Saskatchewan grain farmer, Sean Edwards first tried biostimulants on his crops about five years ago. He wanted to grow healthier plants with less fertilizer and reduce his fungicide use. “We were fairly wet and we had a lot of sclerotinia on our canola and fusarium on our cereals, and root rot in our peas was bad,” says Edwards.
He began by applying a biostimulant product called Bio-Forge, manufactured by Stoller Enterprises Ltd, as a seed treatment. “It worked well, we had healthier plants and we didn’t have the disease that we had before.”
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Edwards, who farms 5,000 acres of cereals, oilseeds and pulses at Nokomis, Saskatchewan now says he doesn’t even spray for sclerotinia on canola any more.
Soil health and root structure
He’s also noticed improved soil health and root structure. “We are noticing overall root structure improvement in the ground. The root systems on our plants are bigger, and on our soybeans there are more nodules, and they’re healthier looking,” he says. “The first year, when we went out to dig plants up to check, the first thing we noticed was that on the check strip with nothing, we had to stand on the shovel to get it to go in the ground, whereas, where we put these treatments on, you could push it in by hand. There’s definitely something in the soil biology that’s creating a healthier soil.”
Edwards uses different Stoller biostimulant and micronutrient products on all his crops and says he has noticed improvements in crop quality — for example higher protein in his soybeans even in a low protein year like 2017 — and an increase in crop yields across the board.
Earlier, even crop emergence
With his farm located in pothole country, Edwards has a lot of rolling land, and says biostimulants have also helped him to achieve earlier, even emergence and a more even maturing crop all the way through to harvest. “Almost the whole field will emerge on the same day whereas before the warmer hilltops might emerge before the sloughs,” he says. “Last year, when it was drier, on our canola and even our wheat, the whole field was flowering a lot more even rather than the high spots flowering first and the low spots flowering three to five days later. It makes it a lot more efficient to harvest, especially when we’re trying to straight cut canola. It’s much easier to cut the whole field rather than take the dry spots off the top and go back for the low spots later, it’s all ready at the same time now.”
In terms of saving fertilizer, Edwards is growing more yield with the same amount of nitrogen that he was using before, but he’s using more phosphorus because with higher-yielding crops he has a higher removal rate. “That’s just a product of growing more crop, you need more P, but we are using the same 100lbs/acre of N which is growing us another five to six bushels on average across the farm,” he says.
Return on investment
Edwards admits that the biostimulant and micronutrient products he uses are an added cost but he looks at the overall return on investment on the whole farm. “We look at, not so much the cost per acre of the product going on, but what we’ll get back out of it. If I’m going to put on a $3 product on and get $6 out of it or put a $10 product on and get $50 out of it, I’ll trial them side-by-side and I’ll take the $10 one all day,” he says.
Overall, Edwards is convinced that the improvements in soil and plant health that he gets with biostimulants are paying dividends for his farm. “Last year being as dry as it was, with that better root growth right off the bat, I think that really carried us through,” he says. “We grew all our crops on an inch-and-a-half of rain last year and had the best canola yield we’ve had in a long time.”