Four Rs Of Nutrients

A well-rounded fertility program boosts profits.

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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The 4R strategy manages the right resources at the right rate, right time and right place, Image by Jim Patrico

The three Rs have long been seen as the foundation of a well-rounded education. Now, some farmers are touting four Rs as a way to achieve a well-rounded nutrient strategy.

Illinois farmer Grant Strom discussed farmer innovation with the 4R nutrient strategy during the latest Fertilizer Outlook and Technology Conference, in New Orleans. The Dahinda, Illinois, farmer is co-owner/operator of Strom Farms, a corn and soybean operation.

Strom explains a 4R nutrient strategy is about the right sources at the right rate, right time and right place. He says they adopted the 4Rs at Strom Farms for several reasons, including variability of field conditions, a need to increase fertilizer efficiency and talk of increased future regulations. He says the reevaluation has led to some wholesale changes in his nutrient application.

P, K and N. In the past, Strom used one application to put down enough phosphorus (P) and potash (K) for two years. That approach is gone, with the producer now putting down just enough of the nutrients for one year. And, when applying nitrogen (N), Strom has moved away from a fall application and now applies all nitrogen in the spring or at in-season applications.

“It comes down to economics for us,” Strom explains. “We have increased fertilizer efficiency with less pounds per bushel produced, which saves us money.”

There are major barriers that can prevent farmers from fully implementing a 4R nutrient strategy on their farms. With the different applications of nutrients throughout the growing season, there is an increase in equipment costs. This can be a huge hurdle for smaller or lower-capital operations to overcome, the producer says.

Another barrier is the amount of time it takes to implement these strategies. Strom says he could literally spend days with his agronomists figuring out all the products and approaches available and necessary to apply fertilizer more efficiently.

He adds the fertilizer industry is not yet fully equipped to handle a shift to the 4R nutrient strategy--at least not in his region. Strom points, for example, to anhydrous ammonia as a product often applied in the fall, even though agronomists recommend against it.

The best way to convince other farmers the 4Rs will be worth the time and expense is to point out big yields are possible. Plus, there is the potential to save money.

“Farmers are business owners; they obviously care about the environment, but they also have to be economically viable,” he concludes. 4R may just be a way to do both.


Russ Quinn