Dr. Dan Talks Agronomy

Going for the 4R

Certified crop advisers are agronomists who have been certified to have a certain levels of agronomic knowledge. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer file photo)

There is a lot of interest in proper soil nutrient management today, driven not just from a crop yield or economic point of view, but from an environmental perspective. Keeping nutrients out of surface waters, whether it's to prevent hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, algae blooms in Lake Erie, or to deal with the lawsuits around high nitrate levels in watersheds flowing to the Des Moines Water Works, is highly visible issue for agriculture.

While farming is not the only source of those nutrients, it is an easily targeted source. Farmers are looking for better management practices to keep the nutrients for the crop and out of surface waters, and looking for help in figuring out which methods will work for them.

The fertilizer industry has developed the "4R" program to help growers achieve the goal of nutrient loss reduction. The 4Rs stand for the right fertilizer type, at the right rate, in the right place at the right time. You have probably seen 4R posters in your ag retail place of business. You can learn more at http://www.nutrientstewardship.com/….

To help growers become better nutrient managers the 4R program reached out to the American Society of Agronomy's CCA (Certified Crop Adviser) program to develop an additional certification in 4R Nutrient Management Specialist (4R NMS). I'm already a CCA, and recently registered to sit for 4R exam in August.

Certified crop advisers are agronomists who have been certified to have a certain levels of agronomic knowledge. They don't just get a certificate, they have to certify their knowledge by passing national and state exams and demonstrating proficiency across four competency areas: crop management, pest management, nutrient management and soil and water management.

The CCAs walking fields and talking to growers today are self-employed consultants or employed by universities or USDA, coops and ag retail, manufacturers (ag chem, fertilizer, and seed) or product distribution. A number of farmers also are CCAs. To stay certified they must collect continuing education credits, which you'll often hear speakers talking about at a lot of field days and agronomic events that qualify for those credits.

The 4R NMS specialty-certification focuses on CCAs who do nutrient management planning, including helping farmers manage the use of fertilizers, manures, organic composts or other nutrient sources. The 4R certification is currently available in eight Corn Belt states including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin as well as in Ontario in Canada. Once CCAs get this specialty certification, they will pay an additional annual fee and increase the number of approved CEUs in Nutrient Management and Soil and Water Management from 5 to 7.5 each over a two-year cycle (https://www.certifiedcropadviser.org).

To be 4R certified, CCAs have to demonstrate mastery across five proficiency areas: Nutrient Management Planning; Nitrogen; Phosphorus; Potassium, Secondary, Micronutrients and Lime; and Manure Management. Much of the questioning in the exam will be around those 4Rs; how to determine the Right Rate, Time, Source and Place along with overall approaches to nutrient management planning including yield, economics and environmental considerations. That obviously means CCAs need to spend some time reviewing the basic material they have already been exposed to in college or the numerous classes and conferences they have attended.

CCAs, like myself, who want the 4R designation do it because they feel it is important to demonstrate both their proficiency as well as their professional commitment to helping growers become manage nutrients while helping foster the image that farmers are good stewards of the land and environment.

Soon there should be a growing number of us who can help farmers be the stewards they strive to be. I'll let you know in the future more on the test and the program. Wish me luck!

Dan Davidson can be reached at AskDr.Dan@dtn.com