In March 2014, the agriculture community launched a proactive, responsible commitment aimed at the long-term improvement of Lake Erie’s water quality. The voluntary 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, now starting its fifth year, is a concentrated effort by the agriculture industry to significantly reduce and prevent applied nutrients from running off fields, which has contributed to water quality issues in Lake Erie and other waterways across Ohio.
The 4R Program certifies nutrient service providers – those who apply or make nutrient recommendations – who are following business practices in accordance with 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles – which refers to using the Right Source of Nutrients at the Right Rate and Right Time in the Right Place. Program participants must go through an annual, independent, third-party audit and demonstrate they not only understand 4R principles, but also follow them.
Since the program’s implementation, 45 facilities have achieved 4R Certified status, 37 of those facilities located in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Nine facilities have earned the honor of year three certification, the highest distinction in the program to date, completing the initial audit cycle that includes 45 cumulative requirements. These facilities were the earliest adopters of the 4R Program and its guidelines.
In January 2017, the 4R Program expanded to the full state of Ohio, offering all Ohio-based agricultural retailers and nutrient service providers the opportunity to participate in efforts to improve the quality of Ohio’s waterways. Today, approximately 2.8 million acres and nearly 6,000 grower customers are serviced by the 45 facilities in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio that have earned 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification. The program has inspired other states and regions to explore the opportunity of adopting the certification program for their geographies, expanding the program’s principles beyond the Western Lake Erie Basin and Ohio.
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program is governed and guided by the Nutrient Stewardship Council, a diverse set of stakeholders from business, government, university and non-governmental sectors with a common goal of maintaining agricultural productivity while also improving the quality of Lake Erie and its contributing watersheds. The program is administered by the Ohio AgriBusiness Association.