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Over half of the world’s crop yields are attributable to fertilizer. When properly managed, fertilizers support cropping systems that provide economic, environmental and social benefits. However, poorly managed crop nutrient applications that do not remain in the root zone can decrease profitability and increase nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air. 4R Nutrient Stewardship is an innovative and science-based approach to using fertilizer while enhancing environmental protection, crop production, farmer profitability and sustainability.

The Mosaic Company and our agronomy team are committed to educating farmers, retailers and other stakeholders about the “4Rs” to achieve timely, ongoing and long-term sustainable plant nutrition while protecting natural resources.

What is 4R Nutrient Stewardship?
Every nutrient application is a combination of source, rate, time and place. 4R Nutrient Stewardship encompasses fertilizer best management practices into a framework to achieve cropping system goals—including increased production, increased farmer profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability. To achieve those goals, the 4Rs incorporate the:

  • Right fertilizer source at the
  • Right rate, at the
  • Right time and in the
  • Right place

The concept is simple, but implementation is knowledge-intensive and site-specific. 4R Nutrient Stewardship requires the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) that optimize the efficiency of fertilizer use. BMPs vary by location, and are chosen for a given farm based on local soil and climatic conditions, crop, management conditions and other site specific factors. Other agronomic and conservation practices, such as no-till farming and the use of cover crops, play a valuable role in supporting 4R Nutrient Stewardship. As a result, fertilizer BMPs are most effective when applied with other agronomic and conservation practices.

The 4Rs’ four “rights” are interdependent and all necessary for sustainable nutrient management within cropping systems. View the 4R Nutrient Stewardship diagram for more details.

Why is 4R Nutrient Stewardship practiced?
Since soils were first cultivated to grow food – whether by smallholder farming systems or large commercial farms – crop production has had an impact on the environment. Farming affects both soil and water quality. But with modern agricultural techniques and careful management, a positive balance can be maintained between well-nourished crops and environmental protection. For fertilizer use to be sustainable, it must support cropping systems that equally provide economic, environmental and social benefits. As such, the 4R Nutrient Stewardship framework helps define practices for meeting the sustainability goals of a farming operation as defined by the stakeholders who are involved and impacted by the chosen agricultural practices.

While improper fertilization can result in water quality impairment, there is also risk to water quality from inadequate fertilization. Undernourished crops have smaller leaves and root systems, offering little protection of the soil from wind and water erosion. If the crop can’t take up the nutrients it needs because of low soil fertility or improper fertilization, there is a greater risk of soil erosion and the potential for accelerated loss of soil nutrients. A fertilization program based on 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles and science-based best management practices offers the best approach to meeting the world’s food, feed, fiber and biofuel needs while protecting precious natural resources.

How can I learn more about 4R Nutrient Stewardship?
Mosaic’s Commitment to Nutrient Stewardship:

Mosaic’s Expertise & Research: Mosaic’s website, blog and library provide educational and technical information for retailers, growers and stakeholders about best management practices.

Industry-Wide Nutrient Stewardship Tools: The Fertilizer Institute has been working collaboratively with the International Fertilizer Association, the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute to advance the 4R Nutrient Stewardship initiative. Two goals of the initiative include establishing 4Rs as a recognizable strategy for economic, social and environmental sustainability, and expanding the adoption of 4R Nutrient Stewardship globally.