Western Lake Erie Basin

Working with Agriculture: the 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship

Using the 4Rs helps achieve sustainable plant nutrition management while also considering water quality.

Lake Erie is a source of drinking water for millions, home to more than half of all the fish in the Great Lakes, and a draw for both in-state and out-of-state tourists. The Western Lake Erie Basin is one of the most productive areas to grow food in the country. While we need fertilizers to produce food, some fertilizer leaves fields and enters our streams and lakes.

Algal blooms in Lake Erie
These lost nutrients contribute to the rise in harmful algal blooms in our streams and lakes over the last 5 years. Algal blooms lead to increased water treatment costs, reductions in fish production, and poor water quality which has negative impacts on fishing and tourism.

4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship
To help solve the problem of excess nutrients, the 4R Certification Program Advisory Committee was created. The Committee, led by the agricultural industry and supported by The Ohio State University, state farm bureaus, state governments and others, recognizes that significant reductions in the amount of nutrients entering our freshwaters can be achieved by ensuring nutrients are
applied correctly.

The Nature Conservancy facilitated the Committee meetings over the last year, and a primary outcome has been the 4Rs of Nutrient Certification, a program that identifies and promotes proven best practices. The 4Rs of nutrient stewardship are:

  • using the Right Source of fertilizer
  • at the Right Rate
  • at the Right Time and
  • in the Right Place.

This science-based framework helps to achieve sustainable plant nutrition management while also considering the environment and economics.

The Committee encourages agricultural retailers, Certified Crop Advisors (CCAs), and service providers to adopt the 4Rs.

Promoting the 4Rs
The 4R Certification Program represents an effort by industry to be proactive, using a scientific approach to nutrient management. By becoming 4R certified, agriculture commits to improving our water quality and doing their part for the environment, while producing crops we need.