Ontario ag retailers need to provide leadership in helping farmers adopt 4R nutrient stewardship and a new audit program can do just that, says AGRIS Co-operative agronomist Dale Cowan.
In 2015, OMAFRA, the Ontario Agri Business Association, Fertilizer Canada, and ag retailer stakeholders signed a memorandum of understanding stating that 4R nutrient stewardship – right source, rate, time, and place – is a good voluntary process for the agriculture industry to adopt to help reduce phosphorus loss past the field edge.
Cowan explains that 4R Ontario was formed out of that agreement, and a steering and technical standards committees have now developed a voluntary 4R Audit Program for ag retailers. “We didn’t have to look far,” says Cowan who notes that the new program is based on a successful approach used in Ohio.
4R Ontario’s science and technical committees are currently working to finalize certification and audit standards. Four Ontario retailers have participated in a pilot program and 37 audit standards have been developed to reflect Ontario conditions. A third-party auditor will determine whether retailers pass or fail.
In this video, Cowan explains the basic approach of the program. Story continues below.
Moving forward, Cowan believes the program will encourage retailers to better train their staff and also increase efforts to help farmer customers ramp up their understanding of “4R principles that we’re going to aspire to and some of the best management practices that we’re going to adopt.
“We may say things like we can no long spread and leave phosphorus on the ground unincorporated in no-till soybean stubble going into the winter,” says Cowan. “That’s just a practice that encourages more surface loss.” As the 4R retailer program increases its footprint, Cowan expects farmers will hear more from retailers on the need to incorporate fertilizer; more emphasis on strip tillage and the need to move spring nutrient application closer to the time of plant growth.
“I think it is going to allow us to demonstrate to people who are perhaps critical of things that are going on in production agriculture that we are capable of taking voluntary action to reduce our nutrient loading into surface water and impacting on the Great Lakes,” says Cowan.