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Nutrient Stewardship

A Global Leader

Environmental stewardship has been a long-standing priority of the fertilizer industry in Canada, reducing greenhouse gas resulting from manufacturing and transportation. To promote efficient and responsible nutrient use by Canadian farmers, Fertilizer Canada works with all stakeholders to advance the development and deployment of science-based fertilizer stewardship practices.

The Canadian industry is one of the world’s most efficient fertilizer manufacturers, and growers are adopting the leading international standard for on-farm nutrient application: 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place®). At the end of the day, however, it is the collective will and sense of responsibility by those in the industry that makes Canada a global leader in nutrient stewardship.

What is 4R Nutrient Stewardship?

4R Nutrient Stewardship (4R) works to increase production/profitability for farmers while enhancing environmental protection and improving sustainability. To achieve those goals, the 4Rs incorporate the: Right Source of fertilizers that are in – or are easily converted to – compounds best used by the target crop. Apply the Right Rate of fertilizer to match nutrient supply with crop requirements. Apply fertilizer at the Right Time so nutrients will be available when crop demand is high. Apply or maintain fertilizer in the Right Place where the crop can access the nutrients most effectively.

The world’s population is expanding & food production must rise
How do we accomplish this without a massive expansion of farmland?

Through sustainable actions, we can protect our soil, water and air for society, enhance the productivity and profitability of our farmers, and ensure the future of the agricultural industry. Crop nutrients, including fertilizers, have positive and negative impacts on the amount of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Utilizing best management practices (BMPs) under a 4R Nutrient Stewardship Plan can help improve economic and environmental concerns including the potential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases when fertilizer or other crop nutrients are applied on fields.

Properly managed fertilizers support cropping systems that provide economic, social and environmental benefits. On the other hand, poorly managed nutrient applications can decrease profitability and increase nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air.

Through sustainable actions, we can protect our soil, water and air for society.
4R Nutrient Stewardship can help grow crops sustainably

4R Nutrient Stewardship requires the implementation of site-specific BMPs that optimize the efficiency of fertilizer use. The goal of fertilizer BMPs is to match nutrient supply with crop requirements and to minimize nutrient losses from fields. Selection of BMPs varies by location, and those chosen for a given farm are dependent on local soil and climatic conditions, crop, management conditions and other site-specific factors. Other agronomic and conservation practices, such as no-till farming and the use of cover crops, play a valuable role in supporting 4R Nutrient Stewardship. As a result, fertilizer BMPs are most effective when applied with other agronomic and conservation practices.

4Rs Across Canada

4R Nutrient Stewardship has been promoted and applied across Canada through a number of provincial and regional programs and initiatives. 4R Nutrient Stewardship is currently being practiced in: Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

4Rs Around the World

The principles of 4R Nutrient Stewardship can be applied in any geographical location and farming system. Cost-effective and environmentally responsible soil management and enhancement is key to increased food production and sustainability for small-holder farmers around the world.

4R Designation

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program recognizes Canadian farmers are moving to the forefront of best management practices in fertilizer use – but we need to demonstrate it to the world.

4R Research Network

The 4R Research Network is composed of 10 leading Canadian researchers who will qualify economic, social, and environmental benefits resulting from advanced fertilizer management systems under 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place).

We continue to make changes that positively impact the environment, the economy, and the social fabrics of Canadian life.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Fertilizer Canada has led and continues to support the development of the Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol (NERP) on behalf of our members as a tool to ensure the economically efficient and environmentally responsible use of fertilizer in Alberta and other jurisdictions.

Lawn & Garden – GreenerWorld

Fertilizers are food for plants. Fertilizer helps farmers feed our growing population. Plants require 17 essential nutrients in the soil to survive and to grow. Fertilizers help replenish these nutrients after each harvest.


4R Nutrient Stewardship and the Nitrous Oxide Emissions Reduction Protocol (NERP) help to increase production and profitability on the farm while enhancing environmental protection and improving sustainability.

What are the 4R Principles?

Right Source

  • Select the correct source of nutrient for your soil ensuring a balanced supply of essential plant nutrients including granular or liquid fertilizers or manures.

Right Rate

  • Consider the availability of nutrients from all sources (eg. livestock manures, commercial fertilizers and atmospheric nitrogen fixed by legumes).
  • Perform annual soil testing.
  • Apply nutrients to meet crop requirements while accounting for the nutrients already in the soil.
  • Calibrate application equipment to deliver target rates.

Right Time

  • Avoid fertilizer or manure application on snow or frozen soils.
  • Carry out nutrient management planning on an annual basis.

Right Place

  • Respect recommended setback distances for nutrient application near waterways.
  • Place nutrients below the soil surface where they can be taken up by growing roots when needed.

Benefits of using the 4R Nutrient Stewardship

Improve Agricultural Productivity:

  • Optimizing nutrient management is simply good business in dealing with fluctuations in prices of fertilizers and other inputs, as well as in process of crops sold.
  • Higher crop yields are well documented with better crop and soil management.
  • Improving fertilizer efficiency increases the quantity produced per acre for each unit of nutrient applied, without sacrificing yield potential.

Minimize Impact to the Environment:

  • Adopting nutrient stewardship contributes to the preservation of natural ecosystems by growing more on less land.
  • Retaining nutrients within a field’s boundaries and in the crop rooting zone greatly reduces the amount that is not utilized by plants and thereby escapes into the environment as pollution.


4R Nutrient Stewardship promotes the achievement of economic, social and environmental goals. Some commonly identified grower objectives that promote the sustainable nature of 4R Nutrient Stewardship include the following:

Economic Goals

  • Improve yield stability and food quality.
  • Contribute to improved regional economic development.
  • Improve net farm profit.

Social Goals

  • Improve farm income.
  • Improve the quality of farm family housing, diet and education.
  • Improve productivity of farm labor by appropriate use of emerging technologies that increase efficiencies of field operations and reduce costs per unit of crop harvested.
  • Improve access to sources of information to assist in farm management decision making.

Environmental Goals

  • Maintain or reduce unwanted losses of nutrients to the environment.
  • Reduce soil erosion of nutrient containing soil particles.
  • Reduce volatile ammonia (NH3) emissions.
  • Reduce nitrification / de-nitrification losses of nitrous oxide (N2O) and di-nitrogen (N2).
  • Reduce energy use per harvested unit of farm production.
  • Improve recycling of crop nutrients from crop residues and livestock manures.