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New Nutrient Certification Program Holds Dealers to Tough Standards

New Nutrient Certification Program Holds Dealers to Tough Standards
Voluntary nutrient stewardship program is aimed at reducing phosphate levels in lakes.

If you live in northeastern Indiana you will likely hear about the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, if you haven't heard about it already.

It's a voluntary program geared to fertilizer dealers, not farmers directly. However, Jim Lake, a consultant hired to help educate people about the program, says farmers who are customers of these dealerships need to understand the need for the program, and why dealerships will be asking them to accept some changes in how and when certain fertilizer products are applied.

What's the need? The Ohio legislature is at this very moment posing to pass legislation that will affect how Ohio farmers and retailers can apply fertilizer.

Train the trainers: Jim Lake's main job is to help others who work with retail dealers and their customers understand how to instruct them about the value of adopting practices that will limit the amount of phosphorus allowed to enter streams and rivers.

Related: Educational Videos Focus on Nutrient Stewardship

If you don't live in northeastern Indiana, it's still good information to know, and could help you realize that you or your dealer needs need to make changes in how you apply fertilizer as well.

"It's a big deal up here because a portion of northeastern Indiana feeds into the Lake Erie basin," Lake says. "Phosphorus is the main nutrient that contributes to algae blooms in lakes."

That's because algae are often "phosphorus limited" instead of nitrate limited. Put another way, the limiting factor for algae grown, even for bacteria that resemble true algae and sometimes cause the harmful algae blooms, is often phosphorus, not nitrogen.

When there is plenty of phosphorus in the water, these algae and/or bacteria flourish, and the blooms are more intense. Mycotoxins are also produced. There are worldwide health limits for the amount of these toxins allowed in drinking water supplies. When the level gets too high, officials impose bans on drinking water leaving water filtration plants.

One of the practices that is a bit different than past tradition is not spreading phosphate fertilizer on frozen or snow-covered ground, Lake says. That applies even if the land is flat. To complete certification, retail fertilizer dealers must agree to not make applications in these conditions.

Related: Fertilizer Institute: Cover Crops Gaining Popularity

If a farmer insists, the dealer can ask him to sign off, and the dealer then keeps a record of the farmer's authorization in case he's audited by a third party helping enforce the certification standards.

In Ohio, at least, that could all change if the legislature passes law and the Ohio governor signs them. It may no longer be voluntary.

"That's why farmers need to be trained and understand the issue, too," Lake says,

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