Nothing brightens my day faster than a phone call from Ieuan Evans explaining the virtues of copper in wheat production.
I don’t know if the micronutrient will actually seed the crop for you or run the combine for eight hours, but other than that it can do just about everything else in helping to produce a vigorous, strong standing, high yielding, high quality wheat crop.
Dr. Evans has been the champion of copper — in fact I see someone has even dubbed him Dr. Copper — for the 30 years or so that I have known him. He was a younger plant pathologist holding court in the then Crop Industry Division of Alberta Agriculture in Edmonton, when I first met him. I was relative newbie to agricultural writing in the department’s Print Media Branch. He use to scare me in those days.
That was mostly because at the time, and on a couple different levels, I had no idea what he was talking about. He might argue, but he has a bit of a Welsh accent, and when you combine that with a passionate detailed explanation of how nutrients work in the complex biology of a plant, well let’s just say I use to glaze over and do a lot of nodding. He had mistaken me for someone who actually took science in school.
In the past 30 years Ieuan has learned a lot more about the potential of copper deficiency in Western Canadian soils, and the impact of this deficiency on wheat production in particular. I don’t know if I have made quite as much progress. I can actually understand him now, and I do understand a bit more about the role of micronutrients. They can play a key role in crop development, and I have heard it is often the case with micronutrients you can’t always rely on a soil test to give you the full or accurate picture of what nutrients are available to the plant.
On first blush, Ieuan may appear as a shy, retiring type, but if you catch him on a good day and actually prod him, he may finally share his opinion of other researchers or crop specialists who have yet to recognize the benefits of copper. If I understand him correctly it sounds like some of these people may have their heads stuck in a place where the sun don’t shine.
In all honesty, Ieuan Evans, now a senior agricoach with AgriTrend Agrology, is very passionate about the value of copper and if you want a detailed and colorful explanation of plant physiology, the next time you meet him, just casually mention you don’t think copper deficiency has any real role in causing ergot in wheat — take out your note pad and get a comfortable chair.
DEAL WITH THE FACTS
As Ieuan so eloquently put it in a recent talk “Who the hell cares about beliefs and opinions. These are facts and facts are the things that give you the answers….You’ve got these loony bins who go around and say I don’t think it’s copper that causes ergot. We’re not talking beliefs. We’re talking science, actual stuff…Copper deficiency is a huge problem.”
I am just a writer, so I have no first hand knowledge of whether copper or any other micro or macronutrient is of any value to any crop. I am only going by what people tell me. One thing I have learned in 30 years is that not all researchers agree on things. This may be a classic case of “is the glass half full, or is it half empty?” but there can be widely varying understanding of research.
So if your wheat falls down and/or is infected with ergot, it could be a case of too much manure, or cold, damp weather, respectively. Or as Ieuan might argue you may want to look at a copper deficiency.
How do you sort this out? Farmers are bright, innovative people and interested in trying new ideas — they’ll weigh the evidence. And if you want to hear more about the role of micronutrients just whisper “copper deficiency” in your sleep and Dr. Evans will find you.
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]