council and Western Lake Erie Basin project director for The Nature Conservancy. “Social scientists would say that 20 percent is often the ‘tipping point’ at which change is embraced. It is no longer just the innovators becoming 4R certified, it is becoming the status quo.”
Utilizing fertilizer to grow crops, not algae
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program was created to encourage agricultural retailers, nutrient service providers and other certified professionals to adopt proven best practices through the 4Rs. The 4R concept, developed by the International Plant Nutrition Institute, Fertilizer Canada and The Fertilizer Institute, refers to using the Right source of nutrients at the Right rate and Right time in the Right place.
The program provides science-based information to grow crops, while considering individual farms’ needs. The certification program’s auditable requirements were developed by the 4R Certification Program Advisory Committee, consisting of a broad representation of agribusinesses, farmers, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations and private industries. Nutrient service providers are audited by trained, third-party auditors on the program’s 41 requirements.
“Becoming certified requires an investment of time and money from fertilizer retailers (nutrient service providers), which makes the speedy adoption of the program all that more impressive, said Vollmer-Sanders. “It’s a serious commitment from the agricultural community to ensure that fertilizer is used to grow crops, and not algae.”
The fertilizer industry’s 4R Research Fund, accumulated through private and public funding sources, is providing the means to evaluate specific impacts of the adoption of 4R standards and the certification program on crop productivity and profitability, water quality, and perceptions of farmers, nutrient service providers and residents in the WLEB.
“The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program is central to long-term reduction of algae bloom issues in Lake Erie, and it will take a blend of approaches to reach reduction goals,” said Chris Jahn, president of The Fertilizer Institute. “The program provides a common framework for all who provide agricultural services and farm in the Western Lake Erie Basin. TFI’s strong support of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program is evidence of our willingness to collaborate with other stakeholders in pursuit of a common goal.”
With initial and ongoing financial support from commodity groups, fertilizer companies and environmental and research foundations, including The Mosaic Company Foundation, the certification program has grown in reach and effectiveness throughout the past two years.
“At Mosaic, we support and promote the 4R Nutrient Stewardship framework to help farmers achieve the benefits of fertilizer while reducing nutrient loss to the environment,” said Rick McLellan, board member of The Mosaic Company Foundation and senior vice president – commercial for The Mosaic Company. “We are proud to partner with the Nutrient Stewardship Council, and we look forward to ongoing collaboration that builds on this significant certification milestone.”
Educational 4R event to be held in February
The Nutrient Stewardship Council will host a complimentary “4R Farming 4 Sustainability” educational workshop on the 4Rs and the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program on Feb. 12 at the Holiday Inn Fort Wayne, Indiana – IPFW Coliseum. For more information on the event, visit www.oaba.net/events, e-mail email@example.com or call 614-326-7520.