The 4 R’s Of Fertilizer

With the high cost of fertilizer and the environmental issues that can arise from misuse of this product, all producers need to be aware of how to use fertilizer effectively and efficiently.  We have technology that is available to help us do a better job.  We have to use this technology  and effectively.  Food has to be a reasonable price.  The practices we use must sustainable.  We must protect the environment from harm.  To accomplish these goals we must have a plan.  The use of fertilizer is going to be a part of solution for increased food production.  The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) is a fertilizer industry group that is dedicated to the proper and efficient use of fertilizers. The Institute has put together a program called the 4R Stewardship Concept to help farmers use fertilizers effectively.

The four rights of fertilizer application are the right source of fertilizer, the right rate of fertilizer, the right time of fertilizer application and the right place to put the fertilizer.  All these factors must be aligned with the environmental conditions that exist, maintain profitability and be acceptable practices for the local situation.  Stewardship by the farmer is what holds this system together.  Taking care of the land in a sustainable fashion is essential.

The right source of fertilizer is using the fertilizer that fits the environment that it is being applied in.  Equipment plays a part in how the source of fertilizer works.    Different environmental conditions as well as the equipment being used will determine which source of fertilizer makes the most sense in a specific situation.

The right rate of fertilizer is critical for getting the best dollar value for the fertilizer applied.  Fertilizers must add to yield.   Fertilizer rates that are too high increase the risk for environmental pollution.  The right rate feeds the plant to obtain the most profitable yield for the dollar invested.

The right time of application is critical.  The fertilizer needs to be made available to the plant when it needs it the most.  The fertilizer could be fall applied, spring applied or top-dressed.  Knowing the environmental conditions in the local area is critical to know the right time to apply fertilizer.

The right place to apply fertilizer is the final piece in the puzzle.  The distance from the seed is important when talking placement of fertilizer.  It is critical to get fertilizer close to the seed but if it is too close, it will damage the seed. Placement of fertilizer must be considered to insure proper fertilizer use.

The whole package of the 4 R’s of fertilizer application is held together by science.  For effective and efficient fertilizer use, testing needs to be done. Local testing means that the results are more likely to be applicable to you area.  Science is that measure if the 4 R’s of fertilizer are working.  We all need to ensure that the science that we have available is being put together properly.  This will insure the productivity of our fields in the long run.


By Dave Cubbon, P Ag