4R Nutrient Stewardship - A Pathway to Sustainable Agriculture

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.


The global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

Smarter, more efficient fertilizer management practices will help growers meet the rising demand for food while minimizing pressure on the environment and meeting societal expectations for sustainable food sourcing.

The fertilizer industry and growers across Canada are adopting the top international standard for on-farm nutrient application developed by Fertilizer Canada and first published as a pathway to sustainability in 2006: 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place®).

4R Nutrient Stewardship is a science-based approach to fertilizer programs that applies best management practices to optimize plant nutrient availability.

  • The Right Source means ensuring a balanced supply of essential plant nutrients including granular or liquid fertilizers or manures.
  • The Right Rate is applying just enough fertilizer to meet the needs of the plant while accounting for nutrients already in the soil.
  • The Right Time means applying fertilizer when the plant will get the most benefit and avoiding times when fertilizer can be lost to the environment.
  • The Right Place is applying fertilizer where the plants can easily access the fertilizer and where it is less likely to be lost to the water or air.

The efficient use of fertilizer is the key to intensifying crop production on existing farmland. In fact, fertilizer is responsible for half of the world’s current food production. That intensification is going to become increasingly important over the next 30 years as the world seeks to increase food production by 70 per cent — sustainably and with as little environmental impact as possible.

We are fortunate in Canada that our fertilizer industry is well positioned to face the sustainability challenges of today and tomorrow. Fertilizer Canada takes pride in the pivotal role the fertilizer industry plays in achieving Canada’s economic, social and environmental goals and will continue to work toward furthering its position as an innovative leader on a global scale.

4R Nutrient Stewardship: Morgan's Full 4R Experience

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Cassie Cotton