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Nutrient management is a modern approach to agriculture that ensures farmers apply the correct amount of fertilizer to a specific crop. "Nutrients" include manure, commercial fertilzers, wash water, biosolids, and sludge. Photo by Jayda Noyes.

A Saskatchewan farmer and food advocate is encouraging farmers to use nutrient management to increase productivity and reduce environmental impact.

Clinton Monchuk farms near Lanigan and is also the Executive Director of Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan. He said nutrient management starts with knowing which nutrients and how much of those nutrients a specific crop needs to grow by testing the soil, and then fertilizing accordingly.

“Think of it this way,” Monchuk said. “If the doctor said I need to manage my weight, but I didn’t know how much I weighed…that would be of no benefit. But when I actually measure what my weight is and what my goal is, then I can more actively get to that goal.” 

Although soil testing and updating technology for nutrient management is costly, Monchuk said it’s 100 per cent worth it as a business decision.

Nutrient management also keeps the soil on the ground so wind and water erosion are reduced significantly. In addition, farmers are using the right amount of fertilizer. Without nutrient management, farmers are more likely to use excess fertilizer, which can run off into water bodies and leach into groundwater.

Monchuk said 20 to 30 years ago, agricultural practices made the soil more susceptible to erosion. An example is tilling, when the soil is turned over so the sun kills the weeds. As agricultural technology adopted more modern practices like nutrient managment, they have become more environmentally conscious.

Agronomy Manager at Prairie Plains Agro, Troy McInnis, said there are not only environmental and economical benefits to nutrient management, but also social benefits.

Socially, working with agronomists for nutrient management allows farmers to make practical changes so their family or corporate farms succeed. 

Even though agronomists such as McInnis encourage nutrient management, farmers don’t get paid any more for doing their jobs correctly. “There’s no reward or penalty,” McInnis said.

Fertilizer Canada represents manufacturers and retailers of fertilizers. Fertilizer Canada offers the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program to train agronomists and retailers online to handle their businesses in a sustainable manner. McInnis said the program encourages “right rate, right timing, right placement, and right source.” The government of Saskatchewan also supports this program. 

He doesn’t think nutrient management needs to be regulated in Saskatchewan as long as farmers are using the resources made available to them. “If we do things the right way, we can manage it.”

McInnis said farmers would be more likely to adopt these practices if they can educate themselves by their own will, and the province has less intensive farming compared to others.

Moving forward, McInnis said the agriculture industry must continue to promote and use programs such as the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program. In his opinion, most farmers do their jobs well in terms of using fertilizer responsibly. 

Monchuk said those who worry farmers are not concerned about the land don't realize how much time, effort, and money goes into practices like nutrient management.

“We’re trying to make sure more and more consumers understand what we’re doing because there’s a disconnect [between farmers and consumers],” Monchuk said. “In a lot of instances, consumers don’t understand the decisions that we’re making. You’re trying to figure out the environmental benefits and impacts, you’re trying to figure out the economic impacts and benefits and you’re trying to figure out what you can do based on your own capacities whether it’s personally with your family, or the business you’re running, or the technology that you have. There are so many different factors that come in to play.”