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Earth Day 2021: the 4R’s

To celebrate Earth Day this year, we are showcasing the different ways Ontario grain farmers are protecting the environment.  Let’s start off with a practice called The 4R’s or the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Strategy.

Being a “steward of the environment” and being environmentally responsible means farmers are ensuring that the grains are grown in a healthy way. This includes making sure that the fertilizer (learn more about fertilizer from Fertilizer Canada) or pesticides products they choose to use are applied correctly and are applied in a way that will not negatively impact the environment. This is where a farming practice called the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Strategy comes into play. The Ontario Government has been a leader in nutrient management by recognizing the 4Rs: a phrase used to describe how fertilizers are applied in Ontario. They stand for the concept of applying fertilizers in the right source at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.  

When plants are young and growing, they may need fertilizers added to the soil to keep them healthy.

The goal of this stewardship strategy is designed to help farmers effectively use fertilizers to increase the crop health and production while ensuring the sustainable future of the agriculture industry. This strategy relates back to fertilizer applications and ensuring they are applied correctly, by using the references to the 4Rs. 

Apply the right source of nutrient:

The right source refers to a farmer selecting the right fertilizer source; making sure to select the fertilizer type to match their crop needs. For example, when we need a vitamin or nutrient boost in our diets, we choose food that will give us that benefit. We are choosing the right source of food for our nutrient requirements.  

At the right rate:

The right rate refers to making sure that the right blend of fertilizers matches the crop needs. After soil testing a soil might lack nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and a crop will need those in order to successfully grow. Farmers apply what is needed in the right rates or right amounts to ensure the crop has what is it needs to grow- but there aren’t leftover nutrients that could be harmful to other crops or waterways. 

At the right time:

Having fertilizer applied at the right time means that fertilizer is spread at a time when crops need the nutrients. Again, this helps eliminates any risk of the fertilizers leaving the field and is available for the growing plants to use when they it. Much like how we take vitamins before we start to develop issues within our own health.  

And in the right place:

Applying fertilizer in the right place means keeping nutrients where crops can use them. They are applied directly into the soil, or as a spray onto the plants rather than just haphazardly putting them onto a field and hoping the plant gets some nutrients.  

By following these 4R principles farmers are taking into consideration economic, social and environmental aspects of applying fertilizer to help crops grow. By practicing the 4Rs farmers are taking large steps to increasing the sustainability of agriculture systems. 

Watch Henry describe how he uses the 4R approach on his farm!

4R nutrient stewardship helps to preserve the surrounding ecosystems by ensuring that more high quality crops are able to be grown while using less land. Additionally, using this strategy  helps to retain nutrients within a field’s boundary which reduces the amount of nutrients that are not utilized by plants. This will then in turn reduce the amount of nutrients that escape’s a fields boundary and pollutes its surrounding environment.  

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Strategy helps minimize the impact of fertilizer impacts on the environment which results in improved soil health, decreased environmental pollution and protected wildlife.  

Read more about the 4Rs on Nutrient Stewardship’s website.