The impact of agricultural cropping systems on water and air resources is continually debated. Right or wrong, many stakeholders point to nutrient and sediment concentrations in surface and groundwater such as lakes, rivers and wells when they target the agricultural sector. However, these values are only one quantification mechanism, and as recently noted in a Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) report, time lags between the implementation of agricultural practices and their effects on the watershed can be significant.
As the fertilizer industry continues to engage in the promotion and implementation of 4R Nutrient Stewardship (implementation of fertilizer practices to address the right nutrient source applied at the right rate, the right time and in the right place), it is necessary that we also continue to develop and expand the science behind fertilizer best management practices. Agricultural stakeholders need to work together to establish metrics and quantification mechanisms to evaluate environmental impact and performance of our practices. Similar to the goals of the practices implemented within cropping systems, metrics and performance evaluations must address system productivity, implementation economics and the environment effects. Additionally, industry stakeholders need to play a role in the ownership of evaluating those metrics and mechanisms.
Significantly moving this area of science forward will take cooperation between many entities including the private sector, academia, government and non-government organizations as well as the farmer. Addressing the science will also take multidisciplinary teams. This type of coordinated approach will be complex, but key to success. An exemplary example of the effort needed was recently established within the state of Illinois. Through partnership of agricultural entities and support of state agency and non-government organizations the Keep It for the Crops 2025 effort was able to establish legislation to utilize a fertilizer tonnage fee to establish and implement nutrient research, education and water quality programs.