A year after launching, the 4R Plus program continues to add to the resources available to Iowa farmers and agriculture professionals.
The 4R Plus program serves as a one-stop shop for information on 4R nutrient management and conservation practices. It combines information from several organizations, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa State University, state ag departments and commodity groups.
The name comes from the four Rs of nutrient stewardship: using the right nutrient sources at the right time, the right rate and in the right place. The “Plus” stands for various conservation practices that farmers can use – from cover crops to reducing tillage to building buffer strips.
The goal is building soil health and improving water quality at the same time.
Healthier soils are better able to handle variable precipitation patterns because rainfall infiltrates these soils and is held there for the growing crop to use, pointed out Greg Wandrey, Iowa agriculture program director for The Nature Conservancy who serves as coordinator of the 4R Plus program.
Especially after last season’s soggy run, farmers are starting to look at different ways to deal with variability in the amount and timing of rainfall.
“They know there are changing precipitation patterns,” he said.
Farmers want to leave their farm in better shape for the next generation, but they don’t always know where to start when it comes to conservation practices for their farm, surveys have found. That’s where 4R Plus comes in.
It is a coalition of about 45 organizations, government agencies and ag companies and cooperatives. Ag professionals at those companies spread the message to farmers they work with, helping them find what would work best for their farms.
It’s an important connection, Wandrey said, because a practice like growing cover crops might work on one farm, but it’s not right for the next one. With that, 4R Plus doesn’t promote any one set of conservation practices, and it doesn’t recommend certain products.
“We think that’s a conversation between the farmer and his or her trusted adviser,” Wandrey said.
On the website, 4rplus.org, visitors can learn the basics of the 4Rs and different conservation practices, get information on different cost share programs available to them, and find out about upcoming field days.
The program recently added five educational videos that certified crop advisers can complete for their required continuing education credits. They can also be useful for farmers wanting to know more about building soil health, improving water quality and growing more productive crops.
The videos cover conservation practices that work best on different Iowa landscapes, such as sloping fields as well as on flat tile-drained fields. Another video discusses stewardship practices that reduce nutrient loss. One explains Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
The 4R Plus program will put on field days this summer and be part of a number of other events. At last month’s Iowa Power Farming Show in Des Moines, 4R Plus and Iowa Corn hosted two panels of farmers talking about their experience trying to improve soil health on their farms. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig sat on one panel, and deputy secretary of ag Julie Kenney was on the other.
It’s important for farmers to hear from other farmers, Wandrey said. He encourages them to talk about their trials and errors and adaptations they’ve made along the way.
“We want to have farmers tell the story of their journey. It’s not all sunshine and roses but many farmers have successfully implemented 4R Plus practices that have helped their bottom lines while improving the health of their soil,” he said.
The goal is to see 4R Plus grow, Wandrey said, and more importantly, to see more conservation practices implemented across the state.