The 4R Opportunity

To change anything it takes a force that is able to overcome the momentum that is currently in motion.  The industry has been driven by a complicated mix of demand, economics, and policy.  This led to a yield-driven model of farming.  Many times quantity trumps quality.  In the process, those items that have the least representation, like water quality, get ignored.  Speaking from experience, I am convinced that the agricultural industry has some of the most environmentally aware people you will ever meet.  They do not want to harm the streams we fish or the waterfowl we hunt.  As I wrote about the Balancing Act, there is a very real demand placed upon those in the industry.  You have partners who are becoming advocates and this needs to be cultivated.  Implementing a split application approach based on the 4R’s shows the rest of society that retailers do indeed care about this planet that we all call home.

To gain enough force we need to look to working with the CropLife 100 Group.   I see that this is already being done in places like The Big Pine Watershed.  Retailers look to suppliers for assistance.  With the cooperation of Fertilizer Canada, IPNI and TFI  I would say we are well on our way to gaining the momentum needed.  These industry groups provide a platform for many of the manufacturers of today’s manmade N sources, as well as potential new products.  Such efforts cannot be limited to a select group or agenda other than the development of the 4R’s for Nitrogen and the advancement of water quality improvement.  All nitrogen sources must be considered so that an organized and coherent effort can be developed as all can impact the goal of effective 4R Nitrogen plans.

The industry is very used to adapting.  When it determines that change must be made it begins moving toward the goal.  Some changes take time.  The change of Right Time for nitrogen application is inter-related to the rest of the 4R’s of Right Source, Rate, and Place.  This involves a mix of technology, investment, and planning.  The technology cycle is adapting the quickest of all.  This is to be expected because it cycles the fastest of all the systems.  This is a challenge when cropping and business cycles are at the same cycling times as they have been for generations.  The Right Time window can be extremely narrow and this could be difficult to manage.  Technology advancements in the areas of Nutrient Management, Water Stewardship and Field Management must be championed.  I believe much of the work has already been done by those in the industry, government, and academia to make better N recommendations based on localized situations and improved use of different N sources….some old and others not yet developed.  This is where the need to cooperate with groups like American Society of Agronomy as its vast network of experience crosses over many organizational boundaries.  In doing so, the professionals of the industry get to publically step out and show their personal dedication.  We must champion better adaption to localized weather patterns.  Sound nitrogen management is dependent upon understanding a complex set of interacting systems at the field level.

This is a very aggressive agenda.  It is complex, just as complex as the nitrogen cycle that we look to work with and not against.  We need to all the above-mentioned sources in building awareness in the advancement of the 4R’s for Nitrogen and split applications.  “Don’t make it Africa, don’t make it a race issue, make it a local issue and do prevention at each place.” Hans Rosling said on Ted Talks when speaking about world issues in reference to AIDS and how to attack the problem (minute 17:15 and onward).  I believe the same view applies to farming, fertilizer retailing and the environment.  This needs to be brought to the local level for local solutions that really are field specific.

Here are some links by category to items that have some sort of impact on nitrogen management when one consider’s the 4R Concepts.  They are in no particular order or preference.  This is not even close to being complete at all crops need nitrogen for proper growth.  Rather, they do show how the 4R’s can deal with a host of items.

Thanks for reading!





Cover Crop


N Sources

Precision Tools


Much more……


Nitrous Oxide




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