Les Henry: Harvest, not crops with a combine but information online

Hopefully this “old stuff” will prevent folks from rediscovering the moon

This is a bit of a different theme. It is all about harvesting information that could be useful in planning and executing farm operations on the Canadian Prairies. The title, “Harvest,” comes from our very own University of Saskatchewan Library research archive, and the wealth of information that can be obtained with a few mouse clicks.

Research work formally published in refereed scientific journals has a very long life and is, for the most part, easy to access online. However, there exists much useful information housed in various annual reports and meetings that often dies on shelves and is eventually tossed out.

The annual Saskatchewan Soils and Crops Workshop and pre-cursor Soil Fertility Workshop started around the mid-1960s. The Soil Science Department also published an annual “Soil Plant Nutrient Research Report” as far back as 1960. About 10 years ago, it was decided to have those and other reports scanned to preserve the information and provide access online.

The University of Saskatchewan harvest site

Thanks to the folks at our University of Saskatchewan Library, the Harvest portal has been built and provides a searchable format to find specific data. Visit the site at harvest.usask.ca. You can search by subject or author in the complete Harvest database or go to the College of Agriculture and Bioresources for more specific information.

Search by subject, a few examples

A search of “anhydrous ammonia” brought up an extensive literature review by Henry, J.L., T.J. Hogg and E. A. Paul called, The Effect of Anhydrous Ammonia on Soil, Soil Fertility Workshop, 1979, pages 34-57. That would be a good place to start for anyone with questions about anhydrous ammonia.

A 1995 piece dealt with the first side banding of NH3 by A. Johnston, G. Lafond, J. Harapiak and K. Head called, Response of Wheat and Canola to Side Banded Anhydrous Ammonia, Soils and Crops Workshop, 1995, pages 81-101.

Soil salinity, acid soils, crop rotation and countless other topics will lead you to many sources. Often these sources will have a reference list that will lead you to peer-reviewed journal articles.

Search by author

I am often looking for work done by a specific author, but do not know where it was published. John Harapiak supervised many, very good, fertility projects across all of Western Canada while at Westco.

He did the original work on deep banding of nitrogen (N) fertilizer. I can still see John standing at the front of the room and saying, “The difference between deep banding and broadcast is enough to pay for the fertilizer.” He also made sure his company realized, “What is good for the farmer is good for Westco.”

John also had 30 years of continuous soil fertility plots on forage crops, mostly bromegrass, on black soil north of Calgary. The work included large N rates that provided good data on the effects of NH3 on soil pH. I will be using that data in a future column.

For the benefit of young agros, Westco was a fertilizer company owned by Federated Co-op and the three Prairie wheat pools. It was “Western Co-op Fertilizers Ltd.,” shortened to Westco. John Harapiak and Norm Flore from Westco were in the forefront when the CCA (Certified Crop Advisor) program was started.

S.S. Malhi (affectionately known as “Molly”) did good soil fertility work with federal ag research stations at Lacombe, Alta., and Melfort, Sask. We were delighted to have him at Melfort. He did not stick to the main research station, which had few soil fertility problems, but went where the problems were.

A classic example of the work is found in the 2008 Soils and Crops program by S. S. Malhi and D. Leach called, Effectiveness of Seed-soaked Cu, Fall- Versus Spring-applied Cu, and Cu-coated P Fertilizer on Seed Yield of Wheat on a Cu-deficient Soil.

Those experiments were located on a very copper-deficient, sandy grey-black soil near Porcupine Plain, Sask. Check yields were 10 bushels per acre of wheat. Copper seed-soaking raised that to 30 bushels per acre and two foliar applications to 45 bushels per acre.

Malhi also did good work on various elemental sulphur (S) products. A poster at the 1999 Soils and Crops Workshop dealt with rescue measures to correct sulphur deficiency in canola during the growing season.

Ukrainetz (Harry) did decades of good soil fertility work at Scott, Sask. He was doing work on liming acid soils when most of us thought there were no acid soils in Saskatchewan. Now that acid soils are in the limelight, his work of long ago is relevant.

By 1983, he had 19 years of data from Scott showing that one large application of lime would maintain soil pH at a suitable level for that long. Liming is an investment in the land. Entering “Ukrainetz” into the Harvest search engine will bring up enough reading to keep you busy for a while.

As for your Grainews columnist Henry, J.L., my first entry was in the 1966 Soil Plant Nutrient Research Report, and it dealt with soil tests on individual soil types within a field — precision ag before its time. More recent are soil and crops PowerPoint presentations on Soil Salinity Management (2010), Earthworms (2016) and Weather and Climate, Actual Data (2020).

The 2020 Soils and Crops meetings in Saskatoon were March 10-11, just ahead of the big shutdown that came on March 13.

Metadata

These days, we hear a lot about metadata, which summarizes many studies to boil it down to something useful. Metadata was the norm in the early days of soil fertility work in Western Canada.

The first main N soil test correlation work in Saskatchewan in the 1960s to 1970s involved 302 wheat and 136 barley field experiments with N fertilizer rates and soil test N data recorded. The data came from the U of S Soil Science Department, federal research stations, substations and off-stations as well as industry. Westco, Sherritt Gordon Mines Ltd. and Cominco Ltd. had field fertility programs and all data was made available.

What about Alberta?

Fortunately, the Alberta Soil Science Workshops (ASSW) have also been scanned and can be accessed by year from 1962 to 2015 at sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/archivesassw/.

Unfortunately, the 1982 entry is missing, but by huge luck I have chased it down — Elston Solberg, are you listening? I was looking for a Ukrainetz paper from that year and Elston found a copy of the 1982 ASSW in his collection.

I have not spent much time on the ASSW website. Some entries are abstracts only, but there were many themed events with a concise assembly of papers from across the three Prairie provinces.

The 1980 entry is the Western Canada Phosphate Symposium, which was a three-province meeting. That book held sway until 2019, when the new phosphate story is told with the meetings held as part of Saskatchewan Soils and Crops, but the work was mainly by Don Flaten and Cindy Grant of Manitoba.

The 1981 ASSW theme was soil degradation. The paper of great current interest was by Paul Hoyt, Marvin Nyborg and Harry Ukrainetz called, Degradation by Acidification, 1981, ASSW Pages 41-71. The 30-page document and 32 references listed made that a great metadata project.

What about Manitoba?

The Manitoba Soil Science Society (visit mbsoils.ca) is holding its 64th MSSS Annual General Meeting virtually on February 4-5, 2021. The MSSS meetings were formerly held in December and an annual trip to Winnipeg in December was a must for me. The MSSS annual meeting proceedings were published in books with yellow covers. They were an important part of our department library at U of S.

The MSSS proceedings have yet to be scanned and made available online. Don Flaten is now officially retired (but not yet tired), so I expect he will work on that project.

I did make sure to check with Don before I made another fumble. In a previous column, I had erroneously stated that Manitoba did not have the soil survey information online. Readers quickly corrected me and the site agrimaps.gov.mb.ca/agrimaps is now on my bookmarks and used frequently. Thanks, Readers! It is excellent and even this old fossil has mastered it, so no trouble for the kids. My next Grainews column will make extensive use of that online information.

Fair warning

It is my hope that many readers will run straight to harvest.usask.ca or sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/archivesassw. But, fair warning — it can be a very deep rathole (i.e. hugely addictive).

In gathering info for this piece, I ended up with over half a day just following my nose to more and more papers. As often happens, you can end up finding “stuff” you thought was lost. In the pH file, I have a clear memory of Bill Janzen (federal soil survey lab) standing at the front of the Soil Science seminar room presenting data assembled on methods of determining pH. I thought that never saw print — but I found it on Harvest.

Happy reading and be sure to learn lots. Hopefully access to all that “old stuff” will prevent folks from rediscovering the moon.

About the author

Columnist

Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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