The Social Impact of 4R Nutrient Stewardship

13th Dec 2013 4R Consistent,4R Practices,Implement the 4Rs,

By Dr. Tom Bruulsema, IPNI Northeast Director 

The social dimension is one of the three major pillars
sustainability. Sustainable
plant nutrition means applying the right source of nutrients at the right rate,
at the right time, and in the right place. How does 4R Nutrient Stewardship
engage the social pillar? What impacts can we expect on social conditions?

Often, nutrient practices
do not seem to be related to social conditions. For example, an improvement in
fertilizer placement might increase profits from corn production and reduce
losses of nitrogen and phosphorus, but do we really expect it to change social
conditions directly? Possibly, if the
nutrient source smelled foul (some do!), the change might lead to better
neighbor relations and improved quality of rural life – direct social benefits.
But additionally, considering long
term and broad scale adoption, the two improvements in economic and
environmental impact add up to more world food supply with more and better
natural surroundings for people to enjoy.
Isn’t that too a social benefit?

Social benefits also arise from the sustainable intensification that the 4Rs support. Much of North Ameri- can agriculture is becoming more
extensive than intensive. Larger and faster equipment, on the one hand, allows
better timeliness in planting and other field operations, and improved labor
productivity, but on the other hand,
it may enable a tendency to manage larger land areas without addressing their
site-specific crop nutrient needs. A 4R Nutri- ent Stewardship approach
emphasizes ensuring that each crop in each field receives the right source of
nutrients at the right rate, time and place.
Tools of precision
agriculture—including precision nutrient placement for conservation tillage
systems—enable intensive approaches on extensive areas, generating employment
opportunities that didn’t exist before.

4R Nutrient Stewardship demands adaptive management.  While an operator can now
cover more acres in a day, that
operator needs to be supported by more local site-specific information.
Generating that information re-
quires adaptive management—continuous systematic assessment and participatory
learning. Adaptive management
requires investment in people. Engaging crop advisers and agronomists for 4R
advice, certification consistency,
and help in record-keeping creates demand for well-educated service providers.
Participating in adaptive management builds a sense of teamwork. The cycle of evaluating practices for
their economic and environmental impacts engag-
es people to work together. All this put together builds a more
interactive social environment.

4R Nutrient Stewardship also demands accountability. The
ability to communicate in a simple manner to the many stakeholders of
agriculture—neighbors, consumers, environmental advocates—is important for ensuring
that public perception supports public policy that enables continuing
intensification. Communication is a task that requires skills and training, but
is most effective when it’s done by the people involved in what’s happening. Support- ing such
communication is an investment toward greater sustainability. The
goal-setting part of a farm’s 4R
Nutrient Stewardship plan brings farmers and crop advisers into contact with
people they might never have encountered oth-
erwise. Displaying the logo and sharing its associated information informs
public opinion and educates consumers.

Finally, 4R Nutrient Stewardship supports maintaining soils for the benefit of future generations. The success of today’s agriculture owes a lot to what previous generations
have invested in improving the fertility and conservation of the soil.
Replenishing nutrients removed, maintaining organic matter, and sustaining soil biology matter to
future generations.

Sound nutrient stewardship delivers benefits, socially as
well as economically and environmentally.