by Clinton Monchuk
Full disclosure here: I’m not a soil scientist and neither is my brother. However, over the years we’ve become very accustomed to seeking out the expertise of other professionals to help us in areas where we could use some guidance. Soil nutrition is definitely one of those areas!
For the past several years, we’ve expanded our soil testing from one field every few years to every field, every year. This practice has generated significant gains in increased soil health as well as in our overall profitability. I received my education as an economist and I remember hearing over and over again that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Measuring our soil health annually has led us to participate in the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Designation program and get our acres counted under the 4R program.
In a world full of acronyms, it’s sometimes difficult to figure things out, but 4R Nutrient Stewardship is pretty straightforward. The voluntary program aims to have farmers put down nutrients for their crops using the Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place ®. It’s a common-sense strategy that allows farmers to provide the specific soil needs for crop production and to do so in an environmentally sustainable way.
When you look at the core of this initiative, it asks farmers to implement best management practices to optimize fertilizer efficiency. We look at the recommendations from our soil sample analysis, then match them to what that specific crop needs in the growing season and aim to minimize any nutrient losses. I don’t like it when my auger isn’t hitting the grain cart and I’m dumping canola on the ground, so it only makes sense not to waste a precious (and expensive) input like nitrogen when I’m applying that nutrient into the soil. As an added bonus, when we’re following the 4R program we’re also more sustainable and doing our part to limit waste. Proving that we’re doing our part to be an environmental land steward is a big deal in the minds of consumers and definitely something that helps with conversations to build trust in food and farming.
It was also an easy process for us to take the questionnaire for the farm; roughly about a 40-minute conversation with one of the agronomists we work with. She provided some pointers on what we could do in the future as well. Each of us works with different companies and agronomists and I would recommend touching base with them to enroll your farm in the program. Farmers—or anyone in the industry—who would like to learn more can take the Fertilizer Canada three-part course by clicking on: elearning.fertilizercanada.ca.
Every farmer manages their farm in a slightly different manner, but this 4R Nutrient Stewardship Designation program is adaptable to all regions, soil types and cropping rotations. When I consider the future of our farm, I know that soil health has to be a top priority. Applying our nutrients using the Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place ® will keep our soil and our farm healthy for generations to come.