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Farmers express qualified support for micronutrients

There seems to be a certain amount of “gut feeling” that supports the use 
of micronutrient treatments on grain, oilseed and pulse crops according 
to western Canadian farmers

The benefits may not show as dramatic yield increases, but the crops look better, the maturity seems to even out, and if you dig in the soil, there appears to be improved root development on treated plants — those are all features that suggest that micronutrients are doing something.

Some farmers contacted for this Farmer Panel say they see at least a two or three bushel per acre yield increase, and others have just put the measuring tools in place to determine if a good looking crop with a better root system actually does have higher yields.

As one farmer pointed out, micronutrients are mainly for fine-tuning. It is important that farmers provide crops with a proper macro nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur — and then use micronutrients to cover any deficiencies that may not even show in a soil test. In fact, in his view, if a micronutrient treatment produces a dramatic yield increase, there is something lacking in the macronutrient program.

Here is what this month’s farmer panel had to say about their experiences with micronutrients:

Blair Frick Melville, Sask.

Blair Frick admits he hasn’t done any rigorous side-by-side yield trials, but in using micronutrient seed and foliar treatments for the past four years on his east-central Saskatchewan farm, he is convinced he gets a good return on investment.

“We apply the products and it gives the crop a real boost,” he says. “We’ve had some wet years in this area, for example, and we’ve had fields that weren’t looking that good. We put a bit of these micronutrients on at time of fungicide application and we really surprised at how well those fields yielded.

“One aspect of the treatments is they affect plant health — really help to boost vigour — and that helps the crop to withstand stresses, resist disease, and even appears to help safen the effect of herbicides. And if the crop stand is healthier that has to affect yield.”

Frick, along with his son Jordan, crops about 5,500 acres of wheat, barley, oats, canola, peas and flax. Initially they tried micronutrient treatments including seed primers and in-crop foliar treatments on various crops on a few fields. Impressed with better looking stands and improved crop growth, they now use micronutrients with most crops produced on the farm. They maintain their regular crop fertility program, and use micronutrients as either a seed primer or as foliar treatments. Depending on the year and the crop, micronutrients are applied twice in-crop with the herbicide and/or later with the fungicide application.

“We concentrate on the high value crops, like canola,” says Frick. While there are a number of micronutrient manufacturers, Frick currently uses products produced by Omex Canada, but he also plans to try other formulations from other suppliers.

He has found Omex’s C3 product applied at the time of the second herbicide application has been effective on canola and he also likes to add Uptake, a 13-7-4 product with micros with the fungicide application. Frick estimates the micronutrient costs from $5 to $8 per acre per treatment depending on the application rate.

“I believe with canola we are seeing at least a two to three bushel per acre increase in yield with the micronutrients, which more than offsets the cost of the product,” he says. “And I believe we see a similar response in the cereals as well. We certainly have never gone backwards. We are seeing improved plant health — you apply the product and it gives everything a bit of a jump.”

Rob Garland Moose Jaw, Sask.

Rob Garland is a firm believer that micronutrients used in conjunction with a proper macronutrient program makes good economic sense on his south-central Saskatchewan farm.

Garland, who along with family members crops a total of about 20,000 acres, uses a micronutrient seed primer, along with other recommended seed treatments on all crops such as wheat, durum, barley, canola, lentils and yellow peas.

He uses Omex Canada products along with micronutrient products from other suppliers. He believes the products produce healthier plant stands, more even growth and maturity — much more consistent crops — and improved yields.

“We use a micronutrient primer, or nutrient dressing, on all our crops across the board,” says Garland. “To me it is just a no brainer. It is low cost and I believe it is just one more thing that gets the crop off to a good start. And that is so important. If the crop has a strong, vigorous start it is better able to handle any stresses that come along.”

All crops also are treated with compatible seed treatments for seed and soil borne diseases and pests. He also uses Jumpstart, a seed applied biological, that helps improve phosphate uptake.

In one canola field in 2011, on a strip where no seed primer was applied, yields were two to three bushels per acre lower, the crop was later maturing and had more green seed.

Garland also uses an in-crop application of the Omex micronutrient package C3 on all canola and he plans to try it on about 500 acres of wheat this year. That treatment is applied during the herbicide application. Again he says the treatment produces a much more vigorous stand. He has also seen a dramatic response to a zinc additive with lentils. The 20 per cent highly water soluble zinc sulphate is applied as a granular with the regular fertilizer blend.

“Even though our soil test showed no zinc deficiency, on one field where we had treated and untreated areas we saw a seven bushel per acre higher yield where zinc was added,” he says.

On the macro side, added potash the past four years has also made a difference with wheat, even though it wasn’t indicated on the soil test. Garland has been growing AC Andrew, a high yielding soft white wheat, which is susceptible to wheat stem sawfly damage. Added potash appears to strengthen the stem, reduce sawfly damage and crop lodging, and also improves drought resistance — although drought has not been an issue in his area the last couple years.

On the cost front, Garland considers micronutrients a good investment. The seed primer for canola is about 30 cents per acre, while with larger-seed cereals it is about $2 per acre. The in-crop micronutrient treatment costs about $5 per acre. And he estimates the added zinc in the lentil fertilizer blend costs about $7 per acre.

“Last year, for example, we had some of the best yields we had ever seen and I think it comes down to getting the crops off to a good start, and applying the proper fertility to keep them growing vigorously,” says Garland.

Brian Spiller Daysland, Alta.

Brian Spiller has done a lot of “digging” on his central-Alberta farm the last couple years and has become “pretty much a believer” that a seed-applied micronutrient primer is improving root development of the grain, oilseed and pulse crops he’s producing.

Spiller, who along with family members crops about 4,300 acres, says he doesn’t know if that translates into improved yield, but finds when a primer is used, root development is improved.

“We have done a lot of digging in May the last three years and there is definitely a difference in the roots,” he says. “And good root development is important. We live in an area were we usually have pretty good moisture in June and then it gets hot and dry in July and August. So we need that strong root development to carry the crop through. So I am fairly well convinced (the primer) makes a difference.”

Spiller says to ask him again in a couple years and he’ll have a better answer as to whether improved root development translates into higher yields. The farm has just bought a weigh wagon and installed yield monitors on the combines. He’ll be doing side-by-side yield comparisons of treated versus untreated seed to see if it makes a difference at harvest.

Spiller has used Omex Canada micronutrient seed primers on peas, wheat, canola and barley. All of these crops seem to respond to the product. “Especially when you are seeding into cold soils, it’s good to see that extra root development,” he says.

“I believe it does make a difference to root growth and whether you are using Omex or a comparable product from some other company, I believe in the future we will see more nutrition applied to the seed.” He says it is an economical treatment, costing “pennies per acre” for canola, for example.

Spiller applies the micronutrient product to seed through an on-farm seed treating applicator at the same time he is applying disease and pest control products to protect seed.

He is considering use of in-crop foliar applied micronutrient treatments, but is waiting until he has tools to measure yield.

“The logic is there, that these treatments should have value, but it doesn’t make sense to spend this money unless you have someway to measure the results,” he says. “We’re going to keep looking at this until one way or the other we prove ourselves right or wrong.” †

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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