Maximizing yields often starts in the fall with a nitrogen appl icat ion. Then there’s the pre-seed burn-off. Then the seed goes into the ground with the greatest of care and maybe a few more nutrients. Now you can sit back until spraying time, right? Perhaps. When it comes to fertility management, strategies are shifting to more management intensive but more precise fertility programs that seek to better match nutrient needs of the plant with timely applications of nutrients.
“We are still evolving our understanding of fertilization and of growing the crop,” says Craig Davidson of agricultural sales and marketing company Taurus Technology Inc. “Fertilization has gone from doing it all up-front to trying to understand a plant, nutritionally speaking, throughout its life.”
Most farmers already realize that as plants go through different growth stages their nutritional needs change. These needs are affected by what nutrients are already available to them in the soil, what has been applied and the environmental conditions at the time. The conundrum for the farmer is how to determine and manage all these factors.
Many companies are increasingly offering products designed to address fertility needs at all or some stages of plant development. The following is an overview of two programs that start with seed-applied nutrition and follow up on the fertilizer needs of the plant into the growth cycle.
OMEX’S FIRST 30 DAYS PROGRAM
The First 30 Days Program was introduced by Omex Agriculture Inc. in 2006, and is designed to meet the nutritional needs of the first 30 days of plant growth, says Randy Saskiw, sales manager at Omex. The program has three phases:
1) Seed dressing. Proprietary primer formulations can be adapted to meet the individual nutritional needs of the seed, which can be batch tested prior to application. The seed-applied primer can be mixed with other treatments such as fungicides and is applied at a rate of between three to six millilitres per kilogram of seed, with the lower rate for larger seeded crops like pulses and the higher on cereals and oilseeds.
2) Seed row application. Next, a liquid phosphorus fertilizer, Ortho P, is placed in the seed row beside the seed. “When the plant gets to the three leaf stage and starts to develop its secondary roots it will stop feeding off the seed and start feeding off the fertilizer that you placed, and that’s why the phosphorus needs to be right beside the seed,” says Saskiw. It contains an ingredient called TPA, mixed in at a rate of one to two litres an acre, which Saskiw says is designed to slow down the tying up of phosphorus in the soil, making it more available for the plant to use over a longer period.
3) In-crop fertilizer applications. Lastly, a foliar product, C3, is applied around the thee-to-five leaf stage and is mixed in with the first herbicide application to provide additional nutrition and reduce stress caused by the herbicide. “If you get colder weather conditions when you spray herbicide it creates more stress on the plant,” says Saskiw. “C3 speeds up the metabolism of the plant and results in less of a stall in growth.”
Bob Matthiessen has been using the First 30 Days program, mainly on wheat and canola, on his farm at Daysland in south-central Alberta for three years. Previously he had done a conventional fall fertilizer application.
Although he says there hasn’t been a big difference in yields, he has seen an advantage in terms of crop health and quality, largely due to earlier emergence and maturity. “I’ve seen increased yield and quality because (the treated crop) pops up quicker and gets off to a better start. The crops are more even so you can start to harvest earlier, five or six days on average, and (I) usually end up with a bit better quality and a small yield increase,” says Matthiessen.
Matthiessen feels that his overall fertilizer costs are probably about the same as before, but he has reduced fungicide use thanks to healthier crops and also saved a little in fuel costs by applying the foliar fertilizer at the same time as his herbicides.
Chris Beaudry of St. Front, Saskl, has been using the Omex First 30 Days program on his 3,500 acre grain farm for the last three years. The biggest difference he has noticed has been the more vigorous growth and increased resilience of the emerging crops. “When the seed starts growing, especially on cereals, you notice visual differences of root and leaf growth; two to three inches in some cases,” says Beaudry. “The last two years the crops came out of the ground and it snowed again, and I noticed on our mustard that we didn’t put the primer on it was weakened and small, but the mustard with the primer stayed green. It still had something there to keep it alive.”
Beaudry has done his own comparative trials on his farm to assess the effectiveness of the program, and with mustard he saw a three bushel per acre (bu/ac) yield advantage, which he feels is significant in a crop that averages 20 bu./ac. In barley, his advantage came in increased quality. “Most of my barley was feed, but the stuff that I had sprayed (with the program) made malt,” says Beaudry. He has also had better yields on his wheat than he has ever seen before, averaging 61 bu./ac. in 2009, against the 47 bu./ac. that was his previous best yield, and in some cases, also achieving record weights around 60 pounds per bushel.
Overall quality of the crops, however, has been the biggest plus, which Beaudry attributes not just to the primers that get the crop off to a good start, but also to the in-crop fertility component that he feels gives extended growth potential for the mature crop. “It seems if you have a longer growing season, where you used (the program) the plant wants to grow longer,” he says. “It stays green and it’s healthier, so you will get more yields if you have the time. With some of my crops I have had to swath a little earlier, although it still wants to grow and produce more.”
ALPINE’S PHAZED NUTRITION PROGRAM
Alpine Plant Foods Ltd. has selling liqued seed starters and foliar fertilizer since 1973 in Canada. The concept of soil testing, tissue testing and feeding the crop during the growing season has been part of their program for the past few decades, says Terry Good, western Canada sales manager for Alpine Plant Foods Ltd.
Alpine’s Phazed Nutrition Program (PNP) has three stages.
1) A seed-applied treatment, ASN, is designed to give the seed the energy and nutrition it needs to get started in the colder, wetter conditions that have become more prevalent with the adoption of zero-tillage across much of Western Canada, says Good. “ASN puts plant-available phosphate and some essential micronutrients on the seed,” says Good. ASN is applied at a rate of five litres per tonne of seed on wheat, barley, oats, triticale, sorghum and safflower and at 10 to 15 litres per tonne on canola, millet, turnip, radish and sesame. It is generally applied at a rate of three to five litres per tonne of seed for pulses.
2) A phosphate liquid starter fertilizer is placed in the seed furrow with the treated seed, at a rate of about three to four gallons per acre. The fertilizer can be applied in a continuous dribble in the furrow rather than at intervals as with dry phosphate, and the roots can absorb it more quickly, leading to faster emergence, says Good.
3) A foliar fertilizer is applied later in the season, if tissue and soil tests show that there are still nutrient deficiencies that may not have been covered with the in-soil fertility program.
Jordan Schmaus farms just under 6,000 acres of grains and oilseeds with his dad and brother near Bruce, Alta., and has been using Alpine’s PNP for the past three years (Full disclosure: They became a local distributor for the product after the first year or using the product).
He uses a regular rate of 13 litres per acre of the liquid phosphate starter and two litres per acre of foliar on all his crops; lentils, peas, oats, flax, wheat, barley and canola.
Schmaus feels the advantages in terms of a higher yield response showed up much better in the years with a cold, dry spring than in 2010, which was wet and fairly warm. “I get a quicker start in a cold, dry spring,” he says. “This year I still got an increase but not as big.” Schmaus, who conducts comparative trials of the PNP versus a standard liquid fertilizer program, says he gets an average yield increase of about 10 per cent.
He has also seen earlier maturity by an average of four to five days, largely because of more even ripening. “Last year using the PNP on my peas, I seeded them nine days later than the peas my neighbour seeded across the road and I started combining the day before him. It was mainly because we didn’t have as many green spots in the field,” says Schmaus.
Overall he says he has noticed a 30 to 40 per cent decrease in his up-front nutrient program, without any yield sacrifice, which he attributes to more efficient feeding of the crop. “Last year I had a field across the road from the house that called for 70 pounds of N for my wheat,” he says, as an example. “So I put 70 pounds of N on half the field and did the other half at 45 pounds of N and foliar fed it. My yields were the same and my N carryover was no different. The only difference was an extra $15 an acre in my pocket.”
Carlisle Farms Ltd. consists of 6,000 acres of grains and oilseeds near Carroll, Man., and it has been using the PNP for eight years across all crop types.
One of the biggest benefits in using the PNP system has been reduction in risk and earlier, healthier crops, says Darrel Carlisle. “It reduces our risk because we don’t put all our inputs or nutrient up-front,” he says. “So by reducing some of the inputs up front and using those inputs in season it spreads my risk out.”
Average yield increases have been around five to seven bushels per acre, and again earlier maturity by five to eight days and more tolerance to disease has led to better quality. “We still do use fungicides but we are using them more as a preventative rather than trying to use them as a cure,” says Carlisle.
It has also made the sprayer one of the most important pieces of equipment on the farm, says Carlisle. “All the foliar products we work with though Alpine Plant Foods are very compatible with most herbicides and fungicides, so we add the PNP to the sprayer when it is in the field already,” he says. “We are not making extra trips and because the products are all pure liquids it is very easy to add into our spraying program. We find that our herbicides work better (with the foliar fertilizer) and the plants get less stunted.”
Costs for the PNP range from around $8.50 an acre to $16/acre, depending on what his soil and tissue tests call for throughout the season. “If you take (2010) as an example, on some of our canola trials, on the lower end, we gained five bushels an acre and at $11 a bushel, that’s $55 an acre and I spent around $12 an acre,” he says. “So I am getting three times my money back, so it’s worth it.”