Today's farmers are learning ways to minimize environmental impact and optimize the use of nutrients, such as nitrogen and manure.

Illinois leads the nation in the number of "4R certified" nutrient management specialists.

The 4 Rs are:

• The right source, or the right product for that farmer's needs.

• The right place

• The right time

• The right rate.

Brian Henze of Shelbyville is a 4R specialist. Henze grew up on a family farm near Mount Carmel before earning an ag business degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He began working with the FS System, which provides agriculture-related products and services, directly out of school 26 years ago.

Henze has been a certified crop adviser for many years, coaching farmers on their chemical, seed and fertilizer needs. As time goes on, people like Henze have become increasingly important in the ag industry because of an increasing awareness of the environmental impact of farming.

The 4 Rs have only been in place for less than a year. They're a more advanced version of the standards long promoted by certified crop advisers.

Both the certified crop adviser and 4R programs were devised by the American Society of Agronomy.

The increasing number and importance of issues surrounding the management of crop nutrients makes it necessary to have an approach that clearly describes the practices and their impacts.

On one hand, nutrient applications increase crop yields, nourishing the world while sparing land for other uses and increasing the return of organic carbon to the soil — ultimately sequestering greenhouse gases.

On the other hand, unmanaged nutrient applications – whether in the form of fertilizers or manures – may increase nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air quality.

Henze said the adviser helps the farmer compile data about the land.

"Then we use all that data to help them make decisions," he said. "This system makes them more aware of the impact of chemicals on the environment and makes them more aware of what they use."

Steve Mette, southern business manager for FS in Cumberland, Clay and Effingham counties, said the 4 Rs help farmers increase their yield potential while reducing the possibility of losing their chemicals in a weather event.

Bill Grimes can be reached at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, x132.

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