Nutrient Stewardship

Nutrient Stewardship

97 percent of fertilizers used in North America are made from natural sources like the air (containing approximately 72 to 78 percent nitrogen) or ancient ocean deposits for potash and phosphate.

Nutrient Stewardship

Nutrients play a unique role in replenishing our soils and sustaining the world's growing need for food, fiber and fuel. They also contribute to the farmer’s ability to generate profits that keep growers in business. Agrium is proud to be part of an industry that provides these life-sustaining resources and maintains the quality of one of the world's most precious resources – our soil.

Why Soils Need to be Replenished

As crops grow, they take up nutrients from the soil. When the plants are harvested the nutrients that began in the soil are lost. If nutrients are not replaced, the soil quality and productivity decline. This is a gradual process but becomes a real problem. It is the reason many early civilizations failed. Historically, American pioneers could ‘Go West’ as soil nutrients were depleted. This was an option that tapered off in North America for obvious reasons but the phenomenon has continued in developing nations. It has led to the destruction of wildlife habitat and rain forests. If we are taking nutrients out of the soil during harvest we must replenish the lost nutrients not only to keep it fertile for future harvests, but also to protect land around it from being acquired to meet food demands.

By working with growers, industry associations, government, and researchers, Agrium strives to ensure nutrients are applied in amounts that sustainably replenish soils.

Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by the nutrient industry today is communication. Nutrient use and best management practices are often complex and difficult to communicate to stakeholders. As part of Agrium’s commitment to reduce the impact of its products on the environment after it leaves our hands, we have been a key supporter in the development of the Global 4R Nutrient Stewardship Framework. This science-based system identifies best practices for producers who apply nutrients. Its use allows growers to meet sustainability goals by adopting practices in the areas of rate, time, place and form. This unified approach allows all concerned stakeholders in the nutrients industry to speak with one voice and to focus limited resources to obtain the greatest value for all.

4R Nutrient Management System - right product, right rate, right time, right place.

Right FormRight Product
By using the right balance and form of nutrients, growers can meet each crop, soil, climatic and operational situation.

Right TimeRight Time
Nutrient availability is matched with crop growth patterns to maximize uptake and reduce losses.

Right RateRight Rate
Soil and plant tissue testing ensures nutrient application amounts match the crop's nutrient uptake.

Right PlaceRight Place
Placing nutrients appropriately for each farm situation reduces losses to the environment and maximizes crop uptake.

Nutrients play a critical role in the economic, social and environmental sustainability of societies around the world. Crop nutrients support the production of affordable and nutritious food, replenish soils and impact yields, which ultimately affects the livelihood of everyone from the grower to the communities that depend on them.

There is a significant opportunity to expand the industry’s performance on the use of nutrients through the development of new best management practices that are regionally specific. This would not only capitalize on economic opportunities, but also environmental and social goals. In many cases, environmental impacts can be reduced while growers’ returns increase by improving the nutrient uptake by crops and reducing losses. Use of these practices could open the door for environmental goods and services to be implemented. For example, growers could contribute to the global effort on climate change by implementing practices that reduce nitrous oxide emissions. Their reductions might qualify for offset payments under developing regulations, which would further contribute to the economic sustainability of the grower. In many cases, if best management practices are adopted in all four areas and regionally customized to the grower, performance reductions could be achieved without reducing yields.

While the framework is in its infancy, it is a sensible step forward. It provides a solid foundation for continuous improvement.

While much progress has been made developing this framework and working on the science to back it up, much is left to do. The 4R framework must be developed through multi-stakeholder dialogue involving farmers, the fertilizer industry, agricultural research, extension, policy makers, environmental NGOs and other relevant groups. This will ensure its adoption. Without such a participatory approach involving these stakeholders the recommended best practices might not be acceptable and adopted by farming communities. 


Contact us for more information on our industries 4R Global Nutrients Stewardship Framework.