Nutrient Stewardship

Nutrient stewardship refers to the efficient and effective planning and management of plant nutrients in a manner that improves the social, economic and environmental performance of mineral and organic fertilizers.

The Fertilizer Industry and Sustainable Phosphorus Management


10 January 2020


The Industry Nutrient Stewardship Commitments

Closely aligned to IFA’s Mission to “promote the efficient and responsible production, distribution, and use of plant nutrients”, the IFA Nutrient Stewardship Commitments reaffirm the overarching goal of IFA Members to help farmers to improve nutrient use efficiency and effectiveness, in order to optimize plant nutrient uptake and minimize nutrient losses to the environment.

The 4Rs

Nutrient stewardship initiatives encourage farmers to follow the “4Rs principles” of using the right nutrient source at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place, so that fertilizer application can be managed to achieve economic, social and environmental goals set by stakeholders.

The 4Rs nutrient stewardship framework is inclusive and encompassing, and is easily tailored to both developed and emerging countries. It places the farmer – who are the end users of our products – at the core of the decision-making process.

By granting farmers agronomic knowledge of fertilizer best management practices organized in the four areas of nutrient management, they are empowered to increase their yields and income, while improving health of their soils and protecting the environment.

To read about farmers around the workd that are implementing the 4rs and the results they have achieved, head to our Series Nutrient Stewardship Around the World .

Fertilizer Best Management Practices

The “4Rs” are a good example of the Fertilizer Best management practices (FBMPs) that IFA actively promotes. FBMPs are agricultural production techniques and practices developed through scientific researches and verified and continuously adapted in the fields to maximize economic, social and environmental benefits.

They are aimed at managing the flow of nutrients in the course of producing affordable and healthy food in a sustainable manner that protects the environment and conserves natural resources at the same time profitable to farmers. Through FBMPs, the benefits derived from fertilizers are maximized while the losses and negative effects of over/under/or misuse of fertilizers are minimized.

Some examples of FBMPs include:

  • Balanced fertilization, i.e. giving the proper supply of all macronutrients and micronutrients in a balanced ration throughout the growth of crops;
  • Site-specific nutrient management (SSNM), i.e. supplying plants with nutrients to optimally match their inherent spatial and temporal needs for nutrients;
  • Integrated Plant Nutrient Management (IPNM), entails applying avalaible on-farm organic fertilizers to crops and supplementing them with mineral fertilizers;
  • Microdosing , a technique that consists in applying small quantities of fertilizers, either during planting or 3 – 4 weeks after plant emergence;
  • Fertigation , entails combining fertilizers with irrigation water.

The Nutrient Management Handbook

In 2016, IFA and the World Farmers' Organization (WFO) released the Nutrient Management Handbook , in cooperation with The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA) . The Nutrient Management Handbook is a 25-page manual to help farmers achieve the triple win of boosting productivity, achieving higher resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The handbook answers critical questions such as:

  • Which nutrients are essential for plant growth?
  • What are the challenges of nutrient management, and how can they be tackled?
  • How does water interact with plant nutrients?
  • How can I use fertilizer in a way that will make my farm “climate-smart”?


Agroecology is an integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. The FAO has defined 10 elements of agroecology, available here.

The fertilizer industry strongly encourages for these elements to include:

  • Fertilizer Best Management Practices as a key criteria for agroecological practices.
  • The inclusion of the 4Rs in the principles of agroecology.
  • The inclusion of Integrated Plant Nutrient Management (IPNM) into agroecological practices.

Agroecology shouldn’t be defined by a narrow set of agricultural practices, for instance solely organic practices.

The fertilizer industry supports the inclusion of Integrated Plant Nutrient Management (IPNM) into agroecological practices, as it entails complementing available organic nutrient sources on the farm with mineral fertilizers as necessary to achieve desired yields and restore soil health fertility, when soil testing shows low nutrient levels. Scientific studies have proven to be the best solution for improving crop productivity and soil carbon sequestration. Read more about Integrated Plant Nutrient Management here.

Read more at Farming First’s Agroecology in Action essay collection to read the inspiring ways that agroecology is being carried out in the world, from science-based farming in Africa to building healthier soils or from young farmers’ perspectives.

You can also download the full collection of essays here.

IFA Publications

An Introduction to Crop NUE
Regional Nutrient Use Efficiency Trends and Sustainable Fertilizer Management
14 Essential Nutrients for Improving and Protecting Plant Health
Fertilizers and their Efficient Use
Goal 6: Plant Nutrients and Clean Water
Goal 14: Plant Nutrients and Ocean Health