Managing Nutrients with Best Management Practices

The ongoing work to reduce algal blooms in Lake Erie has moved to many farm fields in Southwestern Ontario where there is intensive cropping on some of the best soils and climate around. Although we know that it is not the only source, we do know that agriculture has contributed to the challenge of nutrients entering this body of water and causing issues with the lake’s water quality.

Canada has developed a voluntary program for managing nutrients based on a program from the state of Ohio, which also borders Lake Erie. In Ontario it is called the ‘4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program’ which ‘manages the supply of synthetic fertilizer’ being used on land in agriculture. The main thrust of the program is to encourage “Right source, Right rate, Right time, and Right place”, thus, the name – 4R program.

Several of the major fertilizer suppliers in Ontario and certified crop advisors are heavily involved with this program and encouraging farmers to utilize the recommendations it suggests with the goal of reducing nutrient losses to water sources. It’s these losses, particularly phosphorus, that contribute to the algal growth in the lake.

Fertilizer Canada along with Thompsons Farm Supply organized a day in July to show how the program has been developing so far. Two fields were viewed that have been following the program’s recommendations and using the 4R program’s best management practices to make more efficient use of the fertilizer that is added to the soils. CFFO is one of the organizations that endorses this program and has signed on with governments to promote this program to its farming members.

What is important for the ag industry to remember is that if this voluntary program does not result in a significant reduction of nutrient losses to water bodies, the government may legislate requirements that must be followed, something farmers may not welcome.

The second part of the 4R program is designed to connect with the general public to build an understanding that agriculture is doing its part in cleaning up our waterways. The strong message is that Canada’s fertilizer industry is working to ensure that our lakes and waterways remain drinkable, swimmable and fishable. The industry is science-based and committed to research and innovation to ensure environmental stewardship when products are being used. By being in the forefront of voluntary efforts to reduce algal blooms farmers can demonstrate to customers that they are good environmental stewards.

Working together as an industry with a positive and cooperative approach, will do wonders for the environment around us. By adopting the 4R program, agriculture sets an example to other industries to find best practices that benefit our water sources and improve conditions for communities, nature and wildlife.

Posted by Paul Bootsma on July 31, 2019

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  • Richard says:

    What about the bio solids being used in Southwest Ontario? How does this affect the watershed?

    • Gabe Ferguson says:

      4R nutrient application is about doing the “right” thing. Any nutrient source applied at the wrong place, wrong time and wrong rate has the potential to cause off farm nutrient loss. Biosolids are governed under the nutrient management act which requires greater management restrictions for biosolids than manure. We could point fingers and argue about what causes greater harm, but, perhaps the better option is to share the principals of 4R – right source, place, time and rate with everyone that applies fertilizer, manure, biosolids and other nutrient sources. Let’s all focus on getting soil tests, setting realistic yield goals, crediting all nutrient sources and having a crop rotation that allows for nutrient application during the time of year that protects soil and lowers loss from fields. CCAs and farm supply outlets are willing to help.

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