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MN ag retailers dedicate businesses to nutrient management
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MN ag retailers dedicate businesses to nutrient management

MNSC members

MNSC members and staff were joined by Nutrien Ag Solutions team members to recognize the facilities’ certification in Big Lake, Minn. Pictured from left to right are Peter Mead from the Nature Conservancy; MNSC Council Chair Adam Herges from Mosaic; Mark Pierson from Nutrien Ag Solutions; Randy Louwagie from Nutrien Ag Solutions; Sabrina Leuer from Nutrien Ag Solutions; MCPR Advisory Board Member/MNSC Council Member Andy Oeding from Nutrien Ag Solutions; Robby Reinking from Nutrien Ag Solutions; MCPR/MNSC Executive Director Patrick Murray; and MNSC Council Member Leif Fixen from the Nature Conservancy.

Minnesota Crop Production Retailers have a vision for soil and water health that is turning into a reality.

In their vision, the ag business community shows the public how ag retailers and their farmers/customers are managing farmland and water to make it better than when they arrived.

Now, they are using the Minnesota 4R Nutrient Stewardship Council and certification program to make this a reality.

Through this program, farmers and their crop retailer talk and document steps they take together regarding fertility. They decide on what is needed to help the crop grow, and the agronomist gives that information to the applicator.

Nutrients are applied carefully at the right time for the crops to get the most benefit. Applicators, who run sprayers and other application equipment, use science and technology to apply nutrients for the right placement and in the right amount. The weather, the timing, the soil and the crop are all in the right conditions to allow the right nutrients to feed the crop. Lots of crops are raised for food, feed, fiber and fuel.

The 4R approach for nutrient application – right time, right placement, right amount and right type – is being used by Minnesota Crop Production Retailers, but it was developed by the global fertilizer community.

The goal of the 4R approach is improved sustainability.

Now, several states and provinces are using the 4R approach to show greater transparency to the public.

“The core goal is to turn as much of the nutrients applied to a field into a crop, thereby reducing the risk of nutrients being lost to groundwater or surface water,” said Leif Fixen, Agriculture Strategy Manager at The Nature Conservancy and secretary of the new Minnesota 4R Nutrient Stewardship Council.

The Minnesota Crop Production Retailers and partners from conservation organizations, agribusiness, universities, government, and farmer groups formed the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Council, as well as a certification process with the same name, that recognizes crop retailers, manufacturers, distributors, or custom applicators who have completed a rigorous audit assuring they are meeting the 4R standards.

While their message to society may be simple – improving farmland and preserving water – receiving 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification is anything but simple.

One facility in Minnesota – Nutrien Ag Solutions in Big Lake, Sherburne County, was recently recognized as the first ag retail facility to receive 4R certification.

First made available in 2020, 4R certification costs about $2,000 to obtain the first year, and about half that amount for the second year. Recertification is required for year three and has tougher standards than the initial certification.

Standard requirements include proving no conflict of interest, a request for an audit that shows the facility is meeting 32 standards, an onsite audit by a third party, reports and corrective actions, and a certification decision by the Minnesota Nutrient Stewardship Council.

Each of the standard requirements and document-based evidence is strict. For instance – “Nutrient Service Providers, sales, and application staff have undergone an initial training and staff are able to demonstrate knowledge about 4R Nutrient Stewardship and the 4R Certification Program.” To accomplish this one standard, the ag retailer must document and roster meeting agendas, education, and assigned reading materials.

Other standards require proof of active Certified Crop Advisor licensure and other advertised credentials, such as Certified Professional Agronomist or USDA-NRCS Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan Specialist.

The 4R standards require nutrient service providers to record grower customer names, and the number of acres that the ag retailer provides service in the categories of full service, recommendation only, and application only.

Depending on the number of acres that fall into each category, the retail outlet will conduct soil tests on the farmland at least once every four years.

Crop yield goals are discussed with the grower and are based on previous crop history, which can include farmer-relayed information, yield maps, soil potential, plot data, county averages, etc. The farmer signs off on the provided information.

“The program requires a signature from the grower that several of those discussions around best management practices and the 4Rs took place. Retailers will have a protocol in place, where a grower acknowledges they had in-depth discussions around the BMPs and the 4Rs with their crop advisor,” said Adam Herges, Minnesota Nutrient Stewardship Council Chair and Senior Sustainability Agronomist with The Mosaic Company.

Many retail outlets across the state are already doing some if not all the 32 standards required for certification. The 4R standards provide a structure for implementing documentation in an organized way.

Once an ag retailer receives a successful audit, the information is presented to the 4R Minnesota Nutrient Stewardship Council for final approval.

While Nutrien Ag Solutions in Big Lake is the first to receive certification, several more ag retailers are in the certification pipeline.

That’s good news for everyone.

“When you are strategic with the 4Rs, you find you can increase the grower’s profitability by optimizing fertilizer efficiency and achieving higher crop yields. It also helps reduce nutrient runoff and safeguard water drinking supplies,” said Patrick Murray, executive director of the Minnesota Crop Production Retailers and the Minnesota 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program.

There is currently no compensation for obtaining the Minnesota 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification.

The groups hope to soon have plenty of data to share though – because the ag community is sometimes accused of poor nutrient management, when truth be told, they are as efficient and proficient as possible.

The Minnesota Crop Production Retailers wants to be certain that citizens, as well as local, state, and federal government, recognize all the things agriculture and ag business does to use nutrients wisely.

“This program provides a noncompetitive space where we can aggregate the information that is collected through the audit to really present what the ag retail sector is doing in Minnesota to address water quality and provide some of that science-based information to the public and to elected officials,” Herges said.

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