Working to be a Part of the Solution in Iowa

Iowa farmers and The Fertilizer Institute are doing their part to improve water quality in Iowa by using innovative farm practices.

While potential causes of nitrate pollution in Iowa’s water supply are many — farmers and the fertilizer industry are working hard to protect and improve these waters by supporting education, research, and outreach on innovative farm practices.

Innovative farm practices known as the 4R’s — use of the right fertilizer source at the right rate, the right time and in the right place — are the foundation for science-based management of all nutrients – whether from commercial or organic sources.

Because there is no single practice or “silver bullet” that will prevent nutrients from being lost to the environment, farming practices must account for all four “Rs” (right fertilizer source, right application rate, timing and placement of nutrients).

The Fertilizer Institute and other key stakeholders developed the Iowa 4R Plus program to educate farmers about how 4R fertilizer best management practices work alongside conservation efforts to improve soil and water quality.

The 4R Plus program is coordinated by The Nature Conservancy and is guided and supported by more than 40 organizations, including agribusinesses, conservation organizations, commodity groups and trade associations, government agencies and academic institutions.

The program is two-pronged with one element being an on-the-ground outreach effort to provide information about 4R nutrient stewardship and conservation practices to farmers, agronomists, watershed coordinators, Soil and Water Conservation District personnel and others. The second element is a statewide awareness campaign to promote the benefits of 4R Plus practices through radio spots and agriculture publications.

Even the USDA encourages farmers to use 4R Nutrient Stewardship to reduce runoff and improve water quality.

Know the Facts

  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) added 4Rs to its revised Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Practice Standard Code 590. This standard for managing farm nutrients encourages farmers to employ new technologies to reduce runoff and improve water quality.
  • The fertilizer industry strongly supports and encourages the adoption of 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices through the following channels:
    • Retail fertilizer dealers serve as trusted agronomic advisors to their farmer customers. With the support and services of these professionals, farmers are using the 4R framework to achieve positive crop yield results while protecting the environment.
    • The industry recognizes outstanding 4R practitioners through TFI’s 4R Advocate Award program. Since 2012, the 4R Advocate Program has recognized 40 pairs of farmers and ag retailers who manage 175,625 acres in 20 states, including one farmer from Iowa. These farmers and retailers foster best management practices and nutrient stewardship by applying the 4R principles of right source, right rate, right time, and right place to create optimal crop production, soil health, and environmental considerations.
  • The fertilizer industry also engages in numerous public-private partnerships in support of the 4R’s:
    • Launched in 2018, the 4R Plus initiative is being guided by a coalition of more than 40 agricultural and conservation organizations as a part of the Iowa 4R Plus program to support farmers’ efforts to implement precise nutrient management and conservation practices.
    • The industry is was successful in advocating to make 4R research a high priority initiative in research and conservation titles of the 2018 farm bill – ensuring federal resources are made available to help farmers implement these practices.
    • In February of 2018, the North American fertilizer industry committed an additional $6 million to its 4R Research Fund. Since 2013, the fund has dedicated $5.8 million towards 4R nutrient stewardship research at Land Grant universities. The fund supports 25 projects in the United States and Canada and leverages matching public and private funds to allocate a total of $13 million to 4R research.
    • The industry supports the development of state and regional 4R certification programs. The first 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program began in Ohio, and encourages agricultural retailers, service providers and other certified professionals to adopt proven best practices through the 4Rs. Today, it provides a consistent, recognized standard for agricultural retailers who cover 2.9 million acres in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Learn more about the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program at and the 4R Plus Program at