14 Mar 2013

What is 4R Nutrient Stewardship?

A link to more resources for this concept

The use of fertilizers is vital for sustainable food and fiber production - nutrients are taken up by plants, transferred into food products and removed from the farm. It is estimated that around half of current food production relies on extra soil fertility added by fertilizers, so that they are essential for sustainable crop production. Environmental concerns about under use of nutrients leading to declining soil health, and the over use of nutrients causing environmental pressures, means that we - as a society - need to get fertilizer use right. There is a need to ensure that nutrient inputs are used efficiently and effectively to minimize their environmental impact. In response, nutrient best management practices (BMP’s) have been developed that seek to address social, economic and environmental goals.

In the mid-2000's, it was recognized that a sustained and directed research and communication strategy was needed to provide a framework for developing fertilizer BMPs, and from that impetus, the international fertilizer industry developed and adopted the Global 4R Nutrient Stewardship Framework. This strategy aims to communicate a common vision for the development of fertilizer BMPs and its core strategies to meet the sustainability objectives is to apply the right source (or product), at the right rate, right time and right place –summarized as the four rights or 4Rs.

The 4R concept is simple and is based on the premise that four principles of nutrient management - right source @ right rate, right time, and right place provide the basis and flexibility needed for nutrient management in global agriculture. The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Framework summarizes a process –as well as defining an endpoint - in developing sustainable nutrient BMPs. It is guided by implementing practices considering the 4Rs guided by good science, with that knowledge shared between farming communities and the wider society.

The images associated with 4R Nutrient Stewardship has at its center the interlocking puzzle pieces of source, rate, time and place, indicating how these four fit together and are interdependent - change one and the others need to be adjusted. These 4 puzzle pieces sit on a background that represents the farming system, to show that the 4R's interact with the soil-plant-climate - as well as with the goals of the cropping system to meet the sustainability goals of agriculture. 4R nutrient stewardship does not define the cropping system, it sits within the cropping system and when the 4 Rights interconnect, sustainability goals will be met also. Good agronomy is fundamental to any cropping system but there is no right system as the goals will vary from person to person, paddock to paddock, farm to farm, region to region, and by agro ecosystem.

Nutrient stewardship is emphasized through this approach, as the source/rate/time/place puzzle pieces fit together within a farming system that aims to deliver economic, environmental and social sustainability outcomes. The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA), The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) and the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) are assisting the industry communicate this strategy as well as work to develop BMPs based on the 4Rs.

To assist, IPNI has developed materials to support this approach (see http://www.ipni.net/4R) including the nutrient stewardship manual (printed and ebook formats), slide/ppt sets to support the manual, Video/DVD, and othre resources. Staff at IPNI are continually adding and updating cases studies on the importance of 4R Nutrient Stewarsdship, as well as examples of how source, rate, time and place can affect fertilizer use efficiency.

In Australia, IPNI is working with the dairy industry through the Dairy Australia project FertSmart, Fertilizer Australia (previously Fertilizer Industry of Australia) through the industry stewardship program FertCare and the More Profit from Crop Nutrition project supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation to focus on applying 4R Nutrient Stewardship to learning materials and programs.

The 4R framework is an international standard developed and endorsed by the fertilizer industry, with materials to support the concepts and puts fertilizer management in the context of sustainability - it is much more than source/rate/time/place.

More about: 4R Nutrient Stewardship