Source: Matthew J. Grassi, CropLife

Just as one of the most-publicized Summits in world history was getting underway on the Malaysian Peninsula earlier this week, The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) 2018 4R Nutrient Stewardship Summit was kicking off in Des Moines, IA.

Noting the appropriateness of the meeting’s “Hartford of the West” setting (Des Moines is a big insurance town) when considering both the recent Des Moines Water Works lawsuit controversy, as well as the Hawkeye State’s long history as an agenda setter on all things conservation and nutrient management in large-scale production agriculture, TFI President Chris Jahn issued a somewhat provocative decree.

“At TFI our main goal is nothing less than getting all plant nutrients applied according to the 4R principles – Right Rate, Right Source, Right Timing, and the Right Placement,” Jahn asserted. “To do this it is going to take nothing short of a transformational change in how we grow our food.”

After participating in the two-day meeting, which included a snazzy opening night reception at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates museum across the river, I think it’s safe to say one of the many takeaways from the discussion is that Jahn is not being dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. The stakes really are that high. And while it’s undeniable that we’ve come a long way as an industry when it comes to nutrient stewardship and a focus on soil health and water quality, as many of the event’s speakers rightfully stressed, there’s still plenty of work left to do.

With all that said, here’s a few takeaways from the meeting:

1. Massive Scale of Change Still Needed: Or more simply put, growers can’t think they will be able to just plant some cover crops, or maybe do a little variable-rate lime on the Back 40, and realistically claim they are moving the nutrient stewardship needle forward. A broad, wide-scale and mainstream implementation of multiple conservation practices is what it will take. Iowa Secretary of Ag Michael Naig, appearing just after Jahn, for one is hoping to see growers in his state do more. “If we’re going to meet that (TFI) end goal of eliminating 45% of nutrient run-off we’re certainly going to need to go beyond just doing the 4Rs,” he pleaded. “We need to scale up our efforts with more edge-of-field monitoring, and we also just need more innovation overall. It’s my opinion that our great Agribusinesses, CCAs, and ag retailers will all be crucial pieces in this effort going forward.

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