Five years into it, Marcel van Staveren is planning to do a second top dressing of a compost/sulphur fertilizer on his acres in southeastern Saskatchewan, near Creelman.
He won’t be alone. The product, Bio-Sul Premium Plus, was introduced to the eastern Prairies in 2015 by the Aberhart family of Langenburg, Sask. This year, applicators for Aberhart Ag Solutions are expected to finish first treatments on an estimated 900,000+ acres in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
According to Aberhart, a sister company in Alberta, Bio-Cycle Solutions, has already treated a million acres with Bio-Sul.
Bio-Sul is a recycled, sustainable nutrient source that is 70 per cent elemental sulphur and 30 per cent compost. The legal analysis is a guaranteed minimum 0-0-0-70. It is different from other elemental sulphur sources for a few reasons. As fertilizer, the key to the extended shelf-life in the soil is that it is delivered in a variety of particle sizes.
For months before delivery, compost “bugs” have broken down the raw elemental sulphur as they digested windrows of organic matter. What’s left for field delivery is a certified fertilizer that is still 30 per cent organic matter, ready to go to work in the field immediately.
The finest particles are plant-available in the first 12 months. As seasons unfold, elemental sulphur is continuously breaking down thanks to the carbon-rich compost and hungry soil microbes.
Application rates are high. Van Staveren put on about 220 pounds per acre in 2015. It contained about 154 pounds per acre of elemental sulphur. Normal sulphur requirements for most crops are 15 to 20 pounds a year.
Happily, for growers, cost per pound is low. “Currently, you can get the product delivered to your farm in Saskatchewan for an average of $0.19 per pound of actual S ($280 a tonne),” says Dan Aberhart, president of Aberhart Ag Solutions, Brandon, Man.
The recommended 220-pound rate gives Bio-Sul a price point of about $28 an acre for the product. Custom tendering and application is an additional $12 an acre.
The closest option, a conventional ammonium sulfate, is about $0.40 a pound currently.
“Slow release is supportive to the conditions we’ve been observing,” van Staveren says. “With high moisture reserves, we’re happy to work with a product that can offer a slow release. Using a product that doesn’t require a blend also is appealing.”
Before he joined his two brothers in 1992 to farm full time, van Staveren owned and operated a crop inputs retail business near Griffin. On today’s 21,000-acre family farm, he’s still in charge of inputs.
“We’ve built a lot of confidence in Bio-Sul since we began using it,” he says. “We’re pretty thorough in our forensic assessment, to be sure we’re doing things right and not leaving money on the table.”
The crop of 2016 was the biggest since the van Staveren family started the Creelman farm in the 1950s.
“I attribute some of that (record) to having a sufficient sulphur supply in the soil — whether it was canola or high-yielding wheat with high protein. I’m measuring value in a few crops (from Bio-Sul),” he says.
Last year, it was so dry that he thought it would be the farm’s worst crop ever.
“It turned out to be very close to our 2016 crop, our second biggest ever. We did some forensic tissue testing as well as soil testing, and we were unable to find sulphur deficiency.
“We’re upping our nitrogen program with split applications. That’s the primary driver for protein of course, but we believe the sulphur is supporting that higher protein in the cereal. We do feel we’re getting a little extra value in following cereal years from the Bio-Sul application every five years.”
Van Staveren adds, “We have a warm, fuzzy feeling toward Bio-Sul. Canada is successfully making an environmentally-friendly fertilizer product out of elemental sulphur. We like that aspect, and I am not afraid to tell my city cousins about it. It’s a good news story and good for small business.”