Natural Resource Conservation

4R Nutrient Stewardship


Natural resource conservation is a responsibility of all people, specifically farmers and producers. There are many ways we can do our part to reduce our impact on the environment without increasing costs, jeopardizing the quality of goods produced or reduce the overall productivity of our farms.


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4R Nutrient Stewardship

Today’s farmer lives in a world where environmental concerns and increased food demand create challenges never seen before. Meet those challenges with 4R Nutrient Stewardship by choosing the Right Nutrient Source to apply at the Right Rate in the Right Place at the Right Time.


Properly managed fertilizers support cropping systems that provide economic, social and environmental benefits. On the other hand, poorly managed nutrient applications can decrease profitability and increase nutrient losses, negatively impacting water and air.


With proper nutrient management, you will:

  • Increase crop production & improve profitability
  • Minimize nutrient loss and maintain soil fertility
  • Ensure sustainable agriculture for generations to come


Best management practices, or BMPs, are designed to limit your farm’s impact on the environment. But did you know they also help maximize your crop’s yield? Incorporating the latest technology to better manage fertilizer and chemical applications will actually reduce costs and improve bottom-line profits.


In some cases, farmers may over apply or incorrectly apply nutrients to fields. Not only does this cause a poor harvest, but it also promotes an excess of nutrients that can wash away, causing environmental hazards. BMPs help to avoid this situation by creating a framework for a number of environmental safety practices.

What is 4R Nutrient Stewardship?

4R Nutrient Stewardship is a new, innovative approach for fertilizer best management practices (BMP) adopted by the world’s fertilizer industry. This approach considers economic, social and environmental dimensions of nutrient management and is essential to the sustainability of agricultural systems.

The concept is simple—apply the right source of nutrient, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place—but the implementation is knowledge-intensive and site-specific. For more information visit

TOP Best Management Practices (BMP)


Test your soil

Before you can adequately apply nutrients to your soil, you must first test the soil. Testing the soil identifies the specific nutrient that is low and volume needed to maximize crop production.


Follow the test results

Once provided with the test results and recommendations, some farmers fail to follow the report’s advice. A soil test report provides valuable information that can save time and increase crop production. It will outline the amount of nutrients the soil can supply and makes recommendations on the volume of nutrients the producer should apply. Soil test results also provide a pH level, and if the pH is too low it recommends what kind of and how much lime to add. Following the test results keeps farmers from wasting money on unneeded nutrients.


Be reasonable

Farmers should keep realistic yield goals in mind. Sometimes, to obtain a larger harvest, a grower might over apply nutrients, thinking that the yield will be greater. But this only wastes money and increases water pollution from runoff. In contrast, proper fertilization increases crop residues, which improves soil organic matter levels and the soil’s fertility. To figure out your ideal goal, the best place to look is your field’s yield history. You can also consult with your local extension office to help locate soil surveys that have crop yield estimates.


Choose the right N source

When nitrogen is added to a field, it is important that it remains in the root zone long enough to be absorbed by the plant. Depending on your nitrogen source, your nitrogen could be held in the soil for months, or whisked away by runoff water immediately. Slow-release N fertilizers can reduce N losses. In some instances where the soil is prone to leaching, inhibitors might need to be applied to slow down nitrification.


Add correctly

Nitrogen and phosphorus are prone to be lost to erosion or water runoff unless certain measures are taken during application. The nutrients should be banded directly into the soil or applied to the surface and then mixed in using disking, plowing or rotary tilling. Researchers have found that the poorest way to apply nitrogen and phosphorus is by spinner spreader because it administers the fertilizer unevenly.


Be on time

It is more important to be on time with your nitrogen application than with any other nutrient because many crops need large amounts of N and it is quite moveable in the soil. In contrast, phosphorus is very stable and has a wider application window. Ideally, you should apply N in small doses that are tailored to the plant’s need. Most of the time, N is applied in split applications that coincide with the growth pattern of the crop.


Use manure

Where practical, manure is a great source of nutrients for plants. But note that the wrong application or placement of manure can still cause pollution and hinder the growth of the plants.


Control erosion and water flow

By keeping erosion in check, valuable nutrients won’t be washed away from your fields to potentially damage land elsewhere. If you need assistance, you can contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS/USDA), or your county Extension agent to help develop a conservation farm plan.


Keep animals away

If manure contaminates a water source, the consequences can be dire. For pasture animals especially, managing manure can be a challenge. Keep animals away from drainage waters so that manure and sediment won’t be present. Also, areas where animals congregate should have runoff filtered through vegetative buffer strips.

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