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Nitrogen application in canary seed

Farmers sitting through the presentations at the Canaryseed Development Commission’s afternoon session at Crop Production Week in Saskatoon in January may have left the hotel wondering just how much nitrogen to apply to their canaryseed crops this spring.

During the course of the afternoon, a federal research scientist and a Saskatchewan agronomist presented two very different views on the effectiveness of nitrogen on canaryseed.

Limited nitrogen response

Bill May, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist, told farmers that adding nitrogen doesn’t produce lower yields, nor does it increase yields.

“Our findings, in general, are that canary seed does not respond strongly to applied nitrogen fertilizer in most situations,” says May. “Most situations would be on the typical black, dark brown soils that we test canaryseed on. Occasionally we get a significant response to nitrogen. We did last year at Swift Current.”

The key word here is “response,” not yield. While the application rate was increased from 10 to 90 kilograms per hectare (about nine to 80 pounds per acre), the yield increase was minor.

“The yields were low because they were only increased from 10 to 15 bushels. At Melfort, the yield actually went down as the nitrogen rate increased, which isn’t something we typically see, but it’s not impossible,” says May.

In years that receive plenty of moisture throughout the growing season, fields that are low in organic matter will see a small nitrogen response. Otherwise, May feels that 30 kg/ha (27 lb./ac.) is more than enough nitrogen.

“I would actually rather guys put nitrogen on crops that are more responsive to nitrogen and not up the nitrogen rate in canaryseed,” he says. “You’d be better off putting a little extra nitrogen on canola because it will respond to it, whereas canary seed is not going to respond to that extra nitrogen very often. It’s not an economical response.”

“There are better ways to spend your money,” he continues. “I would rather guys spend money on chloride in canaryseed than on nitrogen.”

Farmer and Canaryseed Devel-opment Commission Board member Larry Frisky says his experience has been similar to May’s. “I do use fertilizers,” he says. “I’m stronger in using fertilizers like phosphate and potash, and less nitrogen, perhaps, than what my neighbours use. It appears that as soon as we fertilize a little heavier, the crop falls down, it doesn’t fill properly and we have lower yields.”

Frisky relies on his soil tests for answers. If there are, say, 10 pounds of available nitrogen in the soil, he’ll add an additional 40 pounds of nitrogen for a total of 50 lbs. Likewise, depending on what his soil test says, he’ll add 20 to 25 pounds per acre of actual phosphate and about 20 pounds of potash.

“Canary seed becomes a very reasonable crop to grow, and my experience is that it stands up well,” says Frisky. “I don’t get great big huge yields, but I get higher than the area average yield from this way of doing business. It works for me.”

Adding more nitrogen

Pat Toner, a sales agronomist at Emerge Ag Solutions in Eston, Sask., also spoke at the January meeting.

Toner prefers a different approach with canaryseed. “Rather than speak to nitrogen specifically,” he says, “I like to speak towards the whole issue with a balanced nutrition approach.”

Over the course of the past three years Toner has submitted canaryseed and canaryseed straw for laboratory analysis and from that he’s developed a nutrient profile of both the harvested grain and the remaining trash. The objective of the project is to build a canaryseed crop uptake and crop removal chart. Similar charts are available for other commercially grown crops in the industry, but are not readily available for canary seed.

Toner’s findings show that harvested canaryseed removes about a 1-1/2 pounds per bushel of nitrogen in the form of harvested grain. It also removes approximately .45 pounds of phosphorus (or a phosphate equivalent) and .14 pounds of potassium and sulfur.

“Every crop needs nitrogen to live and to build its energy, and to just arbitrarily say ‘no nitrogen application’ is a bit risky, especially if you’re dealing in some stubble land that may have run out by a large crop in the year previous,” says Toner. “I’m trying to create an awareness that in growing a canaryseed crop we have to be assured that that crop will have two pounds of nitrogen available per bushel of the yield goal.”

That nitrogen might already be in the soil, so farmers should see what their soil tests reveal. But don’t stop with nitrogen. Toner says you should look at your ammonium levels as well. “Bear in mind that our organic matter releases nitrogen over the course of the growing season as well,” he says. “A lot of tests sometimes miss the ammonium aspect of the soil profile.”

“One thing we did agree on was the benefits of chloride,” Toner says. “I think there are benefits to be had from a potassium chloride application — 24 pounds per acre of chloride or less.”

Whatever your solution, one thing is clear: look to your soil test for answers. Your soil’s organic matter content — or lack thereof — will strongly affect the amount of nitrogen available to your crops. †

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