Iowa farmer advocates responsibility, 4Rs

Iowa farmer advocates responsibility, 4Rs

Soil Warrior, a high-speed strip-tilling machine

One of Iowa farmer Darin Stolte’s favorite tools was on display at Commodity Classic — the Soil Warrior, a high-speed strip-tilling machine.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Being an advocate for responsible farming came easy for Darin Stolte.

He already used a few of the techniques discussed as part of the “4Rs” of nutrient stewardship, so promoting the idea just felt right.

“I guess I’ve always used some form of the 4Rs, and using those, I realized there’s a lot of benefit to them, so I kept adopting more and more practices as time went on,” said Stolte, who farms in Olin, Iowa.

The 4R concept is about applying the “right source of nutrient, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place,” according to The goal is for production to stay the same, while making sure farmers are not overusing inputs or practices that could be harmful to their environment.

Jennifer Martin, the director of sustainability communications at The Fertilizer Institute, was promoting the concept at Commodity Classic. She said the group’s goal is to have growers from all cropping systems begin adopting sustainable practices.

In one of the institute’s case studies, an anonymous corn farmer in Illinois switched to no-till practices and ended up decreasing the amount of time in the field, from 0.22 hours per acre to 0.21 hours per acre, due to fewer fertilizer applications per season, Martin said.

After implementing the 4R practices, the farmer also saw the bottom line change, decreasing cost per acre between $16.49-$25.31. The farmer also decreased CO2 greenhouse gas emissions by 34.7%, according to the study.

“We know farmers aren’t going to put practices in the ground that don’t make economic sense,” Martin said. “We want to show the 4Rs make sense from a profitability standpoint, but they are also good for the environmental outcomes.”

Stolte said one company he has worked with in his implementation of the 4Rs is Midwestern Bio Ag. Its fertilizer TerraNu has become a part of his routine. He said it’s a carbon-based granular nutrient, which helps some of his lower-carbon fields that have been hit hard by conventional tillage.

“Not only my soils but all the soils in the state of Iowa are very low on carbon from years and years and years of full conventional tillage,” Stolte said. “We’ve burned it out of the soil. So I like to use carbon-based products to help bring the carbon back.”

The Fertilizer Institute 4R advocacy program is still relatively new, but Martin said there are around 100 farmer advocates across 22 states. She said the goal is to see as many acres using the mantra as possible, and the group is hoping to find even more advocates.

Martin said for farmers interested in changing their practices, it doesn’t have to be all at once. She encouraged small changes so they can see if it is right for their farm.

“You don’t have to do the whole farm at once,” she said. “You don’t even have to do the whole field at once. Just take a little bit, test it out and see what it does. Then make your decision from there.”


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