The country's first 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has been so well received in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) that it's become a model for other regions where farmers are increasingly challenged to balance rising input costs, increasing demand for higher yields, and the drive to be good stewards of America's lands and waters.
The 4Rs provide a framework to achieve cropping system goals by applying the right fertilizer source at the right rate, at the right time, in the right place. Currently, 34 nutrient service providers-with influence over 2.7 million acres of cropland-have become certified through the program.
"As we look to expand the implementation and adoption of 4R practices throughout the United States, it is crucial to have a proven strategy that can serve as a model for future efforts in other geographies," said Lara Moody, senior director of stewardship & sustainability at The Fertilizer Institute. "The 4R Certification Program in the Western Lake Erie Basin provides the flexibility and rigor needed to earn the trust of nutrient service providers, farmers, and policymakers."
A key factor to success, as explained in a recent article in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, is the support of a broad collation of regional stakeholders who recognize the significance of improved nutrient management as part of a comprehensive solution to water quality issues, such as the harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. The article, Building Partnerships to Scale Up Conservation: 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program in the Lake Erie Watershed, was authored by The Nature Conservancy, Ohio AgriBusiness Association, The Andersons, Inc., and The Fertilizer Institute and provides a roadmap for others interested in establishing similar 4R certification programs.
"The success of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program in the Lake Erie Basin has opened dialogue and opportunities to start similar programs in other areas of the country," said Carrie Vollmer-Sanders, nutrient stewardship manager for The Nature Conservancy and co-chair of the 4Rs Nutrient Stewardship Certification Council. "With support from agriculture retailers, we have an opportunity to help farmers manage their croplands for higher productivity, with less cost, and with a lasting impact on the waters we all value and rely on,"
In 2012, a diverse group of stakeholders from the business, government, academia and NGO sectors came together to develop a set of standards that would form the foundation for 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, which began in 2014. The voluntary program uses third-party auditors to certify nutrient service providers who provide nutrient management recommendations to thousands of farmers.
The certification program has impacted 35% of the farmland in the WLEB, accounting for more than 5,600 farmers. An additional 37 service providers have committed to participating in the program. Furthermore, the program had an unintended, but beneficial influence on statewide policy in Ohio when the general assembly included two of the well-supported certification criteria into legislation that was signed into law in April 2015.
The concept of 4R Nutrient Stewardship was developed by the International Plant Nutrition Institute, Fertilizer Canada, and The Fertilizer Institute. Learn more at nutrientstewardship.org.