Update from the Field: What are the 4Rs?
Posted by David Dyson, Agronomist on February 19, 2018
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In the past few years, excess nutrients in our watersheds have been causing havoc where they converge. We see large concentrations of phosphorus in Lake Erie causing algae blooms and large concentrations of nitrates in the Gulf of Mexico causing a “dead zone” the size of New Jersey. I believe there are four main sources for these pollutants: animal waste, human waste, industrial discharge, and commercial fertilizer. We in the fertilizer business can have an impact on the commercial fertilizer side of the equation.
4R nutrient stewardship is an innovative approach to fertilizer best management practices (BMPs) to help achieve agricultural sustainability. The 4Rs imply there are four aspects to every fertilizer application and it provides a simple framework to assess whether a given crop has access to the necessary nutrients. To help identify opportunities to improve fertilizer efficiency and prevent nutrient movement from each field, ask: was the RIGHT FERTILIZER SOURCE given to the crop at the RIGHT RATE, RIGHT TIME, and in the RIGHT PLACE? These four aspects of fertilizer management are interconnected, and none of the four can be right when any one of them is wrong.
The RIGHT SOURCE can be the use of low-salt fertilizer, as placing fertilizer closer to the seed can greatly increase both efficiency of the fertilizer and yield (Figure 1). The use of low-salt fertilizer will enable growers to reduce the amount of starter fertilizer to 3-5 gallons to the acre while providing a great carrier for micros, humic acids, biologicals, and insecticides.
Figure 1: Closer is better when it comes to starter placement, Ken Ferrie April 2000 Farm Journal
The RIGHT RATE can be accomplished though soil and tissue testing. The Andersons’ Retail Farm Centers already provide an excellent variable rate program. Through soil testing the soil management zones and providing recommendations for the individual zones, we can pinpoint where and how much fertilizer needs to be applied across the field. While in season, tissue samples can tell us where and what type of fertilizer to apply. As I always say, “Don’t guess, soil or tissue test!”
The RIGHT TIME to put fertilizer on can always be a big question. Nitrogen can be one of the biggest and more valuable investments for growers. Should they apply nitrogen pre-plant so the plant will never be in need of nitrogen, or should growers apply in-season while the plant is growing and can take up the product? When applying nitrogen, we should always suggest adding a stabilizer. UltraMate LQ®, a humate-based soil amendment from The Andersons, can be easily added to any liquid nitrogen. UltraMate LQ can even be added when nitrogen is split applied (Figure 2).
Figure 2: This shows an increase where UltraMate LQ was applied by Walton, IN
The last “R” stands for the RIGHT PLACE. We need to keep nutrients where crops can use them. Variable rate technology enables us to apply fertilizer and lime where the crop needs it, not where the nutrients are already high. The days of going out and flinging two tons of lime over all the acres of a field are over.
In conclusion, following the 4Rs can help prevent nutrients from leaving the fields. This will protect the watersheds, as well as increase yields, by keeping those nutrients for the crops.
The 4R Mission
Fertilizer is a component of sustainable crop production systems, and the fertilizer industry recognizes the need to efficiently utilize these nutrients. The guidelines for the 4R principles are endorsed and supported by the International Plant Nutrition Institute, The Fertilizer Institute, The Canadian Fertilizer Institute, and the International Fertilizer Industry Association. For more information, visit: www.nutrientstewardship.com.
Dave Dyson is a regional agronomist for The Andersons’ Farm Centers which are located throughout Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He is an Indiana native and grew up on a dairy farm in Miami County. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Crop & Soil Science, Dave has a deep knowledge of various agronomic topics and is committed to helping growers improve their crops. If you have any questions, Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UltraMate LQ is a registered trademark of The Andersons, Inc.