Have your acres counted!

Shannon Sereda, Senior Manager, Government Relations and Policy | Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions

The majority of farmers in Western Canada are familiar with the concept of 4R Nutrient Stewardship and its associated principles. The 4R concept incorporates the right fertilizer source at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place with the objectives of achieving: increased farmer profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability.

A 2021 Fertilizer Use Survey led by Fertilizer Canada, with support from the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions and other partners, showed that 58 per cent of spring wheat growers in Western Canada were following basic 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles — representing 9.3 million acres.1 Yet many farmers in Alberta aren’t familiar with Fertilizer Canada’s 4R Designation which provides recognition for farmers who complete and apply 4R Nutrient Stewardship grower plans. In Alberta, less than 10 per cent of seed acres (2.5 million in 2021) are recognized and reported as being under 4R Nutrient Stewardship.

In 2020, when the Government of Canada proposed a national target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from fertilizer application by 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030, farmers were rightly concerned. While the target remains voluntary, farmers and organizations that represent them, like the commissions, have been looking for answers, solutions and clarity on how achieving such a target is possible while ensuring crop productivity, sectoral growth and acknowledgment of how far farmers have come toward efficient nutrient management.

One such solution is to encourage all farmers to demonstrate their sustainable use of fertilizer, which can be easily done through Fertilizer Canada’s designation process. The well-established process can be simplified as follows: the first step is for a farmer to identify a 4R Designated agri-retailer or agronomist in their area. A listing of designated agri-retailers in Western Canada can be found at fertilizercanada.ca Next, your 4R designated crop advisor or agronomist will walk you through developing and implementing your on-farm 4R management plan. Lastly once implemented, they will report your acres to Fertilizer Canada, a not-for-profit industry association, where they will be aggregated to demonstrate to customers, government and stakeholders what our industry is doing to best manage our nutrient use and reduce emissions.

Getting your acres counted not only demonstrates your stewardship toward minimizing the impact on the environment but also helps to improve your agricultural productivity. Dean Hubbard, a farmer near Claresholm, Alberta, and region 1 director with the Alberta Wheat Commission said he started working through a nutrient management plan many years ago with his agri-retailer because it was the right thing to do. “I have seen value over the years in working through my fertilizer farm plan each year, the process is so simple that I didn’t even know that by doing this my acres count toward Alberta’s 4R acres,” says Hubbard.

Concerned by the target being set by the federal government, Hubbard is now a strong advocate for farmer participation in this program. “While, not all of the 4R principles can be adopted by all farmers all of the time, it is a good framework for being able to measure and demonstrate what we are already doing well.”

The federal and provincial governments have also started to show their support for practices associated with 4R nutrient stewardship. The On-Farm Climate Action Fund was first announced by the federal government in 2021 and has released close to $200 million of farmer directed funding to recipient organizations across Canada. Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) in Alberta, Canada, is one delivery partner offering financial support to producers to accelerate their adoption of and implementation of on-farm Beneficial Management Practices to lower Greenhouse Gas emissions – such as the enhanced adoption of 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices. The second year of RDAR funding is open now and available to farmers at rdar.ca.

The commissions are working together with the provincial government and industry groups including agri-retailers toward demonstrating the global leadership that Canadian farmers take in the adoption of technology and practices to maximize nutrient use efficiency. Stay tuned for our upcoming commission campaign to this end and in the meantime consider getting your acres counted!

For agronomic questions related to 4R Nutrient Stewardship contact the commissions’ agronomy research extension manager Jeremy Boychyn at jboychyn@albertawheatbarley.com.


1 https://fertilizercanada.ca/our-focus/stewardship/fertilizer-use-survey/