Nutrient stewardship is discussed at a grower meeting.

AGRIS Co-operative is leading the way in nutrient stewardship.

Nutrient stewardship is an important and effective way for retailers to address the issue of environmental sustainability while having a positive effect on their customers’ efficiency and profitability.

In September 2015, the Ontario government, Fertilizer Canada and the Ontario Agri Business Association (OABA), signed a Memorandum of Cooperation, formalizing their commitment to sustainable agriculture and environmental action across the province. The partners pledged a combined total of $300,000 over three years to support 4R Nutrient Stewardship in the province.

AGRIS Co-operative Ltd. was one of the early adopters of 4R in Ontario, and one of approximately 16 retailers in the province that started implementing 4R in 2016.

“The program is very new to Ontario,” says Jim Campbell, general manager of AGRIS Co-operative and board member of OABA. “We’re evaluating how the 4R program is operated elsewhere. It’s generally talked about as a three-year process to become a fully-certified 4R retailer.”

A 4R-certified retailer helps their customers improve yields and increase profits using the 4R system to make a soil- and crop-specific fertility plan that uses the right nutrient source, at the right rate, in the right place, at the right time. The program matches nutrient levels with crop requirements and reduces run-off from excess products – thereby making an operation not only more efficient, but more environmentally sustainable. AGRIS is in the first stage of the 4R implementation process: education and staff training.

The Nutrient Stewardship Pledge was adopted by the AGRIS board on a corporate level.

Maximizing Producer Productivity

Campbell is optimistic that the nutrient stewardship program will have positive impacts on his operation as AGRIS works toward certification, and he’s confident these impacts will continue after they receive it.

“Our customers want to maximize their crop yields and minimize their impacts on the environment. 4R is going to allow us to help them do exactly that,” he says. “We’re making sure the nutrients are where the crop needs them and that those nutrients are staying on the field.”

4R retailers help their customers review the success of their fertility plan at the end of each year and recommend any necessary changes. This annual evaluation of the plan aims to inform agri-retailers so they can help their customers become more efficient and increase their profitability over time.

Environmental Protection

Efficiency and profitability are important parts of nutrient stewardship, but an equally important part is minimizing environmental impacts. In Ontario, Campbell says there is a lot of focus on Lake Erie and the phosphorus run-off into its western watershed.

Campbell believes doing the right thing for the health of Lake Erie and doing the right thing for his business are one and the same. By adopting nutrient stewardship practices, Campbell will help his customers’ bottom line, while promoting AGRIS’s reputation as a retailer that values environmental sustainability.

“As a retailer, you need to have a reputation for doing what’s right, and as retailers we have a responsibility to demonstrate the good, sustainable practices we follow,” he says. “4R Nutrient Stewardship is going to help AGRIS play our part in reducing agricultural run-off into the lake.”

As a retailer, you need to have a reputation for doing what’s right, and as retailers we have a responsibility to demonstrate the good, sustainable practices we follow. Jim Campbell

Communicating to a Growing Audience

With the agriculture industry in the public eye, Campbell says demonstrating those good practices is critically important.

“Agri-retailers are using good methods, but we’ve got to show that to a much larger group of people than ever before,” he says. “4R is the framework we can use to show society at large the sustainable nutrient practices we’re using.”

Communicating the use of sustainable practices to the public will increase the agriculture industry’s social license on a national and international level. AGRIS is doing its part to promote agriculture as an environmentally conscious industry by practicing nutrient stewardship and communicating the benefits of the program.

“AGRIS is a farmer-owned co-operative. When we report our financial earnings, we also report the activities we’re doing to help the environment,” Campbell says. “We’re able to say that 4R Nutrient Stewardship is being practiced on so many acres, and that the adoption of nutrient stewardship is increasing.”

Through the Memorandum of Cooperation, all participating retailers provide the Ontario government and other organizations with the 4R information they’ve collected, which allows the public to see how sustainability in the industry is spreading. Campbell says it is also important for people in his operation to be well informed about 4R so they can communicate AGRIS’s good practices to the people in their lives.

“We explain it to our thousand members and they pass it on. It’s important to provide them with good information so they can talk about 4R to the people they know,” he says. “And then those people can tell people. It starts with us, and it just keeps spreading.”

Learn more about 4R practices by visiting

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