Not all western Canadian farmers are lining up to be among the first testing the effectiveness of plant growth regulators (PGRs) on their farms this year. Producers contacted for the February Farmer Panel says they are interested in the potential of the treatment that can help reduce lodging in cereals and perhaps increase yields, but they want to see a bit more evidence before they try the new production technology.
Some say they have done or hope to do some PGR trials, others say they so far have relied on improved, shorter-straw crop varieties to reduce the risk of lodging.
Plant growth regulators shorten and strengthen the stem of cereal crops and have been known to increase crop yield (the plant puts more energy into seed production than stem growth). They’ve been used widely in some parts of the world for decades.
In Canada a few companies have some existing products that have been used on a limited basis. Bayer Crop Science has Ethrel and BASF has Cycocel Extra, while Syngenta has a U.S. registered PGR called Pallisade. One limitation with Ethrel and Cycocel Extra is a very narrow window and critical timing for application.
In 2015 however, Engage Agro of Guelph, Ont. is coming to the marketplace with a new product, Manipulator, for use on cereals, that has a much wider window of application and can effectively be tank mixed with herbicides.
While some crop consultants have described PGRs as a “no brainer” tool to improve standability and yield potential in cereals, Farmer Panel members are taking more of a wait-and-see attitude. Here is what farmers had to say about PGRs.
Stuart Manness has been following some of the information on PGRs, but so far he isn’t convinced they have a fit on his farm south east of Winnipeg.
He has read about them, and talked to some of his suppliers about them but he hasn’t heard any science that says treating a crop provides consistent results.
“Lodging isn’t a big concern, although we do have some in those areas were we spread hog manure,” says Manness. “But we’ve had pretty good results using some of the shorter straw wheat varies. Right now we are producing 80 to 100 bushel wheat without too much trouble. Perhaps if we were targeting a 100 bushel crop and had to use a taller variety to achieve that I might be more anxious to try a plant growth regulator.
“I’m going to keep an eye on it, and if someone tells me they’ve had great results with a PGR then I will try 40 acres.”
CAMERON HILDEBRAND H & M FARMS
Cameron Hildebrand, agronomist at H & M Farms near Altona in south central Manitoba says he doesn’t see the economic benefit of using a Plant Growth Regulator on their farm.
“Right now, I don’t believe the economics are there — not with our wheat,” says Hildebrand. “If there is a product that more consistently works with oats I would be more interested in that. But with our wheat we have been using shorter straw varieties and lodging isn’t that much of an issue.”
On the other side of the coin, he does use a growth accelerator to help crops after they have been under stress. He uses micronutrient/hormonal products from ATP Nutrition which can be applied in-crop to help stimulate root growth when crops suffer a stress such as heat stress. His greater concern under adverse growing conditions is to get the crop growing again, rather than trying to slow it down.
Dallas Leduc says in his usually drier area of southern Saskatchewan he hasn’t heard much about plant growth regulators. Usually lodging isn’t a problem, however in the past three or four wetter years he has seen some lodging.
“But with improved design of combine headers and reels we are able to harvest any areas that do lodge without too much problem,” he says. The cereal crop varieties he grows today have improved standability over some of the older varieties.
“Back in the day, Kyle durum use to be bad for lodging, but we have switched to varieties that are either dwarf or semi-dwarf so lodging for the most part isn’t a problem.”
La Crete, Alta.
Near La Crete in the north Peace River Region of Alberta, Russell Friesen says cereal crop lodging isn’t a major concern. He has been reading about PGRs but isn’t planning to do any trials on his grain, oilseed and pulse crop operation.
“Generally we are a bit drier in this area so most years lodging isn’t a concern,” says Friesen. “It can be a problem in oats if I use high fertility rates, or if I am seeding oats on new land. And sometimes we can have a bit of lodging in our CPS wheats or if we are growing taller Hard Red Spring varies.”
With oats he pays particular attention to maintaining proper potash and manganese levels, and on wheat fields he applies copper and potash as part of crop fertility to improve straw strength in those crops. He also watches seeding rates to improve crop standability.
“I have found if we seed heavier the crops tend to be a bit taller and spindly,” says Friesen. “We seed fairly heavy, but not as high as some recommendations. If we go too high we run into standability issues. So it is about finding a balance.”
Friesen says with overall crop fertility he applies a base amount of fertilizer at time of seeding and then prefers to top dress crops with foliar treatment during the growing season. Because growing conditions can be so variable, he waits to see if the moisture is there before adding more nitrogen. “If we get the moisture then I can spoon feed the crop during the growing season,” he says.
Conducting a plant growth regular trial on his farm, is on Josh Fankhauser’s “to do” list. The southern Alberta farmer has some on-farm research projects on the go every year, and testing PGRs is one he wants to look at, “but at the moment we have bigger fish to fry,” says Fankhauser. “Right now I am focusing more on fine tuning fertility rates and I believe getting some answers there is going to pay bigger dividends than a trial on PGRs, but it is something I want to have a look at.”
With both dryland and irrigated crops, Fankhauser says using PGRs to shorten and strengthen cereal crop stems is probably more important on crops produced under irrigation. He does pay close attention to crop fertility to insure he isn’t over fertilizing, and therefore producing tall, heavy stands.
“We want to optimize yield so we provide proper fertility, but we don’t want to waste it either,” he says. “We focus more on varieties that have shorter stem length. At harvest, our combines are equipped with stripper headers, which leaves most of the stubble standing, but we like the shorter varieties which makes it easier to seed through the following year.
“From what I have seen, I don’t believe that PGRs are a silver bullet, but they are something I want to try,” he says.
With crop lodging an all-too-common problem Craig Shaw has conducted some trials with plant growth regulators on his central Alberta farm “with mixed results,” he says.
He has done on-farm trials with products such as Bayer’s Ethrel, which has a very narrow window of application, and also with the new Manipulator PGR from Engage Agro.
“Manipulator has a wider window of application, but it can also be variety specific,” says Shaw. “It can work better with some varieties than others. Last year we tried it with Stettler Hard Red Spring wheat. Although the company says it won’t, we found that it did set the crop back a bit, but the treated wheat was also about four or five inches shorter than the untreated wheat.
Shaw says with plenty of moisture, which produces higher rates of nitrogen mineralization, some crops have more nitrogen than they need. “And we found in areas with higher nitrogen the PGR really didn’t have any affect on crop growth,” he says. “If we had too much fertility the crop still went down.”
Shaw says PGRs can be a useful tool, but he has to figure out where they work best. He says they may have the best fit in a variable rate application — applying the PGR on areas of the field where higher fertility is likely to be a concern, such as headlands. He says Ethrel costs about $6 to $7 per acre, while the new Manipulator is running in the $10 to $12 per acre range. At that price spot or zone treatments are more economical than treating a whole field.
“In areas where we have high moisture and higher fertility rates can increase crop yield, there are still questions to be answered,” he says. “First we have to be using it on the right variety. And we also have to look at crop genetics by selecting crops that have shorter, stronger straw strength to begin with and then we can look at a PGR to help manage the growth of that crop.” Shaw plans to conduct another PGR trial in 2015.