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.
4R nutrient stewardship requires the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) that optimize the efficiency of fertilizer use. The goal of fertilizer BMPs is to match nutrient supply with crop requirements and to minimize nutrient losses from fields. Selection of BMPs varies by location, and those chosen for a given farm are dependent 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 are based on scientific research. It takes knowledgeable, dedicated, professional farmers committed to doing the right thing to achieve economic, social, and environmental benefits. By following the 4R system farmers can increase yields on existing cropland (thus conserving non-cropland for other uses), replace the nutrients growing plants remove from the soil, and return more organic carbon to the soil, which results in greater soil health and added benefits for the environment.
The 4R nutrient stewardship concept was developed because the fertilizer industry recognized the importance of sustainable agricultural production and the importance of efficient fertilizer use to the goals of sustainable development. For fertilizer use to be sustainable, it must support cropping systems that provide economic, social, and environmental benefits.