What is the 4R Advocate Program?

Paul and Brandon in 4R booth at Commodity Classic

Raising awareness and adoption of 4R nutrient stewardship is a top priority for the fertilizer industry. The industry is working to educate fertilizer manufacturers and retailers, growers, and agricultural stakeholders about the 4Rs at agricultural trade shows, through company visits and other 4R speaking engagements. 
While the 4R messages from the fertilizer industry are being well received, we recognize that engaging agricultural producers and sharing 4R success stories from the field level will play a critical role in adoption of 4R nutrient stewardship practices.

In 2012, The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) launched a 4R Advocate program to recognize agricultural retailers and agricultural producers that are leading the way when it comes to implementing 4R nutrient stewardship on the farm. Scroll down to find details about operations of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Advocates and link to videos below to hear the award winning growers and their nominating retailers as they explain the 4Rs in their own words: 

We have also met with some of our 4R Advocates at their own operations to capture video showing how they implement the 4Rs on the Farm.

 

2014 4R Advocate program

In Feburary 2014, the 2014 4R Advocates joined TFI in our 4R Nutrient Stewardship booth at the 2014 Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas. Winning growers and retailers were awarded an expense-paid trip to the Commodity Classic, where they were honored at an awards banquet hosted by TFI. Throughout 2014, the 4R Grower Advocates will be part of TFI’s outreach efforts to promote nutrient management practices that benefit farmers and their communities as well as the environment. The 2014 Nomination Form and Submission Instructions and the 2014 Rules for Participation can be reviewed. 2015 4R Advocate applications will be accepted in October. 

George Brand of Brand Dairy Farm operates a 400-head dairy herd with about 900 head of cattle on the farm at all times and 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. He and his son, David, work with Terry Bechman of The Andersons. 

For three generations, the farm has been operated as a model of innovation and one that incorporates the latest practices with its dairy herd, as well. It’s a philosophy started by Jim, which he continues to practice. His son George and grandson David embody the same approach.

“Eighty percent of our territory and all of Brands’ farm is in the St. Joseph watershed,” he explains. “It drains into the Maumee River, which drains into Lake Erie. It’s unique in the Great Lakes system in that it’s the shallowest of the five lakes. Being shallow, it’s more susceptible to nutrient runoff – from all sources – and algae bloom. It’s important that growers here are attuned to this and manage accordingly.”

The Brands’ protected soil is tested annually. A third-party agronomist takes into account soil tests, manure application and crop removal and then makes nutrient recommendations by management zones. The Andersons then use that information to apply variable rates of individual fertilizer using GPS-controlled application equipment. This ensures the right type of fertilizer is applied where it’s needed at the right rate and when it’s needed most. This combination of 4R nutrient management practices and conservation approaches ensure that the Brands will farm for generations to come. Plus, they’ll continue to grow their long list of awards from peers and farm organizations.

Dennis and Greg Iott of Iott Seed Farms operate a 1,350-acre operation producing seed potatoes for commercial chip growers and wheat, with remaining acres in rye, sorghum and sudangrass or other cover crops as part of a three year rotation. Their retailer is Dale Dosenberry of Wilbur Ellis. 

“Quality and uniformity are critical to a successful seed potato crop,” Dennis explains. “Nobody wants big seed potatoes. There’s the same number of eyes on large and small ones. We strive for a large number of small potatoes. If there’s a limiting nutrient to a potato plant, it’ll stop growing. Plus, we have a short growing season, so we don’t have time to waste.”

These are just a few reasons, combined with a passion for modern agriculture practices, why the Iotts apply the best nutrient stewardship management practices available. They were nominated by Dale Dosenberry, technical sales representative, with Wilbur-Ellis Company in Edmore, Mich. He’s been working with Iotts for more than 32 years.

“This long business relationship allows me the perspective of knowing what the issues on the farm are,” Dosenberry says. “You also know what type of farmer your customer is, what he expects from his crop and what he wants to produce for his customers.”

Results demonstrate the 4R principles are working well. Over the past four years, uniformity of yields has improved every year, consistently reaching the top of yield goals on all acres. Previously, there could be 15 percent to 20 percent variability year to year. In addition, their focus on properly balancing soil nutrients has greatly minimized potato scab, a disease that can harm the crop and profits.

Chris von Holton's farming operation currently consists of1,025 acres in 75% corn and 25% soybeans. His retailer is Malcom Stambaugh with AgView FS. 

“I’m always evaluating new products and technology,” he says. “I adopt those that improve the overall efficiency of my farm. If you’re not trying to learn something, you’ll get into a rut.”

VonHolten is committed to innovation, while still practicing sound crop production techniques that are environmentally, economically and socially sound Malcolm Stambaugh of Ag View FS, also of Walnut, nominated VonHolten for the award. The retailer helps with the farm’s nutrient management program and provides a wide range of services to help producers grow crops more efficiently and profitably. 

“Chris’ outlook about effective stewardship practices and the value associated with them has had a positive influence on our relationship with him,” says Malcom Stambaugh, local crop specialist with Ag View FS. “He’s earned recognition locally as a wise source of production practices that meet many of the criteria within the 4R program.”

Managing details helps ensure that yield keeps rising. VonHolten or an AgView FS staffer scouts fields weekly during growing season to identify weed, insect or disease issues. Pesticides are mixed at the local plant, which helps control possible contamination. VonHolten helps ensure the environment is protected, as well. Waterways and roadsides aren’t mowed until nesting season is over to protect wildlife. Last fall, he tested a cover crop mix on two locations to help absorb excess nutrients and prevent soil erosion. 

Werries Farm LLC, managed by John and his son Dean, maintains 3,800 acres of corn and soybeans on owned and rented land consisting of both flat fertile soil and less productive rolling terrain (3,500 acres of corn oncorn). They also sell cover crop seed and offer custom seeding through a new venture, Chapin Cover Crops.

“We started using no-till on soybeans in 1990,” John says. “We were half beans and half corn then. In 1996, we started strip-tilling corn acres to retain organic matter and reduce soil erosion."

Still focused on keeping soil in place, the Werries worked with their longtime retailer, Verne “Tinker” Bader, owner of Bader Agricultural Service, Inc., in 2011 to develop a new strategy for managing fertility. He nominated the Werries for the 4R Advocate award. 

Last year’s harvest proved the effectiveness of this approach. Despite a lack of rain in August 2013, Werries’ average corn yield was 233.8 bushels/acre. The average regional yield was 185 bushels per acre.

“The 4R approach just makes sense,” John says. “If you apply everything in the fall and get a big rain event, you run the risk of losing it to surface runoff and through the tile. By spreading it out, you’re more likely to keep it for the crop. You’re more likely to keep your nutrients in place if you keep your soil where it belongs.”

Always seeking improvements, the Werries sowed cover crops on all 3,800 acres in 2012, starting with ryegrass and cereal rye. 

Clint Wortman of Jackson Wortman, LLC operates a 3500-acre cattle and crop farm with irrigated and non‑irrigated production land growing silage corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans, rye, ryegrass, Bermudagrass, pecans and triticale. His retailer is A.J. Radford of CPS.

“This mix of crops and cattle fits our philosophy of achieving maximum yield with the least amount of fertilizer and chemicals by reducing pests, weeds and disease through crop rotation and environmentally responsible practices,” Clint says. 

Clint was nominated by A.J. Radford who works with Crop Protection Services in Moultrie, GA. He and CPS have worked with the Wortmans for more than 10 years and provide multiple services to their operation.While yield across the farm is increasing annually, Radford notes that’s not the only goal.

“It’s not just a matter of increased yield. It’s a matter of increasing the bottom line by doing a better job utilizing what’s out there. Picking the right fertilizer gives the grower the opportunity to use what’s needed – at the right rate. Fields in South Georgia aren’t uniform, but the 4R approach helps you achieve a high-yielding, uniform crop,” he says. 

 

2013 4R Advocate Program

In January 2013, TFI announced the winners of the 2013 4R Advocate Awards, recognizing farmers and retailers who are protecting the environment, boosting profitability and benefiting society through nutrient stewardship practices based on the 4R’s (use of the right nutrient source at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place). The winners were nominated by their retail dealers who are also recognized with 4R awards. The five winning growers, a spouse or companion and their nominating retailers were awarded an expense-paid trip to the Commodity Classic, Feb. 28-March 2 in Kissimmee, Fla. The Commodity Classic is the once-a-year, can't-miss event for America's soybean, corn, wheat and sorghum farmers. At the Classic, 4R Advocate winners see the latest agricultural innovations first-hand and met other growers and agricultural leaders from across the nation honored at an invitation-only 4R Advocate banquet. The 2013 winners and links to their 4R Advocate Profiles are as follows:

• Rick and Jesse Brunner of Fifth Generation Farms operate a 2,700-acre dry land farm growing winter wheat, spring wheat, triticale, spring barley and mustard.  They work with Josh Bafus of CPS.

What Rick and Jesse say about the 4Rs: “The 4R program epitomizes our philosophy to farm management. As a multi-generational farm, we are responsible not only to our current family to provide a living, but also to those that will come after us. We strive to improve our overall soil health, to limit our environmental impact, and to increase our profits while continuing the farm legacy we received.”

What Josh says about the 4Rs: “Crop Production Services and our growers promote the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program to produce better crops with higher yields. We utilize the best management practices for agricultural sustainability as well as minimizing environmental impact for future generations to follow.”

Alan Jones of Jones Potato Inc operates a 2,800-acre potato, green bean, citrus and cattle farm. He works with Dennis Coleman of CPS.

What Alan says about the 4Rs: “4R program ideals have been at the core of my fertility program for years. Adapting my fertilizer programs based on crop needs, weather and raw material prices has enabled Jones Potato Farm to maximize production while keeping costs in check.”

What Dennis says about the 4Rs: “So many times we get stuck in a rut and repeat the same programs year after year. The 4R Program spurs us into really thinking about fertility programs and to reevaluate how we are managing them. As a result, growers may just end up becoming a little more profitable and an even better steward of the land.”

Alan Madison of Madison Farms operates a 3,300-acre corn and soybean operation with 28 acres of CRP as filter strips and wildlife habitat areas. He works with Mark Orr (Ag View FS).

What Alan says about the 4Rs: “In concept, a lot of producers are using the 4Rs because they make sense and provide an economical advantage. As an industry, we need to better tell our story to show consumers and other producers how it works. We are being the best nutrient stewards we can be while protecting the environment for future generations.”

What Mark says about the 4Rs: “Our role is to partner with growers to establish best management practices. We are involved with On Farm Discovery projects that produce “Predictable Performers” relative to tweaking existing programs. A grower’s willingness to push the envelope is only tempered by our requirements to increase yield, do it profitably for the grower and have an environmentally neutral impact. This expands well beyond product-related decisions.”

• John Scates of Pat Scates and Sons Farm and his family operate a 17,000-acre corn, soybean, grain sorghum and wheat operation. They work with Mike Wilson (Wabash Valley FS).

What John says about the 4Rs: “The soil is our most important asset. Pat Scates and Sons use the 4Rs to help protect the farming operation and the environment. This translates into using only what we need yet maximizing our profit and our efficiency. The 4Rs also help our farm to convey a positive message to our peers and our consumers that we are conscientious about the environment in which we farm.”

What Mike says about the 4Rs: “The 4Rs have always been an important component of how our crop specialists address nutrient management with our growers. Now, with Illinois’ KIC 2025, the 4Rs are even more critical to helping our growers adhere to guidelines to ensure good water quality in our watersheds.”

 Justin Stoneman of Stoneman Farms and his family operate a 3,200-acre fourth generation farm growing row crops and vegetables; 2012 crops included corn, soybeans, wheat, sugar beets and machine harvest cucumbers. He works with Steve Wendzel (Wilbur Ellis).

What Justin says about the 4Rs: “Any program that advocates best-use agricultural practices is a step in the right direction. There is a lot of value to 4R practices. If producers would consider implementing the 4R’s into their current practices, they would find it beneficial to their long-term goals of sustainability and good stewardship of the land.”

What Steve says about the 4Rs: “Stoneman Farms won a 4R award, not because they set out to strictly follow the 4Rs, but because the concept has always been their business philosophy for financial stability and environmental stewardship. Their use of manure and cover crops to enhance soil health are key focal areas. As the old saying goes, ‘Take care of the land and the land will take care of you.’”

2012 4R Advocates

In March 2012, TFI announced the winners of its inaugural 4R Advocate program at the Commodity Classic in Nashville, Tenn. Winning growers and retailers were awarded an expense-paid trip to the 2012 Commodity Classic, where they participted in the 4R exhibit booth and were honored at an awards banquet hosted by TFI. Throughout 2012, the 4R Grower Advocates will be part of TFI’s outreach efforts to promote nutrient management practices that benefit farmers and their communities as well as the environment.

The 2012 4R Grower Advocates, along with the retailers that nominated them, are:

  • Bruce with growers at Commodity ClassicBruce Favinger, Minden, Neb., 1,800-acre corn and soybean producer nominated by Cooperative Producers, Inc. (CPI), Nebraska. Ranking both stewardship and productivity as priority goals, Favinger takes advantage of enhanced fertilizers and correlates precision agriculture data to develop site-specific fertilizer prescriptions. Bruce works with CPI's Ty Fickenscher to utilize emerging tools and technologies to maintain responsible and sustainable agriculture.

    Ty with growers at Commodity Classic

    What Ty says about the 4Rs:
    “The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program promotes placing nutrients using the most efficient methods to maximize crop production while minimizing underutilized product and environmental impact. Growers implementing the 4Rs choose to be better stewards of the land by being critical of the inputs that are used and the methods that are used to apply them”.

    What Bruce says about the 4Rs: “The 4Rs program is a great commonsense approach to a complete fertilizer plan. It is the way we should all be looking at our fertilizer, and as an industry, agriculture needs to take a proactive approach to the environmental practices that we use and then tell consumers what we are doing and why it is good for a safe food production system”.

  • Paul Loyer, Loyer Farms, Marion, Ohio, 3,000-acre corn, soybean and wheat producer nominated by Morral Companies, Morral, Ohio. Specific placement of nutrients at rates determined by GPS-linked information helps the Loyer family boost fertilizer efficiency while protecting the environment. Paul and his sons work with Morral Companies' Brandon McClure to increase farm profitability while remaining good stewards of the family's land to maintain its value for future generations, and reduce the potential runoff of nutrients to no-target ares.

    Paul and Brandon award banquetWhat Brandon says about the 4Rs: “The 4R program is a great way for us to help people understand what we are doing to keep agriculture successful and safe. That’s true for those of us involved directly as well as for people who may reside near it and for all those who may not realize how they are affected by agriculture. Even though we understand that we are doing things in a safe and productive way, others may not. If we do not highlight what we are doing to keep agriculture safe and bountiful, the very population for whom we are producing healthier food and other products may very well limit where we can go in the future with agriculture”.

    What Paul says about the 4Rs: “The 4R program is something we had already been doing on our farm. It allows us to be a better steward of the land we intend to have provide for our families for generations to come. We believe that the implementation of these practices has not only allowed for us to better manage our nutrients, but be more profitable in doing so."

  • Temple Rhodes, Chestnut Manor Farm, Centreville, Md., 2,200-acre corn, soybean and beef producer nominated by Willard Agri-Service, Maryland. On the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, the Rhodes family takes a proactive approach to nutrient management. A strip-till system applies all fertilizer beneath the soil surface, tissue sampling assesses crop need and rates reflect site-specific data. Temple works with Willard Agri-Service's Allan Spray to make cropping decisions that result in higher nutrient use efficiency and increased farm profitability.

    Allen and Temple with growerWhat Allen says about the 4Rs: “The 4R program is central to what we do as an ag retailer for our customers. Helping our customers maximize nutrient use efficiency is a critical part of both the economic and ecologic well-being of our farming environment. The 4R philosophy is part of all the recommendations we make and also drives our thought process on formulation of the products we sell."

    temple being interviewed
    What Temple says about the 4Rs:
    “Many of my farms border the Chesapeake Bay. As I strive to grow and improve my farming operation, the practices of the 4R program are helping me to get higher yields and also be a good steward of the environment”.



  • Barry and Dan Turner, Turner Brothers Farm, Mer Rouge, La., 5,600-acre corn, soybean, rice and grain sorghum producers nominated by Crop Production Services (CPS), Louisiana. The Turner brothers utilize grid sampling and soil management zones to enhance fertilizer efficiency and three split applications for corn production to ensure they’re meeting the crop’s nutritional needs and optimum yield potential. Barry and Dan work with CPS's Ed Lane to stay on the forefront of emerging technologies and breakthroughs in science to help maintain the correct balance between their bottom line and being good stewards of the land they work.

Dan and Ed with awards What Ed says about the 4Rs: "As a retailer selling fertilizer and application services, I  don’t want to be competitive; I want to be the  best. Of the fertilizer we apply, 80-90% of the phosphorus and potash and over 90% of lime  is applied variable rate based on grid or zone  sampling. This quantifies the value growers  have found in this technology. It is our goal  at Crop Productions Services to continue to  take a very intentional approach to fertilization that is consistent with the 4Rs and helps our customers stay profitable”.

 
What Dan says about the 4Rs: "Costs such as fertilizer, seed and equipment have nearlyquadrupled over the last 10 years. This fact alonehas necessitated we adopt practices such as the4R program. It’s a win, win situation. Economics inthis case are driving the bus that delivers higheryields and more profitability by adopting thesenew technologies. At the same time, producers,consumers and the environment are all benefittingwhen we can make sure our inputs such asfertilizer are staying where they are placed”. 

  • Todd Welch, Lafayette, Ind., 2,300-acre corn, soybean, wheat and pork producer nominated by Crop Production Services, Indiana. Manure from Welch’s swine finishing facility is balanced with commercial fertilizer through the use of soil management zones, tissue sampling, enhanced fertilizers and split applications. Todd works with CPS's Nick Sommers to maintain and grow the farming operation to preserve the history, heritage and promise of the future for the next generation.

Todd and Nick in BoothWhat Nick says about the 4Rs: “Along with ourcustomers, all of us at Crop Production Servicesview our role in fertilizer management to be justas vital as our farmers. A strong and responsiblefertilizer recommendation is proactive inproviding an environmentally sound future forour rural communities!”

What Todd says about the 4Rs: “Our farming operation firmly believes that the proper use of organic and commercial fertilizer is not only vital to our operation, but also economical and environmentally friendly to our natural resources”.