It was only a plot, and it wasn’t necessarily a realistic crop nutrient program most producers would consider following, but an ATP Nutrition demonstration at a Saskatchewan farm show last summer, showed Prairie farmers it is possible to produce an 94 bushel field pea crop.
That 94 bushel yield, on plots at the Ag In Motion (AIM) farm show near Langham, Sask., more than doubled the Canadian average for field pea yields (44 bu.) and even eclipsed the world record yield for peas which is 77.4 bushels per acre on a farm in Ireland.
But the objective of the AIM demonstration was just that — to demonstrate the potential of field peas in Western Canada, says Dan Owen, product innovation manager with ATP Nutrition.
- Read more: ATP packs on the nutrients at AIM plots
“In a good quality seed batch, the yield potential is already there,” says Owen. “We just wanted to show if you apply proper and timely fertility and crop nutrition, use good agronomic practices — and yes, the weather needs to co-operate — you can tap into that yield potential. We often talk about increasing yield, but we can’t really increase yields, however we can tap into more of the yield potential.”
ATP Nutrition is described as a “plant nutrient company.” It produces and markets a range of seed treatment and in-crop foliar products supplying micro as well as some macro nutrients, and plant stimulators for most crops ranging from cereals to corn to pulse crops to soybeans.
Yes, Owen admits the company would like to sell farmers’ their products, but the main point of his recent presentation is to point out that a crop — in this case field peas— will go through several mostly natural stress points during a growing season. Providing a complete nutrient program throughout the season will help the crop roll through those stresses with little or no setbacks and optimize its yield potential.
Plants face stress
The natural or expected stresses on a plant occur at germination, followed by rapid vegetative growth, then at flowering and then at maturation. Add into that growing condition stresses such as cold, heat, drought, excessive moisture and then herbicide application and the crop has potential to face multiple stress points during the growing season.
His main message is to produce a healthy, vigorous, actively growing plant by providing it with proper nutrition to meet its growth and development needs and also help it handle the various stresses it will encounter.
“There are plenty of products on the market, and some are even viewed as snake oil,” says Owen. “It is hard to know who to trust. But if any company won’t tell you what their products are — won’t tell you their active ingredients — I suggest it is best to steer clear of those.”
ATP has an open book on its products. The company recommends starting with a soil test to establish the base line requirements particularly for macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. ATP’s in-crop treatments — depending on the crop and depending on growth stage during the season — provide top up nutrients including intermediate nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and sulphur and micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, copper, boron, iron and molybdenum. It’s all on the label.
“All crops have certain nutrient requirements for both macro and micro nutrients during the growing season,” says Owen. “And if any one of those is limiting that’s going to affect the yield potential of the crop — can affect how well it is able to cope with some stress.”
He points to high yielding crop records around the world — 245 bushel wheat yields in the U.K.; 120 bushel canola yields in the U.K.; 503 bushel corn yields in the U.S.; 171 bushel soybean yields in the U.S.; 77.4 bushel field pea yields in Ireland and 40 bushel lentil yields in New Zealand.
Weather, climate and soil conditions aside “these kind of numbers just show us the potential yield in each of these crops,” says Owen. “The potential is in the seed, we just have to provide the proper agronomics under our growing conditions to optimize the yield potential here.”
The AIM demonstration
So what did ATP do at Ag In Motion? They actually compared four different field pea production programs ranging from what might be described as Chev to the Cadillac levels.
Level 1: Referred to as the enhanced grower standard practice (or the check plot) involved seeding peas along with 20 pounds of phosphate fertilizer, and providing a recommended in-crop herbicide application.
The enhanced part (used in all plots) involved double inoculation with a seed applied peat-based inoculant as well as an in-row granular inoculant. The plot also received two fungicide treatments at 10 and 50 per cent bloom stage. Owen says not all growers would apply two inoculants and two fungicide treatments as a normal practice.
Level 2: For this level they did everything in Level 1 but also added ATP Nutrient products that included a seed treatment with PreCede (calcium, sulphur and a plant stimulant) to help kick start germination and enhance root development, and that was followed by five in-crop chemtrition foliar treatments with ATP products.
Level 3: Described as the high yield fertility level. The peas were seeded with two inoculants and later the crop received the two fungicide applications. As well, at time of seeding they banded a fertilizer blend that included 50 lbs. of phosphate, 30 lbs. of potassium, 25 lbs. of sulphur, two pounds of zinc, one pound of manganese, and a half pound each of copper and boron. There were no other in-crop top ups with foliar products.
Level 4: The Cadillac level included everything they did in Level 3, but also included six in-crop chemtrition treatments with ATP foliar applied products.
“The (Level 4) high fertility program with six in-crop treatments isn’t a realistic program for most growers,” says Owen. “So I am not suggesting everyone should run out and do this. But we wanted to make the point that the yield potential is there if the crop has the adequate fertility, nutrition, along with other proper agronomic practices during the growing season.”
The Level 4 program added about $75 per acre in ATP products to over all input costs — and that cost may add more risk than most growers want to assume.
Owen also describes a solid three-treatment ATP program more realistic for most commercial growers. Used in conjunction with proper agronomics it can help producers access more of the crop’s yield potential. The three-treatment program would cost considerably less and easily be by a two-bushel yield increase. But more on that later.
The goal with the ATP demonstration was to achieve at least an 80 bushel field pea yield. An 80 bushel pea crop will require about 240 lbs. of nitrogen, 66 lbs. of phosphate, 220 lbs. of potassium and 20 lbs. of sulphur as well as varying amounts of several micronutrients all to achieve that yield.
The AIM program included a soil test to establish baseline fertility in the soil on a wheat stubble plot. Working with Agassiz yellow peas, they calculated a 1,000 kernel weight and seeded at a rate to produce a crop stand of eight to nine plants per square foot.
Plots were seeded May 21, a bit later than they wanted. Owen says if seeding earlier it may be necessary to blacken the soil a bit to warm the seed bed so peas can be seeded into no less than 5 C seed bed temp.
To achieve the 240 pounds of nitrogen required by this big crop they double inoculated the legume seed with a seed-applied peat based inoculant and also put a granular inoculant in the seed row.
The level four AIM plot, along with the PreCede treatment, received six in-crop foliar sprays of ATP products — at the appropriate timing tank-mixed with herbicide and two fungicide applications. The chemtrition treatments were applied at the one- to two-node stage, the five- to six-node stage and the nine-node stage. Fungicide was included at 10 per cent bloom and 50 per cent bloom. ATP products includes ReLeaf, Pulse P and 42Phi all with different combinations of micronutrients to match stages of crop development.
To monitor crop nutrient needs, plant tissue samples were analyzed multiple times during the growing season.
Stay green and growing
“The objective is to keep the whole plant green and growing,” says Owen. “There is a balancing act since you don’t want it green until December, but at the same time you don’t want to see brown and dying leaves in the lower part of the plant midway through the growing season.” A field pea crop that is properly fixing nitrogen, along with top up in-crop chemtrition will stay green.
A robust pea plant isn’t of much value unless it is producing seed, says Owen. Later in the growing season they did a comparison pod and pea count. Plants in the check standard producer Level 1 plot had 8.8 pods per plant with 5.9 peas in each pod. While the Level 4 treatment plot had 19.8 pods per plant and 7.5 peas in each pod.
So what were the yields? The Level 1 standard producer plot came in at a very respectable 67.9 bushels per acre. Level 2 (just with added foliar sprays) jumped up to 79 bushels per acre. Level 3, (the high fertility plot) shot up to 84 bushels per acre. Level 4 (the full meal deal — high fertility, plus weekly foliar sprays) came in at 94 bushels per acre.
“We don’t expect commercial farmers to apply high fertility and these six in-crop treatments,” says Owen. “But I believe it shows with high fertility as well as the in-crop chemtrition, we have the opportunity to really tap into the yield potential of this crop.”
While obviously the sky is the limit, Owen says a realistic ATP Nutrition program designed to increase yield, while keeping costs in line could include applying the PreCede seed treatment to get the germinating seed and root development off to a good start. That could be followed by an in-crop treatment with a ReLeaf product (calcium, magnesium and a plant stimulator) applied at the five to six node stage — time of herbicide application. And followed by their 42Phi product (phosphorus, zinc, manganese and boron) applied at 10 per cent bloom — at fungicide application time.
“These three treatments combined will cost about an extra $23 to $25 per acre,” says Owen. “But depending on the pea prices that can easily be recovered by two and a half bushels out of the overall yield increase, so it still provides a very good return on investment.”