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So we asked Kevin to do up a blog for the website.  He decided after pouring over soil tests all winter that this was a recurring theme.  Yes TJ did the same topic a couple of years ago when we were on a blog roll.  (This is not a coincidence, again this is from going through our customers soil tests.)  Have a read.

Yields have come a long way in my lifetime…. Wheat from 40 bu/ac and canola from low 20s up to averages of 52 and 41 respectively in 2016. Lots has changed in 27 years! But, what about phosphate? In MB close to half of all fields are testing low to very low, less than 10ppm, and trending in the wrong direction. Our P fertilization practices haven’t changed since MAFRD came out with recommendations in the early 90’s!

Times have changed.  There are several reasons to the decline in our soil test P levels.

  1. Growing crops that use more P, yet are more sensitive to seed-placed P(canola, soybeans instead of cereals)
  2. A shift to drills with a smaller seedbed utilization
  3. Growers farming more non-owned land
  4. Most importantly…… Bigger Yields!

These low soil test levels pose a problem not only for future generations but it affects your bottom line today. Crops need both a solid P base and proper fertilization to achieve maximum yield. A soil with 15ppm will out yield a soil with 5ppm regardless of added fertilizer!

The table below shows typical phosphorus fertilizer application for provincial wide average yields and the resulting deficit.

Yield Lbs  P205 removed Applied Net P205
Wheat 55 36 30 -6
Canola 40 45 25 -20
Soybeans 40 35 20* -15
Net -41

*some growers aren’t applying any P on soybean crops.

Keep in mind these are removal rates only, and when setting yield targets we should be using soil test data along with total uptake numbers to be sure we are meeting the crops needs.  Also, these are pretty modest yield goals for our area. So, if you have canola yielding 60bu/ac you are removing 68 lbs P205!

So, where do we go from here? We already have low P, and we’re growing bigger crops than ever. How do we increase our P levels? Unfortunately, the only answer is more fertilizer, applied away from the seed either through a SB, MRB, or broadcast. It will take some time to get back up to the magical 15ppm. It can take as much as 40 lbs of P205 to move soil test levels by 1 ppm, so, economically it can be impossible. But if we can focus on zones within the field that need it, we will ensure we are not only make economical decisions, but environmental ones as well. And as we near that magical 15ppm, we will grow better crops and ensure the land will produce for many years to come.

We have been spending alot of time talking with our customers about spring placement of your nitrogen as per our last blog post….Take a few minutes to look at this summary written by John Heard and Don Flaten that was adapted from Cynthia Grant’s presentation at the Manitoba Agronomists Conference this winter.  It is a fairly long article for a blog but definitely worth taking the time to read.  It has been passed along to many grower organizations so you may have seen this info already.  We thought it was valuable to post.  It also serves to compliment the information we will  be reiterating in our agronomy contribution to Reit -Syd’s annual Spring booklet.

Spring Options for Applying Nitrogen Fertilizer in 2017

With the wet conditions and delayed harvest experienced in parts of Manitoba in fall 2016, very few farmers were able to complete their fall fertilization program.  Since early seeding is important for optimizing crop yield, producers will be looking for ways to apply their N requirements efficiently without delaying the seeding operation.  In addition, soil reserves of N are variable and margins between crop revenue and input costs are modest; therefore, optimizing nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency is important.  To achieve these objectives for a spring fertilization program will require use of a 4R nutrient stewardship strategy:  applying the right rate of the right fertilizer source, with the right placement and at the right time to minimize losses of fertilizer N to the environment and optimize the crop’s access to the fertilizer.

Minimize Fertilizer Losses to the Environment

Fertilizer use efficiency will be greatest when a source, placement and timing combination is used that minimizes nitrogen losses by the following mechanisms.

 1) Volatilization is the loss of N to the atmosphere as ammonia gas.  Ammonium and ammonium-producing sources, such as urea or UAN solution, may be lost by volatilization when left on the soil surface, while nitrate sources are not.  The ammonia travels with soil moisture, so volatilization losses increase with factors that increase evaporation, such as high air and soil temperatures and wind.  Applying the fertilizer when temperatures are cool, winds are light and rainfall is imminent helps to reduce volatilization losses.

 Table 1. Conditions that Affect Volatilization Losses of N Fertilizer

High Loss Potential  Low Loss Potential
moist conditions, followed by rapid drying

high wind velocity

warm soil temperatures

high soil pH (> pH 7.5)

high lime content in surface soil

coarse soil texture (sandy)

low organic matter content

high amount of surface residue (Zero Till)

dry conditions, followed by rainfall

low wind velocity

cool soil temperatures

low soil pH (<7.0)

no lime at soil surface

fine textured soil (clay)

high organic matter content

low amounts of residue (intensive tillage)

2) Immobilization refers to the “tie-up” of N in the soil microorganisms as they decompose crop residues and use plant available N, such as ammonium and nitrate, for their own growth and reproduction.  This is a temporary loss, since the N will become plant available when the microorganisms die and decompose, but it restricts N availability in the year of application.  Immobilization losses are greatest for crop residues that have a low concentration of N or a high ratio of C to N (e.g., cereal crop residues) and when straw volumes are high (e.g. corn and wheat straw versus canola or soybean residue).

3) Denitrification is the conversion of nitrate-N to gaseous forms of N, which can be lost to the atmosphere.  Denitrification occurs when available oxygen in the soil is limited.  This can occur under very wet or flooded conditions or when the soil is very compacted.  Losses are therefore larger on fine-textured soils (e.g., clay) and in depressional areas of the landscape, such as bottom-slope positions. Even when the soil is not completely flooded, there will be microsites in the soil where oxygen availability is limited and denitrification can occur.  Rate of denitrification will be faster when soil temperatures are warm, because the activity of the microorganisms that cause denitrification increases with increasing soil temperature.

 4) Leaching is the movement of N in the soil water down through the soil profile.  When the N moves below the rooting depth, the plants can no longer reach the N, so it is lost for crop use and poses a threat to groundwater quality.  Ammonium-N is normally bound to soil particles and so protected from leaching losses.  Therefore, N in the nitrate form is much more susceptible to leaching losses is the ammonium form.   Leaching will increase with increasing precipitation and is greater on light-textured (sandy) soils with lower water holding capacity.

5) Runoff and Erosion losses of fertilizer N are not generally a serious problem where fertilizer is banded or incorporated.  However, if a surface application is followed by heavy rainfall, losses may be substantial.

The potential for N loss from these pathways will depend on soil type and environmental conditions.  Therefore, when selecting a fertilizer management program to minimize these losses, the soil and environmental conditions should be evaluated to assess the relative risk of losses by volatilization, immobilization, denitrification, leaching and runoff or erosion.

Optimize Crop Access to Fertilizer

In addition to minimizing losses, an effective nutrient management program ensures that an adequate supply of nitrogen is present in a position where the crop can access it at the time that it is needed by the crop.

1) Positional Availability and Surface Stranding – Under dry conditions, surface applied fertilizer that is not incorporated can become physically isolated or stranded in dry soil, unavailable to the active portion of the crop’s root system.  Conversely, banding of fertilizer N often increases the efficiency by improving access to fertilizer by roots, especially under dry soil conditions.

2) Timing for Increased Yield – Early applications, at, prior to or shortly after planting, will produce the greatest yield benefit since crop yield potential is determined early in the growing season.  Ideally N should be applied to cereals at or before the 3-5 leaf stage and prior to bolting of canola, especially if no N is applied at or before seeding.  If at least 50% of the crop’s N requirement is applied at or before seeding, supplemental applications to cereals as late as the stem elongation or heading stage may be acceptable; however, applications of N later than this is more likely to result in increases in protein rather than yield.

Options for Spring Application of N

While a wet fall in 2016 may challenge producers in the spring of 2017 to complete seeding and fertilizing operations in a timely fashion, there are many options for nitrogen management available.  Ultimately, every N fertilization package has advantages and disadvantages.   In selecting the optimum fertilization system, the balance between rate of application, cost and availability of equipment, soil disturbance, seed-bed quality, moisture conservation, time and labour constraints and fertilizer use efficiency must be considered against the backdrop of the other demands in the overall operation.  The objective is to improve farm management, not just fertilizer management.  With competing and unique demands within each farm operation for time, labour, equipment and financial resources, flexibility in nutrient management is an important consideration. Often losses in efficiency in one area can be compensated for by improvements in efficiency in another.   Therefore, the “best” fertilization system is not universal, but will depend on the major limiting factors on each individual farm.  By evaluating the potential risk of losses and the options available for their particular farm, producers can determine management options that will ensure effective crop use of the fertilizer, while allowing seeding to be completed in a timely and effective fashion.

1) Pre-plant Banding:  Banding N in concentrated rows below the soil surface tends to be the most efficient form of application under western Canadian conditions.  Placing the fertilizer below the soil surface protects the ammonia portion from volatilization losses. Placing the fertilizer in a band reduces the contact between the fertilizer and the soil microorganisms, reducing immobilization of both ammonium and nitrate.  Banding also slows the conversion of urea to ammonium and ammonium to nitrate, which can reduce losses by denitrification and leaching.   Ideally, bands should not be disturbed by pre-seeding tillage or seeding operations.

All forms of N fertilizer perform well when applied as a spring pre-plant band, provided that the fertilizer is separated from the seed.  Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) should be placed at least 4 inches below the soil surface and, if possible, seeding should be done perpendicular to ammonia bands.  There is no need to delay seeding after application if anhydrous ammonia is placed at recommended depths, especially on moist clay soils. However, pre-plant banding may potentially delay seeding and dry and disrupt the seed-bed, especially in clay soils (in some cases, though, these same soils may require some form of preseeding tillage due to the large ruts leftover from harvest operations in the fall of 2016).

2) Surface Applications Immediately Before or After Seeding:  Broadcasting is a very rapid method of applying fertilizers, with applicators being able to cover as much as 1000 acres per day.  However, urea or UAN solution sources of N can be lost by volatilization until they are incorporated or move into the soil with precipitation. Tillage during conventional seeding operations is generally sufficient to incorporate urea or UAN solution and reduce volatilization.  If either ammonium or nitrate sources are in close contact with crop residues, they may also be subject to immobilization as the residues decompose, since microorganisms will use N from the soil or fertilizer as they break down crop residues that may be low in N (e.g., cereal residues).  Surface stranding of broadcast fertilizer, in dry soil above the active portion of the crop’s root system may also be a problem in some weather conditions.  High rates of broadcast urea-N applied without incorporation on fields seeded with disc-openers may concentrate pellets in the seed-furrow and cause seedling damage to sensitive crops like canola.

Because of the high potential for volatilization and immobilization losses, surface applications of N tend to be less efficient than in-soil banded applications.  Efficiency of surface applications tends to improve in higher rainfall areas, since precipitation is more likely to move the fertilizer into the soil, reducing the risk of loss and of stranding at the soil surface.  Efficiency is lower on high pH soil, since high pH encourages the production of ammonia gas.

While often less efficient than in-soil banded or incorporated fertilizers, surface N applications without incorporation may play a role in fertilization of forages, winter cereals and for post-emergent N delivery.  However, lack of fertilizer incorporation will increase the risk of volatilization and immobilization losses.   As a result, dribble banded UAN, to reduce contact with crop residues and soil, will generally be a better choice than broadcast urea for surface applications, unless a urease inhibitor is added with the urea (see next paragraph).  Volatilization losses with dribble banded UAN will be lower than with urea, both because the UAN provides a portion of the N as nitrate and because UAN does not increase initial pH at the application site to the same extent as urea. Both of these factors reduce the proportion of N present as ammonia, thus reducing volatilization.  Use of a dribble-band rather than a spray application also reduces contact between the fertilizer and crop residue, reducing immobilization.  As a result, in several field studies in Manitoba, surface dribble-banded applications of UAN were nearly as effective as in-soil banded applications.

Another option to reduce the risk of volatilization loss from broadcast fertilizer is to use urease inhibitors such as Agrotain that is applied with urea or UAN or manufactured into a product like SuperU.  Urease inhibitors slow the conversion of urea to ammonia and ammonium.  This allows more time for the urea to move into the soil before it is converted into ammonia and ammonium.  Also, the slower conversion reduces the concentration of ammonia at the soil surface, reducing the rate of volatilization.  The economic benefit of the urease inhibitors will depend on the relative risk of volatilization loss and the cost of the fertilizer and the urease inhibitor.  As volatile losses from UAN are generally lower than from urea, the benefit of using the urease inhibitor may be lower with UAN than with urea.

While a higher rate of fertilizer may be required to compensate for the reduced fertilizer use efficiency for surface applications, this may be a practical compromise, particularly for producers who are not willing or able to purchase specialized equipment for in-soil fertilizer placement.

3) Placement in the Seedrow:  Placement of fertilizer in the seed-row is an attractive option, since it eliminates an extra pass for fertilizer application.  If the fertilizer is placed directly with the seed, it eliminates the extra expense, draft requirements and soil disturbance required to side-band the fertilizer requirements.  Seed-row placement is a form of banding, so it is efficient in terms of reducing N losses.

However, applying excess nitrogen with the seed can lead to seedling damage due to combination of salt and ammonia toxicity.  Such damage often reduces crop yields, reduces response to nitrogen fertilizer and reduces nitrogen use efficiency.  In addition, seedling toxicity may also delay crop emergence and reduce crop vigour, increasing potential losses from weed competition; delay crop maturity, increasing risk of damage from fall frosts; and lower crop quality.  In all cases, the eventual impact of seedling toxicity problems on crop yield and quality at harvest is highly dependent on the type of growing season.

The amount of seed-placed fertilizer that can be safely applied depends on a number of factors including environmental conditions, crop grown, soil type, width of the seed/fertilizer band, row spacing and fertilizer source.  Small seeded crops such as flax or canola are more sensitive to seedling damage than crops such as wheat or barley.  With cereal crops, urea tends to be more damaging than ammonium nitrate, while urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) tends to be intermediate, since it is a blend of urea and ammonium nitrate.  Rate applied with the seed must be decreased with light textured soils, low soil organic matter, cool growing conditions, low soil moisture, in the presence of salts or free lime, or with the use of wide row spacing. Use of air seeders with wide sweeps and/or narrow row spacings allow for increased levels of seed-placed fertilizer, since the concentration of fertilizer in contact with the seed is reduced as the seed and fertilizer are spread over a wider zone.  However, air drills with wide row spacings and/or narrow knife or disc openers will decrease the amount of fertilizer that can be placed safely in the seedrow.  For more detail about determining safe rates of N fertilizer that can be applied with cereals and canola, please refer to the Manitoba Soil Fertility Guide (see page 6 of the booklet or view the web version at:  www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/cropproduction/gaa01d25.html

The amount of damage from seed-placed fertilizer can vary greatly from year to year, depending on the specific conditions at seeding, so a rate which caused no problems one year may cause significant damage the next (eg. risk of damage is greatest with dry weather).   A reasonable compromise may be to apply a portion of the fertilizer with the seed and broadcast or dribble-band the remainder.

Use of a controlled release product like ESN, may increase the rate of N that can safely be applied with the seed.  The amount of safety is difficult to predict since fracturing of the polymer coating may occur during handling, transport and air-seeder delivery.  The suggested safe rate limits are based upon the provincial guideline referred to above and the proportion of ESN in the blend with seedplaced urea.  At 100%, ESN can be used at 3 times the safe urea rate, and a 50% ESN:urea blend can be used at 1.5 times the safe urea rate, assuming a low level of damage to the protective coating.

4) Side-banding or Mid-row Banding at Seeding – Side banding N to beside and below the seed will decrease the risk of ammonia toxicity compared to seedplacing.  Many commercial and home-manufactured openers have been designed for one-pass seeding and fertilizing.  These include simple systems where fluid N is dispensed through a tube on the seed-opener and mixed with the soil as it falls back over the seed, combination seed and fertilizer boots which place the N in a band separated from the seed, and systems with separate openers for side-band or mid-row placement.  Often the entire N needs of the crop can be met through sideband placement, but recent research indicates that placement 1” to the side and 1” below may NOT be sufficient separation for crop safety.   Therefore, if the entire N needs are to be applied, the side band should be at least 2” from the seed row for solution or dry fertilizer and at least 2-3 inches from the seedrow for anhydrous ammonia.

Mid-row banding the N between every second row at seeding maintains the greatest degree of seed safety.  Less soil disturbance and hence more moisture retention would be achieved with a disk type mid-row bander unit compared to a shank-type.

Fluid sources are particularly suited for one-pass systems, as application equipment for fluids is often easier to work with and cheaper to modify than equipment for granular or ammonia application.   Anhydrous ammonia is a relatively low-cost nitrogen source and can be safely applied using side-band or mid-row band equipment, as long as the seed-fertilizer separation is adequate.  It is important to ensure that the anhydrous ammonia does not travel through soil pores or fractures to the seed, so adequate horizontal separation is important.  Good opener wearability, good tilth, good moisture conditions, and reasonable speed of operations are also important to ensure that seed and fertilizer separation are maintained.   Wing-tip injection of anhydrous ammonia on sweep openers has performed well for cereals on heavier soils.  However at the shallower seeding depths required for canola or flax, there may not be sufficient soil coverage to prevent ammonia escape to the surface.

Many of the commercial seeders do a very good job of side-banding or mid-row placement, but the cost of this type of equipment with capacity to deliver seed and fertilizer separately can be high.  Draft requirement and seed-bed disturbance may also increase and trash clearance may become a problem.  However, the benefits of combining seeding and fertilization into one operation can be significant and may pay long term dividends.

Recently there have been concerns over shallow placement of urea or UAN in the soil and volatilization potential.  Field studies in eastern Manitoba have shown urea placement at ½ to 1” depth had slightly more volatilization than at 1.5 to 4” placement, but yields were unaffected.  Proper coverage and packing may help minimize any potential for loss.

5) Banding Ammonia Immediately After Seeding

Limited research and practice indicates that banding anhydrous ammonia immediately after seeding may have some advantages over topdressing in terms of cost and efficiency.  Research was conducted many years ago on heavy clay soils seeded with diskers or early generation air seeders.  If such a strategy is attempted, ensure that anhydrous ammonia is placed perpendicular to direction of seeding, using a narrow knife or low disturbance opener to minimize destruction of the seedbed.  Also ensure that anhydrous ammonia is injected at the recommended depth to minimize the potential for seedling damage and to prevent ammonia escape from the trench.

6) Post Emergence or Midseason Applications

As mentioned previously, under western Canadian conditions, banded application of N prior to or at seeding generally has the greatest benefit since crop yield potential is determined early in crop growth and banded applications are more efficient than surface applications.  Generally, under Manitoba conditions, applying all or part of a crop’s N requirements after emergence does not produce higher yields than pre-plant or one-pass applications.  However, in some cases, producers may not be able band their N fertilizer prior to seeding due to time limitations or risk of seedbed quality problems.  In other cases, producers may want to delay applying a portion of their N fertilizer until they have better estimate of their crop’s yield potential.

In these cases, top-dressing is often a reasonably efficient method of applying nitrogen fertilizer if rainfall is received soon after application, which is common in the spring in much of Manitoba.  However, post-seeding surface applications will be subject to the same considerations as surface applications prior to seeding.

Since adverse weather may delay post-seeding applications, some N should be applied at seeding if available soil N is low.  There may also be an enhanced risk of stranding of N at the soil surface with prolonged dry weather.  Therefore, likelihood of a benefit from post-seeding applications increases with the likelihood of receiving significant in-season precipitation.  This is because the crop is more likely to be able to access and take up the applied N and because if yield is primarily limited by available moisture, in-season rainfall increases yield potential and response to applied N.  In addition, denitrification and leaching losses of nitrogen already present in the soil will be greater under wet conditions.

If no N is applied at or before seeding, post-emergent N should be applied to cereals at or before the 3-5 leaf stage and to canola prior to bolting.  Losses will be higher on high pH soils. However, if at least 50% of the crop’s N requirement is applied at or before planting, supplemental midseason applications can be delayed as late as the stem elongation or heading stage for cereals.

UAN is well-adapted to use for post-seeding N applications if it is dribble-banded, dropped below the leaf canopy or injected using coulter applicators after crop emergence.  Conversely, applying UAN in a full-coverage spray may result in leaf burning and significant losses of N.  Adding a urease inhibitor to UAN will further help to reduce foliar damage and volatilization losses from post-emergence applications.  Similarly, adding a urease inhibitor to urea or using a urea fertilizer that contains a urease inhibitor (e.g., SuperU) will help to reduce volatlization from broadcast granular fertilizer.

Use of Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEFs) to Reduce N Losses in Wet Soils

The directed use of enhanced efficiency fertilizers or inhibitors has been mentioned above in regards to volatilization and seed safety.  Several enhanced efficiency fertilizers or inhibitors have additives that slow down nitrification, the process where ammonium is converted to nitrate, the form of N that can be lost by leaching and denitrification under wet conditions.  These include nitrapyrin (as N-Serve for anhydrous ammonia and eNtrench for urea and UAN) and DCD (in SuperU and Agrotain Plus for UAN).  Similarly the controlled release N such as ESN slows the accumulation of nitrate-N.  Such products may be beneficial when nitrate-N is exposed to prolonged excessively wet conditions and when crop uptake is low.

(Adapted from Spring Options for Nitrogen Fertilization, presented at the Manitoba Agronomist’s Conference by Dr. Cynthia Grant)

 

For further details contact:

John Heard, Manitoba Agriculture, Carman, MB  E-mail John.Heard@gov.mb.ca

Dr. Don Flaten, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB  E-mail:  Don.Flaten@UManitoba.ca

The fall of 2016 was one that will remain in our minds for a long time. The rains persisted, delaying harvest till late fall (or early winter) in many geographies.  Getting the crop off seemed like a never-ending battle for many producers.  For the most part, that crop was worth the struggle as yields were average to above average.  However, the late harvest caused fall fertility applications to be minimal.  If upcoming conditions for spring remain very wet, fertility plans may have to be adjusted.  What are your plans to meet the challenges to providing your crop with a strong fertility plan in 2017?  Here are some of our concerns and suggestions to deal with nitrogen applications for the upcoming year.

Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is a popular source of nitrogen in a number of regions.  The large question that looms for upcoming season is supply.  Will there be enough tanks and trucks in the area to keep the anhydrous units filled and moving?  This conversation has taken place with many customers who currently use this source. The discussion then turns to other sources of nitrogen and the options and placement that could be used to help with nutrient movement.

Urea could be a convenient nitrogen source at seeding time.  Application options range from broadcasting, broadcasting followed by incorporating, and banding.  There are a few different options when dealing with urea but we must look at the agronomics surrounding its use and consider potential risk of losses.

The gold standard for any nitrogen source is banding as it minimizes losses and allows the quick access of nutrients.  Given the environmental challenges that may face us in the spring of 2017, the opportunity to band all your nitrogen may not be viable.  It is imperative to understand that broadcasting urea could cause a large percentage of volatilization losses.  Volatilization occurs when urea is applied on or near the soil surface and comes into contact with moisture to produce carbon dioxide and ammonia which gases off into the atmosphere.

Conditions favoring high volatilization potential are:

  • high soil temperatures
  • moist conditions, followed by rapid drying
  • windy conditions
  • high soil pH (>pH 7.5)
  • coarse soil texture (sandy)
  • low organic matter content
  • high amounts of surface residue (e.g. Zero tillage)

If broadcasting is the only option for urea placement this spring producers should to look at some inhibitor options below to curtail the amount of nitrogen that could potentially be lost.

UAN (Urea and Ammonium Nitrate) is a flexible source of nitrogen that can be banded “conventionally” as a deep, side or midrow band, or applied with a sprayer. If product is not going to be deep banded, we need to be prepared to apply a urease inhibitor (see below) to deduce the risk of volatilization.  If applying UAN with a sprayer, loss risks are two-fold: volatilization and immobilization. Applying in a slight drizzle is ideal but hard to time.  Using a urease inhibitor as well as dribble band nozzles will help minimize losses.  This product also fits perfectly if you are targeting high end yields while preventing lodging and the front loading all your product in a challenging spring.

There are a lot of factors that could come into play if conditions are not favorable for broadcast urea or UAN.  There are other options or additives that can enhance efficiency of nitrogen to potentially reduce losses.

Agrotain is a urease inhibitor that delays breakdown of the urea molecule into ammonia form. It will buy you time to allow urea to move into the soil.  Agrotain has been used for many years and has proven to help reduce nitrogen losses.  It can be used with both Urea and UAN.

Super U is a urease inhibitor combined with a nitrification inhibitor.   A nitrification inhibitor delays the conversion of ammonia form nitrogen to the nitrate form which is vulnerable to leaching and denitrification.  It is similar to Agrotain as it will buy you time to allow urea to move into the soil as well as reduce denitrification and leaching when conditions are wet.  Super U is a relatively new product but both inhibitors have demonstrated to provide protection against losses.

ESN (Environmentally Smart Nitrogen) is slow release urea in a polymer coating.  The polymer coating degrades slowly to allow a controlled release of nitrogen.  ESN may serve as an insurance against adverse conditions as well as help feed the plant at a later period of growth.

When weather conditions are perfect and application timing and placement are ideal, these nitrogen enhancers will provide no yield advantage over normal nitrogen sources.  We may be facing a spring that is neither ideal or normal so looking into these products is a good option.  As previously stated, the ultimate placement is banding the nitrogen.  If this is not an option for you, take precautions to minimize your losses and help the crop reach its potential.

Don’t hesitate to give one of our agronomists a call to discuss your fertility strategy for Spring 2017.

Soybean Fertility

06 May 2015

There is a theory out there that you don’t have to fertilize soybeans.  This is somewhat true as you can put the seed in the ground with some inoculant (liquid, granular, double; that is another blog for another time) and come away with decent yields.  Soybeans have a taproot that will extend downward into the soil profile as well as many lateral roots that accumulate in the upper soil profile.  As the growing season goes on, soybeans create many secondary roots and branch out searching for nutrients and/or moisture.  The soybean root structure is a very good scavenger and will go find what it needs.

Why do I need to fertilize soybeans?

Uptake: 1 lb P/bushel    3.5 lbs K/bushel

Removal: 0.86 lbs P/bushel    1.43lbs K/bushel

A 40 bu/ac soybean crop will remove 34.4 lbs/ac of phosphorus and 57.2 lbs/ac of potassium.  That is a lot of nutrients being removed with the seed.  We all know how hard and expensive it is to build soil phosphorus and soil potassium levels.  On average, our soil phosphorus levels are slowly being depleted with big canola and wheat crops.  With soybeans becoming an important part of our cropping rotation, it is important to try and maintain nutrient levels in the soil.

How do I Apply P and K?

There are still a lot of questions to be answered about where to put the fertilizer with soybeans as it is a relatively new crop to our area.  The Manitoba Soil Fertility Guide only allows a maximum of 20 lbs/ac P seed placed depending on your row spacing.  There has been a lot of research in the past couple years that suggests we could slightly bump up seed placed phosphorus in soybeans as it does not hurt plant stands or yields.  However, research also shows that there was little to no yield change from band to broadcast phosphorus.  The best advice is to do what is convenient on your farm.  If you feel the need to have some seed placed phosphorus, don’t go any higher than 20 lbs/ac P with the seed (remember it depends on your row spacing).  Banding in fertilizer is still the best practice but if broadcasting works for you then do it.  Like I said before, soybeans are good scavengers and will go and find what they need.  The main thing to remember is to replace what is lost and maintain the nutrients in the soil.  Soybeans take away a lot from the soil which can become a problem for fertility in the future.

Using thousand kernel weight and seed bed utilization can help producers determine proper plant stands prior to seeding the crop.  The 1000 kernel weight calculation is as follows.

 (Desired Plant Population/ft2 * 1,000 kernel weight) / (% Expected Seed Survival * 10) = Seeding Rate (lbs/acre)

Wheat Example:

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General Assumptions:

A proper plant stand in wheat is 30 plants/ft2

Know product germination – poor seed can be under 90%

Seedling loss will increase from seeding early in cold wet conditions

Increase seeding rate if not using seed treatment

Increase seeding rate if poor fertility

Wheat 1000 kernel weight usually ranges from 29 to 41 grams

Example 1

Assume 97% germination and 3% seedling loss with seed treatment and planted mid-May in 10 Celsius soil temperature

30 plants/ft2 * 38 grams/1000 kernel / 94% Survival * 10 = 121 lbs/acre

30 plants/ft2* 29 grams/1000 Kernel / 94% Survival * 10 = 95 lbs/acre

Example 2

                Assume 90% germination and 8% seedling loss from no seed treatment and planted late April in 2 Celsius soil temperature

30 plants/ft2 * 38 grams/1000 kernel / 82% Survival * 10 = 139 lbs/acre

30 plants/ft2* 29 grams/1000 Kernel / 82% Survival * 10 = 106 lbs/acre

 

A lot of producers use a standard 120 lbs/acre seeding rate. In example 1 at 38 grams and good treated seed, results are right on. But, small seed at 120 lbs would result in 39 plants/ft2. Unless the producer substantially raises fertility levels this will probably result in lower yields due to competition and low protein levels.

Purchase seed by the lb or know the bushel weight. 120 lbs / 60 lbs/bushel = 2 bushels/acre, at 65 lbs/bushel = 1.85 bushels/acre – 2 Bushels would equate to 3 plants/ft2 less.

 

Canola example:

SONY DSC

General Assumptions:

Canola can vary from 3.5 to 6.5 grams.

Recommended plant stand is 7 to 11 plants/ft2.

Survival can be from only 50 to 80%, depending on environmental and mechanical factors.

Most producers plant canola at 5 lbs/acre

Example 1          

Assume 95% germination and 15% seedling loss with seed treatment and planted mid-May in 10 Celsius soil temperature                                                                                                                                     

11 plants/ft2 * 6.5 grams/1000 kernel / 80% Survival * 10 = 8.5 lbs/acre   vs.    5 lbs seed = 6.1 plants/ft2

11 plants/ft2 * 3.5 grams/1000 Kernel / 80% Survival * 10 = 4.5 lbs/acre   vs.   5 lbs seed = 11.4 plants/ft2

Example 2

                Assume 95% germination and 30% seedling loss from with seed treatment and planted late April in 2° Celsius soil temperature.

11 plants/ ft2 * 6.5 grams/1000 kernel / 65% Survival * 10 = 9.5 lbs/acre vs.  5 lbs seed = 5.4 plants/ft2

11 plants/ft2 * 3.5 grams/1000 Kernel / 65% Survival * 10 = 5.1 lbs/acre vs.   5 lbs seed = 10 plants/ft2

In example 1 the 6.5 gram sample at 5 lbs would result in only 6 plants/ft2. Below lowest recommended stand and no safety net for stress losses from insects or adverse weather challenges. The 3.5 gram seed would in a 9.3 plants/ft2 stand. Right in the middle of recommended stand.

In example 2 the 6.5 gram sample at 5 lbs would result in only 5.4 plants/ft2. Well below lowest recommended stand and no safety net for stress losses as in insect or adverse weather challenges. The 3.5 gram seed would in a 10 plants/ft2 stand, right on for a recommended stand.

Having a good plant stand will help to ensure an adequate yield.  Knowing the 1000 kernel weight of the seed and adjusting planting rate is crucial and will provide you with a more economic return on your seed costs. Adjusting for seeding rate, avoiding fertilizer damage, and ensuring proper and consistent seeding depth are all needed to increase the possibility of a good plant stand.

Canola 1000 k seed counts that I have seen to date range from 4.1 g (5 lbs gives 10 plants/ft2 at 80 % survival) to 4.9 g (5 lbs seed rate gives 8 plants/ ft2 at 80 % survival) which is quite low and could result in a very low plant stand and yield if crop is pressured by stresses such a moisture, insects or inconsistent seed depth.

For more information on this topic and how you can help your crop get off to the best start possible, please follow the link below to an article from Grain News which weighs in on other hazards to seed survival, and how to deal with these hazards.    Many hazards to seed survival

I spent some time this winter scanning old pictures and came across this one.  I thought it was an interesting picture and wanted to share it.  It was taken in 1937 in the Springhill district in Manitoba.  This was the first four wheel drive tractor in the area.

Micronutrients

04 Mar 2015

A number of products are currently on the market that cite they are increasing yields by providing micronutrients to crops. As government agencies no longer test the efficacy of the products or validate these claims I felt it was fitting to discuss the importance of micronutrients and how they fit into to crop production in our area.

Micro nutrients have been recognized as essential for crop production for 100 years.

The two most commonly shown to be deficient in our geography are Zinc and Copper. This is especially the case in cereal production.

Soil factors that can affect availability and uptake of micro nutrients are

  • Low soil organic matter (mostly sandy soils) or very high organic matter (peat).
  • High pH – over 7.5 – most of the soils in our geography are over 7.8
  • High phosphate levels
  • Cold wet soils at time of planting

Soil type variability in a field can cause deficiencies in part of a field due to light texture on eroded areas and sandy ridges and high productive areas can cause deficiencies in the crop due to over application of phosphate.

Proper and comprehensive soil testing can identify problems throughout the whole field and allow the producer to properly address issues to maximize yield and profit.

With micronutrients costing anywhere from $3.00 to $10.00 per pound, proper and timely application can provide a major gain to the bottom line. Too little in areas of deficiencies and too much in adequate or high zones of a field can lower profits.

With many producers wanting and needing to achieve 65 to 80 bushels of wheat per acre, the need to address micronutrient values and availability is of utmost importance.

Only with proper soil testing and crop scouting, looking for signs of deficiency in the crop, can a producer increase the chances of achieving the highest possible yields.

Just as important is timing of application and products to use when addressing deficiencies. Examples are equipment available to vary application at seeding, a foliar application be used , stage of crop growth when application should take place.

 

Knowledge         Products              Application         Timing

 

Guessing is expensive.

My 360 teammates and I have the good fortune of working in a very fast changing, exciting, and rewarding industry – called Agriculture!  Farms are growing exponentially in size as is the equipment required to do the work.   This has created a vacuum of sorts in our Western Canadian small towns including sparsely populated recreation centres, and closures of schools and elevators.  (But that’s a story for another day).  My question is, by growing too fast, are we missing out on what got us here in the first place?

If you’ve gotten to know me over the years, or read my bio on the website you’ll know by now that I’m a sports fan/nerd of 40 plus years and am therefore obliged to tie some obscure sports quote to my real life in agriculture, so here we go:  “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence” Vince Lombardi.

I’m reminded of that quote for the simple reason that my mind is swimming with information gleaned from not one, but three outstanding conferences I’ve had the privilege of attending in the last 6 months – Info Ag in St. Louis, and more recently the Crop Production show in Saskatoon, and Ag Days in Brandon, where the theme’s/hot buttons of the conferences were all the same: Big Data, and UAVs.  Don’t get me wrong, both have the POTENTIAL to be game changers on the farm, but I think we need to take a breath (call a time out) and ask, AS A FARMER, HOW IS THIS GOING TO MAKE ME MONEY?  So let’s get to work, by starting with a plan.  Let’s decide which technology to use, and what we want to use it for.

Our team currently works with very detailed 5m satellite imagery, but in summer 2014 we had the good fortune of being able to expand our horizons (pun intended) with a third party UAV service provider that enabled us to assist a customer with a spray drift complaint by assessing his drift damage with NDVI  imagery.  This allowed us to get the image flown, processed, and back to the customer in a timely fashion and allow him to document the area and severity of the damage in SUPPORT OF the information that one of our 360 team had already done on the ground – IE digital pictures, mapping the damaged area with GPS, and assessing the damage and lost yield visually.  We look forward to working with Ag Sky Technologies more in 2015 focusing on how we can help our customers enhance their knowledge of their fields, be it getting a good NIR/NDVI image in a “challenged,” cloud cover area, or something as simple as taking a digital shot of a large canola field trying to assess Bertha Army worm hot spots.  Air support for the 360 army?  Ok, that’s too much.

Data; yes we have it, but again let’s make a plan.  What do we have, what do we want to collect, what are we going to do with it, and how are we going to learn from it to make the farm money?  As applied data, spray application information, yield maps, field notes, there’s a mountain of it out there – but how useful is it?  If we’re collecting yield data, we need to make sure that the calibration is on, not only in each combine but BETWEEN combines; ensure that our air seeder is recording on the correct delays and increments; ensure that we don’t have any GPS lag or offset issues.  If the little things are missed, the data collected is worthless.  I’ve sat through some outstanding presentations on VR seeding over the years, but one comment really hit home this summer, “The last thing you want to do is incorporate VRA seeding and have it be uncalibrated and not end up with the proper stand.”    That speaks volumes about doing the importance of those little things.  So you have a yield monitor, you want to compare results on different parts of the field – outstanding.  Let’s document those areas all summer, assess them visually, keep that field clean, time our fungicide applications (as close to) perfectly as we can, calibrate our combines and generate a solid yield map.  And by the way, that data is yours don’t give it away.  Keep a copy of the raw data, and let’s sit down next winter and analyze it over coffee, that’s what we do.

So let’s chase perfection,  in our fields,  by using our exciting new technology to capture intricate little details of each field – but let’s not forget those little things  – good, sound agronomics, and proper calibration, and who knows maybe we’ll catch excellence like Lombardi’s Packers.

Miles

Manure Management

31 Jan 2015

It is late fall, harvest is complete and fall work is nearly done.  It is time to haul manure and get ready for your cattle herd to come home.  Where are you putting that manure?  On the same, most convenient field where manure has been applied for 5+ years?  Do you know how much N, P and K are potentially in that manure and in that field?  We all understand the 4R stewardship practices including Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time and Right Place.  A manure management plan is no different than using commercial fertilizer.  Let’s take a look at the 4R’s and how they apply to a solid manure management plan.

Right Source

Manure is a rich source of nutrients with N, P and K the most abundant.  Obviously the nutrient analysis will vary with the type of livestock operation, and forms of feed and bedding utilized.  The best way to find out your nutrient analysis of the manure is to send in samples.  360° Ag Consulting can obtain a proper representative sample for you to get precise results of nutrient component from the lab.

 Right Rate

The right rate of manure application depends on many factors.  You need:

  • crop plan and target yield to figure out uptake and removal of N and P
  • soil sample 0-6 inches and 6-24 inches
  • manure nutrient analysis
  • agriculture capability class and subclass
  • setbacks on fields – streams, rivers, drains, lakes, side slopes
  • animal units (A.U.) of your livestock production
  • manure storage systems and application systems

360° Ag Consulting will consider all factors and determine a proper fertilizer rate.

Right Time

The best time to apply manure is in the spring as close to crop uptake as possible.  Injection or broadcast and immediate incorporation will limit volatilization of ammonium N and loss of nutrients.

Right Place

Placement in manure management is vital to limiting nutrient losses.  In ground placement is the best scenario.  If broadcasting manure, limiting the days between broadcasting and incorporation is key.

 

Livestock manure is a valuable resource.  By using manure correctly as a fertilizer it can:

  • increase crop productivity and crop yield
  • provide N throughout the season (mineralization of organic N in manure)
  • increase microbial activity
  • increase organic matter

360° Ag Consulting believes in proper agronomic practices to help ensure the sustainable use of manure on your farm.  Proper manure management will maximize crop utilization and production while minimizing impacts on soil, water and air resources.

The largest cause for hesitation we receive from prospective clients is that they are uncertain whether they want to add another expense to their operation.  This is especially the case after some areas have had multiple challenging years with weather conditions and moisture preventing them from obtaining a high yielding crop.

Ironically after a tough year, scrutinizing your fertility program could be one of the most valuable risk management tools available to you.  Knowing what is in your soil after a hard year can help you properly place your fertilizer where it needs to be and save on areas where the crop may not have utilized it in the past.

Below are results from a soil test completed this fall in Gilbert Plains, MB.  The field in question has been challenged by moisture conditions for a number of years. We have taken out all the other factors tested for other than nitrogen for simplicity.

Screen Shot 09-10-14 at 01.49 PM Blog 1

The Sample ID column indicates the zone number.  The Acre column indicates the number of acres in each zone.  N1 is the number of pounds of nitrogen remaining in the top 6 inches of soil.  N2 is the amount of pounds remaining in the 6 – 24 inch region of the soil, while the last column is the entire amount of nitrogen in the top 2 feet of soil, (or the 2 amounts added together).

As you can see this field has a lot of remaining nitrogen left for the upcoming crop. Without the producer knowing his fertility levels he would have spent $60.50 this fall putting down 110lbs of N @ .55¢/lb. The table below summarizes the economics in this example.

table

 

This exemplifies results that we repeatedly see at 360° Ag Consulting.  Because of our experience we see soil testing as an integral part of a strong agronomic variable rate program.  We believe that providing a service that takes out the expense of soil testing during tough times, is providing a disservice to our customers.  It is during these times that this information becomes vital to providing a proper return on investment for your farm.


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