Advancing Nutrient Stewardship in Pennsylvania through Training Modules for Farmers' Trusted Advisors

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $148,666.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2024
Grant Recipients: Mid-Atlantic 4R Association; The Nature Conservancy
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Lindsay Thompson
Thompson Ag Consulting
Brian Campbell
The Nature Conservancy
Katie Turner
Mid-Atlantic 4R Association

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: nutrient management
  • Education and Training: focus group

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification:

    Pennsylvania agriculture remains in the spotlight as the key contributor to nutrient contributions in the Chesapeake Bay, which has lead to increased recognition and interest in basic and advanced nutrient management practices as a means of achieving goals outlined as part of Pennsylvania’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nutrient reductions. A Penn State survey indicated that 55-75% of farmers are currently implementing basic nutrient management, and only 10-20% are implementing advanced nutrient management (Royer et al., 2019). As these practices are necessary for the improvement of water quality and to achieve goals set forth by the state’s TMDL, these low percentages highlight the need for farmers to implement these practices.

    Farmer advisers in Pennsylvania, with diverse education backgrounds, vary greatly in their level of understanding in regard to the science behind making in-field nutrient management decisions with a concept called 4R nutrient stewardship (applying the Right nutrient source for a crop at the Right rate, Right time, and Right place to maximize crop uptake and minimize losses to the environment). As an unfortunate result of differing levels of 4R knowledge, farmers may receive conflicting advice from their nutrient management planners, crops consultants, and conservation practitioners. In order to achieve the environmental and economic outcomes provided by following 4R nutrient stewardship, the team of advisers working with farmers need to align in the practices and products that make sense for a farmer’s particular situation, which allows farmers to maintain trusted relationships with their advisers.


    Solution and Approach:

    The 4R Nutrient Stewardship concept is embraced by the agribusiness industry, regulatory agencies, farm organizations, environmental non-profits, and academia because the concept demonstrates to farmers how economic and environmental priorities can work together, instead of in contrast.  The Mid-Atlantic 4R Association proposes to align farmer advisers around the benefits and implementation of 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices through education. This education will include the presentation of six virtual training modules which will provide holistic education on Nutrient Stewardship implementation topics to a minimum of 150 farm advisers over the course of the program. Additionally, we propose forming a learning cohort of 30 farmer advisers who will receive specialized in-person workshops, coaching, and virtual learning opportunities to apply 4Rs with their clients. Each cohort participant will be committed to working with ten of their farmer clients to advocate for the adoption of RIGHT Nutrient Stewardship practices. To make the largest impact on the state’s water quality improvement goals, in-person trainings will be held within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. However, in addition to in-person training, online learning modules for each topic will be developed and shared with continuing education partners throughout the state to ensure the largest reach possible for the training materials.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    150 service providers will have targeted conversations with 1500 of their farmer clients about implementing 4R nutrient management practices on their farms totaling 150,000 acres. 30 of these service providers will receive specialized training through a one-year learning cohort and will each work with 10 farmers to develop 4R practice implementation plans, leading to 30,000 acres with additional 4R practices.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.