Prairie farmers are hoping it either dries out or they get some moisture over the next few months before seeding, so they can optimize the value of their 2011 fertilizer program.
Depending where they farm in Western Canada, farmers contacted for this farmer panel are facing the extremes in soil moisture conditions. In southeast Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba the ground is saturated, and in the Alberta Peace River region, they are hoping a three-year drought will be over by the time crops are seeded in April and May.
Regardless of soil moisture conditions, all farmers are planning to maintain or perhaps bump up fertilizer rates for 2011. Crop prices appear to be fairly strong, and with good moisture, or at least hopes of good moisture, the stars may line up to produce a very profitable crop.
Some farmers have changed the form of fertilizer they use, others are leaning a little heavier on pulse crops, not only because markets are decent, but also as some insurance against fertilizer requirements for 2012.
While there is no written policy, it is a dollars-to-donuts situation — if there is a decent growing season in 2011, and strong profit margins on most farms, input costs will be higher in 2012.
Here is what this issue’s Farmer’s Panel had to say about fertilizer plans for 2011:
NOLAN ROBERTSON FAIRVIEW, ALTA
Even though they’ve had three very dry years in a row, Nolan Robertson plans to maintain standard (recommended) fertilizer rates for 2011, banking on the idea if they do get a decent growing season, they will have an excellent crop.
Robertson, who along with his father Fraser and their respective families farms at Fairview in the central Alberta Peace River region, says their experience of 12 years ago showed maintaining fertilizer rates in dry years can pay off.
“We had two very dry years in 1998 and ’99 followed by good moisture in 2000,” says Robertson. “And that crop of 2000 was one of the best we’ve ever had. Some farmers may be cutting back on fertilizer this year, figuring there is extra in the soil from the past couple dry years. We’re thinking by maintaining our fertilizer rates, if we do have a good growing season, hopefully the crops will be able to make use of any extra fertilizer and produce some good yields.”
The Robertsons, who crop about 6,800 acres, follow soil test recommendations but also rely on historical experience in determining fertilizer rates. They use a dry blend, applying about 80 pounds of nitrogen, 25 pounds of phosphate and 15 pounds of sulphur to canola, for example. Some farmers target slightly higher rates, such as 100 pounds of nitrogen. “We’re maybe a bit more conservative, so if there are some reserves in the soil, if we do have moisture and with hybrid varieties, hopefully they will make use of it,” he says.
Robertson is focusing on a three-crop rotation. This year they plan to seed about 2,700 acres of canola, 2,600 acres of wheat and a good increase to about 1,600 acres of peas — that’s about double the acres of peas they have usually grown.
“Peas aren’t necessarily that much cheaper to grow than wheat,” says Robertson. “With higher seeding rates, cost of inoculants and often disease control, the cost of growing the crop gets up there too, but we have noticed wheat on pea stubble seems to do much better than say wheat on canola stubble. So we are increasing the acres more for the benefits they afford to subsequent crops.”
Robertson did pre-buy most of their 2011 fertilizer last summer. They locked in a price in July/ August and with 400 tonne storage capacity on the farm, took delivery of the product in October.
MARCEL VAN STAVEREN GRIFFIN, SASK.
Marcel van Staveren has not only done some pre-planning on fertilizer needs in 2011, he’s also setting up a crop rotation in anticipation of higher fertilizer prices in 2012.
Van Staveren, who operates JVM van Staveren Farms at Griffin, in southeast Saskatchewan, says with all the moisture in parts of Western Canada, if there is a good growing season in 2011, he expects fertilizer and other input costs to be up in 2012.
He’s putting a section — about five per cent — of his farm into soybeans this year, not only because they seem to be doing well in his part of the country, but also to capitalize on their nitrogen-fixing capability.
“We saw fertilizer prices go crazy in 2009 and if we have a decent year in 2011 chances are they could
take off again,” he says. “Soybeans seem to have done well in this area. It is a crop that works better for me at harvest, and will put some nitrogen in the ground which will help reduce fertilizer costs.”
Van Staveren, who crops about 12,000 acres, is hoping for a drying trend early next year, as his farmland was “saturated” heading into this winter. He pre-bought all fertilizer in September, hoping
to get some anhydrous ammonia applied in the fall, but harvest ran so late it was winter when he shut down the combine. There was no time for fall fieldwork.
He primarily follows a three-crop rotation that includes 50 per cent canola, 20 per cent flax and 30 per cent cereals, and plans to fit the soybeans in there somewhere.
The soybeans will get pulse crops back into his rotation. He grew lentils for about a dozen years, but found it to be a late crop that needed to be harvested in September when he was trying to do everything else. Soybeans aren’t necessarily earlier maturing, but he views them somewhat like flax, as a crop that can stay standing in the field for later fall combining.
“With all the moisture we have now, I am bullish on the yield potentials for this next growing season, if we can get the crop planted,” he says.
H&MFARM SLTD. ALTONA, MAN.
Cameron Hildebrand pre-purchased all fertilizer for H &M Farms in southern Manitoba last fall, making a switch to anhydrous ammonia as the primary nitrogen source.
“We usually pre-buy, but have been using urea which is typically a few cents per pound more than anhydrous,” says Hildebrand, agronomist for H &M Farms. He made the switch to anhydrous primarily because of the better price, and will convert all seeding equipment used on the 16,000 acre farm for the 2011 seeding season.
Like other parts of Western Canada, their farm at Altona, in the Red River Valley south of Winnipeg, was “saturated” with moisture last fall, and they already have a fairly heavy snow pack, so conditions will have to dry out before they get on the land next spring.
With a crop rotation that includes, corn, wheat, sunflowers and canola, he usually plans to apply fertilizer to corn acres in the fall, but due to high moisture conditions, that wasn’t possible last year.
“We usually follow the soil test recommendation, so we won’t be applying any less than the recommended this year,” says Hildebrand. “But with good moisture and crop prices up we may even go a bit higher with the rate to maximize yields.”
LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]
With all the moisture we have now, I am bullish on the yield potentials for this next growing season, if we can get the crop planted