By Justin Walker
Communications Specialist

Protecting the environment remains a priority for farmers during planting, growing and harvesting seasons.

Fertilizer can play a role in achieving that goal, and the Fertilizer Institute is offering certification programs to help retailers and crop consultants assist farmers.

The 4R nutrient stewardship certification program, a state and regional program, is designed to train retailers and consultants to assist farmers when it comes to the right fertilizer source used at the right rate, the right time and in the right place. The program is considered the gold standard for fertilizer application, Kathy Mathers, vice president of Public Affairs at the Fertilizer Institute, said.

“The 4Rs are in a framework for managing nutrients—managing fertilizers in a way that protects the environment but also ensures that farmers remain profitable,” Mathers said. “It’s a big move for agriculture in terms of getting some stakeholders who didn’t necessarily think that farmers could use fertilizer in an environmentally safe way to understand that we are doing that.”

The program has been accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has the support of environmental groups.

It’s just another aspect of the Fertilizer Institute measuring agricultural sustainability, Mathers said.

Currently, the group is working with food companies to build fertilizer metrics to develop a field print calculator. They also are working with retailers to develop quantifiable metrics to show the public how their efforts are protecting the environment.

“Fertilizer is oftentimes identified as one of the top, if not the top issue, when looking at the climate impact of its supply chain,” she said. “Fertilizer doesn’t always come to the top of everybody’s mind, but it is really important that we do what we can to get ahead of this.”

It is a particularly important issue at this time of year, as farmers are need of fertilizer products, Mathers said.

“Just looking at where prices are, we’re a little bit up from where we were last year on most of the major nutrients,” she said. “Farmers aren’t going to waste that, and we want to do the best we can to ensure that they don’t.”

Farmers take the necessary steps to apply fertilizers and other crop protection products properly at a safe level for food and fiber production, Mathers said.

“That is something that we have hammered home for years and years,” she said. “Farmers aren’t going to use any more than they need. Our role with the 4Rs is to ensure that they get just that right amount. Not too little, not too much.”

The Fertilizer Institute is also looking at other issues important to farmers across the nation.