Properly managed fertilizers support cropping systems that provide economic, social and environmental benefits. On the other hand, poorly managed nutrient applications can decrease profitability and increase nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air.

The 4R concept – the right fertilizer source at the right rate at the right time and in the right place – is one path to higher productivity, increased farmer profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability.

4R Nutrient Stewardship, an initiative of Fertilizer Canada, recognizes that Canadian farmers are already following best management practices in fertilizer use, but this needs to be demonstrated to the world. While not a complex undertaking, many producers require assistance completing and implementing a 4R Nutrient Stewardship Management Plan on their farm. To help farmers achieve these cropping system goals, agri-retailers across the country are becoming 4R Designated.

The Steps to Designation

A 4R-Designated agri-retailer assists their customers by helping them create a soil and crop-specific fertility plan using the 4Rs. The 4R program reduces run-off from excess products by matching crop requirements with nutrient levels. But to do this, a retailer must become 4R Designated, which is achieved in four easy steps.

In the first step, the company makes a corporate decision to become a 4R-Designated agri-retailer. In step two, the company appoints a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) to become a 4R-Designated agronomist.

Agronomists are taking a significant step to demonstrate their competency in specialized nutrient, soil and water management and will share this knowledge with their farmers and other stakeholders. Cassandra Cotton

To receive the designation, the agronomist must successfully complete the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Training, which is worth 5.5 Continuing Education Units and is offered through Fertilizer Canada’s online eLearning platform. The final step requires that they sign an attestation, indicating they will follow the 4Rs.

“In the 4R-Designation process, a 4R agronomist plays a pivotal role in delivering the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program along with agri-retailers,” says Cassandra Cotton, director of sustainability and membership with Fertilizer Canada in Ottawa.

Getting started with Fertilizer Canada’s eLearning platform is easy, she says – all you need is a computer with Internet access. After registering, users have immediate access to the training module. Students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedule, but Cotton says the course typically takes half a day.

The newly-designated 4R agronomist can then develop a Nutrient Management Plan with their farmer customers. The agronomist must ensure this plan follows the 4R principles outlined in the 4R checklist, and must personally verify the plan before it is put into practice.

The retailer then helps the grower report their acres, crop and watershed region under the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Management Plan at year-end. Finally, the agronomist annually reviews the plan with the farmer to ensure
incremental improvement is achieved.

By completing the course, agronomists will gain a higher level of expertise in nutrient management. This training utilizes the 4Rs as the foundation for nutrient management and protecting soil and water.

“Agronomists are taking a significant step to demonstrate their competency in specialized nutrient, soil and water management and will share this knowledge with their farmers and other stakeholders,” says Cotton.

Additionally, by helping farmers get their acres counted, a retailer is getting the first and best opportunity to fully understand their fertilizer requirements.

Hitting the Books

Dave Curry, a 4R-Designated agronomist and field marketer with Hensall District Co-operative Inc. at the Ailsa Craig and Forest, Ont. locations, found the 4R-Designation process to be straightforward.

“Firstly, to get your 4R Nutrient Stewardship Designation you must have your CCA designation – the program is almost an addition to the CCA course,” he says. “I knew that it would be important going forward to have my 4R Designation.”

Curry was part of the first group of about 50 agronomists who wrote the 4R exam in Ontario last summer. He says the exam was multiple choice but required several calculations, like converting phosphorus to phosphate to determine the amount to use on a farmer’s field.

As a whole, I think it’s in our best interest to become 4R Designated and promote the program with our farmer customers. Dave Curry

“We had great resources for studying and preparing for the exam. There was also a pre-exam workshop and practice exams that had similar questions to what we expected on the exam,” he says. “It was a big help having co-workers and colleagues to bounce questions and ideas off when studying.”

Through the course, Curry learned about subjects like manure management and the availability of certain nutrients in manure. “I learned to think more critically about where we’re losing nutrients in our cropping systems. It changed my mindset on when and where we apply certain nutrients,” he says.

Curry has always promoted nutrient stewardship – even before obtaining his 4R Designation. “I think stewardship of the land and water is of the upmost importance. We need to make sure we pass on a clean and safe environment for the next generation,” he says. “I’ve always had the goal of maximizing my customers’ yields while keeping in mind economics and environmental stewardship. We all need to do our part to keep nutrients in the field and mitigate off-site movement.”

Once an agri-retailer becomes 4R Designated, Fertilizer Canada provides them with an easy-to-use retailer support kit which includes a brochure, planning guides and promotional materials to ensure a 4R Nutrient Stewardship Management Plan is properly developed with the farmer.

Maintaining Designation

To maintain 4R Designation for themselves and their agronomists, agri-retailers must have processes in place to ensure all 4R agronomists have the appropriate agronomic knowledge, skills and expertise related to their assigned duties. They must also have documented processes in place to initially evaluate the competencies of agronomists and conduct ongoing monitoring of their competencies and performance related to 4R Nutrient Stewardship Designation assessments, says Cotton.

It’s also important for agri-retailers to maintain up-to-date records, she says, including education, qualifications, experience, training, professional status and the competencies of agronomists working on 4R Nutrient Stewardship Designation assessments. These competencies should be reassessed every three years.

Despite the amount of time needed to complete the process and the work required to maintain designation, Curry says the process of becoming 4R Designated was a great experience and not as challenging as he expected.
“I think the 4R program is something that adds value to a retailer in the fertilizer industry. My advice to any CCA that deals with fertilizer is to write the exam,” he says. “As a whole, I think it’s in our best interest to become 4R Designated and promote the program with our farmer customers.”

Visit to learn more about becoming a 4R-Designated agri-retailer.

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