4R Nutrient Certification Program Creating Unified Effort to Clean Water

July 11, 2014 Ohio Soybean Council

As a soybean farmer, you’re a steward to the environment. From the fields you plow to the corps you grow, you impact the land and water around you. As an Ohio soybean farmer, your impact travels along the current of the Ohio River, from Pennsylvania to the Mighty Mississippi and to the shores of Lake Erie, form Michigan to New York. Your impact is vital to Ohio’s water quality.

“Many variables affect the quality of Ohio’s waterways, not just agriculture. From industrial pollution and urban storm runoff to private septic systems and municipal waste from failed sewer systems, they all take a toll on water quality,” said John Motter, Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) board member and soybean farmer from Hancock County who also serves on the 4R Advisory Committee & Nutrient Stewardship Council.” While farmers can’t control any of these factors, they can work to improve that of fertilizer runoff, an issue that hits close to home for many Ohio farmers.”

The current issue at-hand involves nutrients from farmland, like phosphorus, entering Ohio’s waterways. How much and why are still largely unknown ma, making farmers’ efforts to proactively alleviate the problem that much more important. But with a late start in the fields this spring and harvest just on the horizon, farmers value every minute of every day.

That’s why it’s important that those who work hand-in-hand with you on your farm, such as agricultural retailers and nutrient service providers, are well-versed and educated, and continually improving their efforts to better serve you , your customers and the natural resources we all use and enjoy.

Agricultural retailers and nutrient service providers in the Western Lake Erie Basin are now being encouraged to join in a unified, comprehensive and responsible approach to nutrient management aimed at the long-term improvement of Lake Erie’s water quality through the new 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program.

The 4R approach – using the Right Rate and Right Time in the Right Place – serves as the science-based guideline for the new certification program, which is administered by the Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) on behalf of the Nutrient Stewardship Council, a diverse set of stakeholders from business, government, university and non-governmental sectors with a common goal of maintaining agricultural productivity while also improving the quality of Lake Erie and its contributing watersheds.

According to the Nutrient Stewardship Council, Lake Erie is a source of drinking water for millions, home to more than half the fish in the Great Lakes and a draw for tourists. Harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and other bodies of water have been on the rise that past five years, leading to increased water treatment costs and negative impacts on fishing and tourism.

“The program has several features that will make it very effective in reducing the problems with algae blooms in Lake Erie,” said Bill Stanley, assistant director of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio and member of the Nutrient Stewardship Advisory Committee. “Most important are a set of scientifically rigorous standards developed with industry and academic involvement, as well as independent third-party audits to ensure that those standards are followed.”

The Nutrient Stewardship Advisory Committee is the original steering committee for the project. The diverse group of non-governmental organizations, government, farmers and industry folks provide advice and input on the program, specifically on the auditable criteria.

Officially launched March 18, the new program provides a consistent, recognized standard for agricultural retailers to adopt proven best practices in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, where surrounding waters drain into Lake Erie.

“As ag retailers, we have to be proactive in finding ways to improve water quality, and the 4R certification is a tool that will pay off in a big way,” said John Oster, with Morral Companies, an ag retailer in Morral, Ohio, which served as a partner in piloting the program. “We believe that by enacting this, we will become part of the solution, and we know we can fix our part and make things better.”

The first phase of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program will begin this summer with signups and launch of a three-year focus on initial training and ongoing education, monitoring of 4R implementation and nutrient recommendations and application.

The program has already received high-level recognition, as Carrie Vollmer-Sanders, the Western Lake Erie Project Direct for The Nature Conservancy and chair of the Nutrient Stewardship Council was recently honored as a Next Generation of Conservation Leaders Champion of Change by the White House.

“With the teamwork of the agricultural, government, research and conservation communities in the Lake Erie basin, we think we have found some solutions that will achieve lasting conservation, because it is good business for farmers and for Lake Erie,” Vollmer-Sanders said in her blog posted on the White House website in conjunction with the award.

While individual farmers aren’t included under the scope of the standard, Ohio AgriBusiness Association President and CEO Chris Henney said it’s critical they work in concert with agricultural retailers to adopt best practices to realize long-term improvements. “We’re excited about the initial interest in the program, and encourage those interested to check out our website and commit to participate.”

Ohio soybean farmers should talk to their agricultural retailers and nutrient service providers about the new 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, express a desire to implement best 4R practices, and encourage them to join the effort to improve the waters we all use and enjoy.

While we can’t control all the contributors to our water quality issues, we all have an opportunity to contribute to its solutions.

For complete program information, requirements and to resister, visit 4Rcertified.org or contact OABA at info@oaba.net or call 614-326-7520.