Research and experience tell us there is a delicate balance between sufficient fertilizer to make a crop and excess fertilizer resulting in environmental loss. The complexities of managing a system with biological, physical and chemical properties are confounding. And water “aka rain” – whether too little, just right or too much – creates even more consternation. We can’t let these challenges be excuses for inaction.
So what actions can we take? Evidence is emerging to indicate a healthy soil can mitigate the effects of weather on nutrient use by the crop and environmental loss. But, knowledge gaps exist creating a critical need to link agronomic and environmental performance to practice change. Farming is an expensive enterprise; expecting farmers to change management, practices, and equipment with limited information on results and impact (whether economic or environmental) is unfair.
We must fill the knowledge gaps. The fertilizer industry has engaged stakeholders to promote the 4Rs, application of the Right Source at the Right Rate, the Right Time and in the Right Place. And, to better understand the effects of using suites of 4R practices on farm economics and the environment we created the 4R Research Fund. Since 2013, the industry has contributed $5.5M to the Fund supporting 22 projects at U.S. and Canadian research institutions.
A new project, matched with $1 million in funds from the 4R Research Fund (the Foundation for Agronomic Research (FAR)), was selected to receive a $1 million research grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture (FFAR) to study the impact suites of 4R practices have on soil health, yield, nutrient use efficiency, and nutrient losses. The project involves a network of coordinated studies in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ontario, Canada. Current partners include Iowa State University, University of Illinois, Purdue University, University of Minnesota, the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Environmental Defense Fund.
Long term improvements in agriculture depend on maintaining or improving soil health while sustainably producing food, energy and fiber and while protecting water quality in an ever-changing climate. Our inability to control the weather does not mean agricultural has an inability to effect change.