20 Jan 2012
May 10, 2013 – The acres planted to canola in the Northern Great Plains region (NGP) increased to all time highs in 2012.
The acres planted to canola continue to increase in all provinces and states in the NGP. This has resulted in total acres in the NGP going from 13,205,000 acres in year 2000 up to the all time high of 22,491,000 acres in 2012. Canola consumes more S per bushel of harvested grain compared to cereal crops. Wheat for example uses 1 lb of S for every 10 lb of N. In contrast canola uses 1 lb of S for every 6 lb N applied. If an average N rate of 80 lb N/A is applied to both wheat or canola, a canola crop would require 13.3 lb S compared to 8 lb S for the wheat crop. If you are growing more canola on your farm you will need to apply more S fertilizer to satisfy the S needs of this crop.
May 1, 2013 – Potassium for soybean and pulse crops
If you haven’t ever grown soybeans or pulse crops (dry peas, dry beans, lentils or chickpeas) and you want to include them in your crop rotation, you may need to consider applying higher rates of K in your fertilizer blends. For example if you compare wheat to dry peas or soybean at the equivalent 50 bu/A yields, the amount of K removed with the harvested grain is respectively 17, 30 and 65 lb of K2O/A for wheat, dry peas and soybeans. More soybeans or pulse crops in your rotations means more removal of K. Applying potash (KCl, 0-0-60) is an excellent way to supply needed K.
April 20, 2013 – If you grow a new higher yielding variety or hybrid, you may need to increase your fertilizer rate.
If you treat a high yielding crop like a lower yielding crop you may just get a low yield. I’ve seen situations where a farmer has switched from a lower potential yielding hybrid to a higher yielding hybrid but didn’t increase the fertilizer rates applied and ended up with disappointing yields. If a new variety or hybrid has been recently introduced to your area, check with farmers or seed company representatives who have experience with the new variety or hybrid to know what fertilizer and management practices are used to exploit the greater yield potential.
April 10, 2013 – If droughty conditions were experienced last year and spring soil moisture is low at planting, what is a reasonable strategy for fertilizer rates?
Many farmers will have a tendency to reduce all fertilizer nutrient rates after dry conditions the previous year. However a contingency plan should be considered if moisture conditions improve significantly early in the growing season. For example it is advised that P and K rates remain close to regular rates just in case moisture conditions improve, as it is difficult to supply additional amounts of these two nutrients as an in-crop application. However, N and S can be successfully top-dressed if ample post-planting rainfall is received. Discussion should be done with your local retail fertilizer dealer to determine if you will be able to access N and S fertilizers for top-dressing if needed.
April 1, 2013 – Excess seed-row fertilizer can reduce plant stands, delay maturity, and sometimes reduce yields.
Seed-row fertilizer can be an effective way to apply required nutrients to a crop, however there should be caution that the rate of the fertilizer applied isn’t excessive. If too high a rate is applied there can be fertilizer salt injury. Also, if the N rate is too high using urea as an N source, or an ammonium containing N source under higher soil pH conditions (e.g. pH 7.5 or higher), the generation of free ammonia (NH3) can cause ammonia toxicity to germinating seeds and seedlings. Either way excess salt injury or excess ammonia concentrations can kill or delay germinating seeds and seedlings. Check with your local agronomist or crop adviser for advice so that adequate but safe rates of seed-row fertilizer can be applied considering your planter design, row spacing and local soil conditions.
March 20, 2013 – Are crop-sensing technologies, an improved way to decide how much N to top-dress or not?
The development of crop sensing technologies, using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), are now commercially available and are being used by more farmers each year. The technology gives a reading, that when used with crop specific calibration curves developed through field research, gives a reliable estimate of crop biomass, N status, and yield potential. What many farmers do is put down a base N application, e.g. 60% of normal rates, and then early enough in the crop life cycle (e.g. V8 growth stage in corn, stem elongation in wheat, and bolting in canola), will run over a field with a top-dress UAN applicator equipped with NDVI sensors. The sensors are connected to a variable rate UAN control system. If the crop in an area of the field is low in N, indicated by a light green as opposed to dark green color, additional N is applied on the go using real time variable rate equipment. If an area of the field has abundant residual N, the crop color and growth is excellent, then no additional N is applied. Research using this technology has shown that overall crop yields can be just as good, and sometimes better compared to regular blanket N applications rates. Often overall field amounts of N are reduced somewhat, and overall field yields are increased, this covers the extra cost of using the NDVI technology and variable rate N equipment. I suggest you do an internet search for GreenSeeker or Crop Circle and learn more about this type of technology.
March 10, 2013 – Spring soil testing, a good way to see how the dry conditions last year affected your soil residual nutrients.
I have had many questions about the effect of the 2012 drought on soil residual plant nutrients in 2013. In summary, you may have more residual N in your soil than normal, but there will not be much observable effect on residual P and K. This is because the N use and loss mechanisms of crop uptake, leaching and denitrification are reduced greatly when there is drought causing dry soil conditions. Soil test levels of P and K are much less affected and the usual soil reaction effects on P and K proceed forward even under drier conditions, plus P and K availability is much more a multi-year effect, and one year of drought will not show large differences in soil test P and K availability. The best way to know how much residual N is in your fields is to have some soil sampling done and have the soils tested for plant available N early in spring of 2013, before you decide on N rates for the 2013 crop. You may find that higher residual N levels justify a moderate reduction in N application rates for your 2013 crop.
March 1, 2013 – Are there fertilizer additives that might be useful for your crops?
The N fertilizers we have available for farm use have been around for decades, for example, anhydrous ammonia (AA), urea, and urea ammonium nitrate (UAN). Are there any new N fertilizers, or fertilizer additives that can be used to increase fertilizer use efficiency, especially when weather conditions are such that losses of N can happen? Yes there are.
One example is a group of N fertilizers called controlled release ureas. The urea granules are coated with a polymer coating that allows moisture into the granule to dissolve the urea, and the urea solution is released into soil gradually based on moisture and temperature effects. That is a warmer temperature with adequate moisture, results in faster release. These types of modified urea fertilizers are useful to reduce leaching and denitrification losses of the N fertilizer if heavy rains are received early in a growing season before crops have had a chance to take up the N.
Another example is N fertilizers that are treated with so-called stabilizing additives. For example a urease inhibitor additive used for urea and UAN can slow down the breakdown or hydrolysis of the urea molecule by the natural soil occurring urease enzyme. This is a useful additive to reduce ammonia volatilization losses for surface applied urea or UAN, if sufficient precipitation after broadcast surface application is not received. Lastly, a second group of additives are called nitrification inhibitors. These slow down the conversion of ammonium forms of N (anhydrous ammonia, urea and UAN) to nitrite and subsequently nitrate N. This can reduce dentrification losses of nitrate under saturated soil conditions.
You can ask your local retail agronomist if you might benefit from using some of these new N fertilizers or additives.
February20, 2013 – Do you know what a Brown Soil Moisture Probe is?
Drought in parts of Montana is not a new or uncommon experience, and unfortunately was experienced severely in the south half of Montana in 2012. For that reason, there are dryland areas where farmers use summer fallowing as a method to conserve moisture and increase the chance of growing an adequate yielding crop, even though a crop on a specific field may be grown only once every two years. Summer fallowing is where a crop is not grown for a year, weed and volunteer crop plant growth is controlled by tillage, or unselective herbicide applications to reduce plant transpiration losses of water. Precipitation received during the fallow year builds up in the soil profile and helps to fill the moisture needs of crop grown the year after summer fallowing. One disadvantage of having a set fallow-crop two year rotation is that there are some years when ample moisture is received after harvest through the fall, winter and early spring, prior to the summer fallow period and there is no need to conserve moisture to grow a good crop. Dr. Paul Brown, an agricultural researcher in Montana, developed a soil probe tool, in the 1960s, to assess how much moisture was stored in a soil in early spring (see Brown and Carlson 1990). It is called the Brown Soil Moisture probe, after Dr. Brown. It is a T-handled soil probe consisting of a steel rod (e.g. 3/8” diameter), with a slightly larger ball bearing (e.g. ½“ diameter) welded on the end pushed into the ground. When pushed into a thawed soil in early spring it will go downward through moist soil, until you hit dry soil and then stops. By using an estimate of soil texture (percent of sand, silt and clay respectively, e.g. silt loam soil) the amount of moisture stored in a soil can be estimated. If the depth of moist soil is enough, to represent sufficient soil moisture that when combined with average precipitation for the area could grow a decent yielding crop, a farmer may decide to plant a crop rather than summer fallow that year. There are areas affected by drought in the year 2012 where farmers may consider summer fallowing some fields in the crop year 2013. Use of a Brown Soil Moisture Probe may help them gather information to decide whether or not to plant a crop or summer fallow in 2013.
Reference: Brown, Paul L., and G.R. Carlson, Grain Yields Related to Stored Soil Water and Growing Season Rainfall.. Montana State University, Agricultural Special Report 35, November 1990.
February10, 2013 – Time in your heated shop maintaining your planting equipment in the winter, can be a good investment of your time.
Discovering that your planting equipment needs an overall replacement of major bearings, or soil engaging disks or hoe openers, or installation of a new starter fertilizer kit, just before or during prime planting time in the spring can be frustrating and result in delayed planting and lower crop yields. Taking time in the winter to check over and replace worn planter parts, in the comfort of your heated shop, can have your equipment ready to go early in the spring.
February 1, 2013 – Consider the 4R Nutrient Management Principles when planning your fertilizer applications this coming year.
A set of useful nutrient management principles is being encouraged for farmer use. It is called 4R Nutrient Stewardship, and means that plant nutrients should be applied as the Right Source, at the Right Rate, Time, and Place. For each of your major fertilizer nutrients you should consider whether or not you could benefit by using a more effective source, rate, timing and placement, compared to what you presently use. The Right Source means that you apply a form of fertilizer that effectively supplies nutrients. The Right Rate means that you apply sufficient but not excessive amounts of a nutrient. The Right Time means that fertilizer is applied at a time so it is best available to the crop being grown. Lastly, Right Placement means that the fertilizer is placed in a location relative to the seed-row to maximize root interception and absorption. An example of this is to compare different ways of applying N to a winter wheat crop. Let’s say there are three N fertilizer sources locally available to a farmer, specifically anhydrous ammonia (82-0-0), granular urea (46-0-0) and liquid urea ammonium nitrate (28-0-0). Anhydrous ammonia can only be applied before or at planting of winter wheat, which would mean in the early fall. This is not a good time for an anhydrous ammonia application, as the ammonia will be converted almost totally over to nitrate (NO3-) before freeze-up and nitrate in the soil during spring thaw can be subject to denitrification losses. Urea can be surface broadcast applied effectively in late fall or early spring. UAN can be top-dressed effectively a bit later in the spring than urea because half of the N is in the ammonium or nitrate form, almost immediately available to the crop, and the remaining urea portion of UAN will be converted over to ammonium or other nitrate in time to be used by the crop. So a farmer will need to consider prices of urea compared to UAN, and also when is it most effective to apply N to the winter wheat crop. If a late fall or early spring application of urea, frees up valuable time later in the spring, then urea may be the right choice. But if the farmer is not rushed in the spring and UAN prices are competitive with urea prices, then UAN may be the right choice. This example of choosing the right source illustrates that there needs to be consideration for not only the Right Source, but also what are the Right Time and Placement for that source of fertilizer. Lastly, the Right Source, Time and Placement will have a big effect on how efficient the fertilizer is used, and can affect the Right Rate of N used. Using the 4R principles can help a farmer make better use of his or her fertilizer investment.
January 20, 2013 – How well did your nutrient management plans perform last year?
A useful practice is to do a calculation of nutrients applied compared to nutrients removed on your various crop fields. It is much the same as doing an audit of your financial records, e.g. funds deposited compared to funds spent. Generally for your major nutrient inputs, specifically N, P and K, you can determine whether you are lowering, maintaining, or gradually improving your soils fertility status. I recently discussed with one farmer in central Saskatchewan, how his fertilizer inputs compared to crop nutrient removals in harvested grain. In this instance sufficient N was being applied, so that N fertilizer inputs were equal to and slightly above protein N amounts in harvested grain. However, he had switched four years earlier, to a lower rate P and K program (respectively 8 lb P2O5/A and 0.7 lb K2O/A) using a liquid seed-row starter fertilizer, compared to his previous dry granular seed-row blend, normally containing 25 lb P2O5 and 10 lb K2O. His spring wheat crops yields had averaged about 40 bu/A over the past four years. This yield of wheat was removing about 23 lb P2O5/A and 17 lb K2O/A each year. So over the past four years there had been a net removal of 15 lb P2O5/A and 16 lb K2O/A each year. After looking at soil test results this past fall, they were quite low for plant available P on all fields tested, and K levels were moderate for the area. I suggested that P fertilizer rates be increased to greater than crop removals, e.g. 120% or 28 lb P2O5/A over the next four years in order to gradually improve P availability. For K, the input rates should be increased to at least close to crop removals, e.g. 17 lb lb K2O/A because the relatively younger glacial soils tend to be reasonably high in exchangeable K. I’m confident that when soil samples and test results are reviewed again four years from now, soil test levels of P and K will have increased, if closer to above crop removal amounts are applied.
January 10, 2013 – Farm meetings held in the winter, can be a great time to learn about new crop technologies.
Now is a good time to check with your local government agriculture extension office, your ag-retailer, or your crop commodity organizations, and find out when and where winter farm meetings are being held. There are always new technologies and products becoming available. This can include new crop hybrids or varieties, new herbicide, fungicide or insecticide formulations, new fertilizer forms or additives, and recent developments in planting and application equipment. By attending some winter meetings, you may hear about some new products that could help you grow higher yielding and increased quality crops. Some time invested in learning about new technologies useful for your farm, can pay a dividend in increased net returns.
January 1, 2013 – How important is snow as a source of moisture for next years crop?
After a dry summer and fall, snow received this winter will help build up soil moisture reserves for the next crop. There are a number of factors that determine whether or not snow will melt and infiltrate into the ground. One is if the soil is dry or moist when hard freezing comes in early winter. If topsoil is wet it will freeze solid and snow received during the winter will tend to run off rather than soak into the ground. However, since most areas in the Northern Great Plains (NGP) had a dry fall, topsoil was low in moisture, will not freeze as hard, and so any snow received this winter will have a better chance of soaking in. Another factor is how high the stubble was cut and remains from the previous crop. Taller stubble will trap and store more snow evenly over a field, and when spring thaw comes more of the melting snow will have a chance to soak into the ground. A third factor is how fast spring thaw is next spring. If temperatures remain cold until late winter and there is a very quick warming, more water from melting snow will run off. If spring thaw is more gradual, moisture infiltration will be greater.
December 20, 2012 – Why Consider Applying Fertilizer During Your Planting Operation?
Precision placement of side-banded fertilizer, or seed furrow starter fertilizer, during planting has often been shown to increase fertilizer uptake by crops and reduce use of fertilizer by weeds. It can also reduce reaction of applied nutrients with soil components (e.g. organic matter, clay particles, and exchangeable ions), and keep the fertilizer nutrients in a soluble form so crop roots can absorb them.
December 10, 2012 – If You Experience an Early and Open Spring, Consider Pre-Plant Applied Fertilizer.
Time is valuable in the spring. Generally the earlier you can plant within the normal planting window for your area, the greater your yields will be. If you experience an early and open spring season you might consider speeding up planting operations by pre-plant applying fertilizer earlier than normal. This provides extra time to get planting equipment ready, seed in place, and to begin planting as early as possible. Also, don’t forget to consider applying low rates of starter fertilizer in the seed furrow, depending on the specific crop tolerance, or side-banding an appropriate distance to the side and below the seed furrow depending on the root architecture of the specific crop. In most seasons, the earlier you plant, the greater the benefit from using starter fertilizer.
December 1, 2012 – Is One Form of P Better than Another?
The three main forms of P fertilizer available to farmers are granular monoammonium phosphate (11-52-0), granular diammonium phosphate (18-46-0), and liquid ammonium polyphosphate (10-34-0). All three of these P fertilizer forms supply a soluble and plant available P source for crop plants. Your choice of the one you use will depend on local market prices, availability from retail fertilizer dealers, and what fertilizer application equipment you have.
November 20, 2012 – Deciding on Fertilizer Rates in Times of Uncertain Weather
If you knew every year the available soil moisture content at planting, and the timings and amounts of rainfall in the growing season after planting, it would be much easier to decide on fertilizer rates. This is because you could accurately estimate what potential crop yields would be, and supply sufficient but not excessive supplemental nutrients using fertilizers. However, it is very difficult to accurately predict when and how much rain will be received. Normally most farmers plan for a good to slightly above average growing season, as far as rainfall and fertilize accordingly. But, if it is dry and looks like it will be a drier than normal year, lower than normal fertilizer rates may be appropriate. If more than average early season rains come however, there should be a contingency plan to top-dress the crop with additional N fertilizer to help achieve an increased yield potential.
November 10, 2012 – How Do You Determine a Realistic Target Yield for Your Crops?
Crop yield targets are something that can change over time. This is because of the following factors:
- · Higher yielding crop varieties or hybrids that result in greater potential yields.
· Improvements in weed, insect and disease control technologies resulting in higher yield potentials.
· Improved fertilizer technologies result in improved uptake of fertilizer nutrients by crops and less nutrient losses to the environment. This might include improved efficiency forms of fertilizers, use of fertilizer additives, or improved rate, time of application, and placement of fertilizers.
· Use of conservation cropping or reduced tillage methods that conserve valuable soil moisture and increase water available to crops. This applies to the more arid areas.
· Periods of less, or more than normal, precipitation amounts. If the deficit of moisture is severe and considered a drought, lower yield targets are appropriate. Conversely, if above normal, but not excessive, precipitation is received then higher than normal target yields could be used.
November 1, 2012 – What Methods are Available to Decide on the Rate of Fertilizer to Apply?
High yielding crops usually require supplemental nutrients, applied as fertilizer or manure, or a combination of fertilizers and manure. It has been estimated that over 40 to 50% of food produced annually in the world is because fertilization is used to increase crop yields and maintain soil fertility. There are a few methods farmers use to decide what rate of fertilizer to use.
- First, use rates developed by assessing what levels of plant available nutrients are in the soil using soil testing. By knowing what amount of nutrients will be supplied by the soil, it is possible to reach realistic yield targets for your area, by adding the appropriate rate of fertilizer nutrients to go along with nutrients available from the soil. The amount to add is usually determined by referring to fertilizer calibration results from field research done previously by state or provincial, and or university soil fertility researchers in your local area.
- Second, apply rates based on crop removals. This is done by knowing what crops usually yield in your area and the amount of fertilizer nutrients removed in harvested portions of the crops, on a continuing basis.
- Third, apply local area common rates of fertilizer used for various crops, taking normal crop yields into consideration.
October 20, 2012 – Are There Choices for the Type of Potassium You Apply?
The most common K fertilizer is potassium chloride (KCl) or potash, analysis 0-0-60, or 0-0-62; the next most widely used is potassium sulfate (K2SO4), analysis 0-0-50-17S; also potassium magnesium sulfate (KMgSO4) or sulfate of potash magnesia, analysis 0-0-22-22S-11Mg; and there is some potassium nitrate (KNO3) a manufactured source used in liquid fertilizer blends and as a N and K source for top-dressing some crops. KCl is the lowest cost form and works well for most crops except those that are sensitive to excess chloride, e.g some fruit and vine crops, where K2SO4 and KMgSO4 have a good fit.
October 10, 2012 – Which N Fertilizer is Good for Fall Application?
In the NGP there are three main forms of N fertilizer available to farmers, those being anhydrous ammonia (NH3), urea, and urea ammonium nitrate solution (UAN). Anhydrous ammonia is a popular N source for fall application. It needs to be injected into the soil, usually to a 4-inch depth, and the concentrated band of NH3 tends to stay in the ammonium (NH4+) form over the fall and winter and is less subject to denitrification losses if very wet soils occur in the spring. Urea can work quite well in the fall or spring, but equipment for fall banding is less available compared to equipment available for NH3. The majority of urea is banded either as a pre-plant, or side-banded at planting, or broadcast and incorporated by tillage prior to or during the planting operation. UAN is one-quarter nitrate N and is better suited to spring use, or in-crop side-dressing.
October 1, 2012 – What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Fall Applied Fertilizer?
In the Northern Great Plains (NGP) fertilizing in the fall, especially with N, is quite common. There are a couple of main advantages compared to spring fertilizer applications. One, fall fertilizer prices are usually lower than spring prices, and secondly getting at least part of fertilization done in the fall leaves less product to handle and saves time in the spring. The one disadvantage is that if the fall and part of the early winter is open and warm most of the N gets converted over to the nitrate form and can be subject to denitrification losses, if wet saturated conditions occur in the spring. After droughty conditions in the southern portion of the NGP in 2012, especially in North Dakota and Montana, a wet spring might be considered a good thing.
September 20, 2012 – Consider Doing a Nutrient Audit for some of Your Fields
If you can accurately estimate the yield of a field using truckload weights from the field, or have yield monitor data, and you have grain sample nutrient analysis results for grain samples from the same fields, it is possible to do a nutrient budget. It is close in principle to a financial audit for a business account. For a balanced bank account withdrawals should equal deposits. For a balanced nutrient budget, nutrient removals in harvested grain should be equal to nutrients applied from fertilization and or manure applications. This is especially useful for the major nutrients applied commonly as fertilizer, namely N, P and K. You could do a similar nutrient budget for your fields as follows in the example below.
The yield of the spring wheat on a field was 37 bu/A, or 2,220 lb grain/A. The N, P, and K content of the analyzed grain was 2.4 % N (15% protein), 0.85% P2O5, and 0.42% K2O. The removals of N, P2O5, and K2O were, respectively, 53.3 lb N, 18.9 lb P2O5, and 9.3 lb K2O/A. The fertilizer applied was 70 lb N, 20 lb P2O5, and 5 lb K2O per acre. So 16.7 more lb N, 1.1 more lb P2O5, and 4.3 less lb K2O were applied than removed for the crop. It would appear that of the N, P, and K the nutrient budget was positive for N and P, and slightly negative for K. This can be done for other nutrients if the amounts of the nutrient applied are known, and the yield and grain nutrient content of the specific nutrient of interest is analyzed.
September 10, 2012 – Analysis of Grain Samples
Most farmers find out the protein content of their wheat and other small grain samples as this is routinely done by the grain companies when you deliver grain. The protein level is determined by placing a small grain sample into an infrared analyzer that actually measures the amount of N in the grain. The conversion of N content for wheat is to multiply the N percentage by 5.70 to estimate protein. For barley and most other grains you multiply by 6.25 to estimate crude protein. Have you ever considered having more nutrients analyzed on your grain samples? You may have if you have livestock and use the grain you grow as part of your feed rations. A feed grain analysis can also be useful to a grain farmer, as the content of other nutrients such as P, K, sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), boron (B), chloride (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), sodium (Na), and zinc (Zn) are usually analyzed. Sodium is an animal nutrient in grain that isn’t normally a needed nutrient for crops, but will be included in a detailed feed grain analysis. It can be useful to know the level of some of these nutrients in the grain because a below normal level of a nutrient in the grain is probably indicative that your soil is low in availability for that nutrient. You may want to follow up with a detailed soil sampling and analysis from that field.
September 1, 2012 – Fall Soil Testing, a Good Practice for the Northern Great Plains
One of the best ways to monitor the nutrient status of your soils is to have soil tests done on your fields in the fall. This gives you plenty of time to evaluate how available nutrients will be for next year’s crops and make adjustments with fertilizer applications. It is advised that soil samples be taken in mid to late fall, so any time from the last week of September until freeze-up sometime in November works fine. You can take the samples yourself, or have your local ag-retail, or consulting agronomist take the samples for you.
August 20, 2012 – If You Grow Winter Wheat, How do You Apply Fertilizer Nutrients?
The common way to apply fertilizer nutrients for winter wheat was to seed-row place some N and all the P, K, S, and any needed micronutrients. The N in the seed-row was usually just the N in the mono-ammonium phosphate (11-52-0) used to supply P. The majority of N was surface broadcast applied as ammonium nitrate early in the spring as soon as broadcast equipment could travel on fields. For about a decade, ammonium nitrate has not been available in the Northern Great Plains region of North America. Farmers have of necessity switched to using granular urea (46-0-0), or liquid UAN (28-0-0), for the early spring N application. Under conditions of somewhat moist conditions on the soil surface followed by warm, dry and breezy conditions for a couple of weeks without adequate precipitation, e.g. a half an inch (13 mm) or more of rainfall within a few days of spreading, urea or the urea in UAN can be subject to some volatile ammonia losses. It is possible to reduce these losses by treating the urea containing fertilizers with a urease inhibitor. If you plan on growing winter wheat this fall, speak with your retail fertilizer dealer and ask them about the possibility of treating the urea or UAN with a urease inhibitor before application to your winter wheat early next spring.
August 10, 2012 – Timely Harvest of Your Crops Usually Results in Better Crop Quality
Some grain crops, especially the grain of small grain cereal crops can be subject to weathering affects if left in the field into the fall and will be downgraded in quality class. This is because harvest before precipitation retains optimum color and appearance of the grain. It is important to check the maturity of your crops and begin harvesting as soon as possible. The longer crops remain in the field and are weathered by precipitation after maturity, the grain becomes “bleached” in appearance and loses color. This so called bleaching is the leaching out of color from the grain. Admittedly you want the crop to be mature and dry enough to store well, but harvesting before excessive weathering will result in improved grain grading and better economic returns.
August 1, 2012 – Does Your Crop Rotation Need a Tune-up?
Most farmers follow a planned crop rotation. This can be as simple as a winter wheat-fallow, two-year rotation in some drier areas of Montana, or a multi-year rotation with numerous different crops in other more moist areas, for example a spring wheat-canola-barely-field pea, four-year rotation in north central Saskatchewan. One of the greatest benefits of having different crop types as part of your crop rotation is the reduction of crop diseases, weed and insect pests. An ideal crop rotation will alternate broadleaf crops with cereal crops. For example a three-year rotation of corn-soybean-winter wheat can result in a less severe incidence of crop diseases and insect pests compared to continuous corn production. Sometimes an ideal crop rotation may have some short-term economic challenges if one of the rotation crops has poor commodity prices. A farmer always needs to be ready to make some changes, or have alternate choices as markets change and affect prices. It is also useful to learn about possible new crop alternatives for your area. You may want to try a new crop type and see how it might compliment your crop rotation.
July 20, 2012 – Local Variety Trials, Happening in a Field in Your Area
It can be very useful to contact your seed supplier or local ag-retail and find out where local crop variety trials are being conducted this year. The different seed suppliers usually host field days where they display and describe new and promising varieties and how they compare to existing varieties. There is a good chance you will find out about a new variety or hybrid that you may want to try next year.
July 10, 2012 – Crop Diseases and Your Crop
There are a few different microbe types that can cause crop diseases. These include bacteria, viruses, and fungal diseases. The most common are fungal organisms. There are usually certain fungal types and strains that are specific to a crop type, for example fungal diseases affecting cereal crops do not usually affect broadleaf crops and vice versa. Of the fungal disease causing organisms some are soil and or seed borne and are best-controlled using seed treatments. Others are airborne and can move short or long distances by winds. It is important to learn what diseases affect the crops you grow and how to scout your fields. If an infestation is discovered early enough a foliar fungal application can often save potential yield and grain quality.
July 1, 2012 – Are Your Crops Adversely Affected by Insect Pests?
Insects are part of the world ecosystem. Some insect types can be beneficial for crops, while others are severe pests and can be destructive. It is useful each year to check with your local agricultural extension service for an update as to what insects pests are prevalent in your region and area. Then it is worth your time to scout your fields to see if insect pests are damaging your crops. You will usually find some insect pests, and if the numbers are low, damage will be minimal and no pest control applications are advised. For most insect pests there are threshold population guidelines as to when it is economic to consider control measures.
June 20, 2012 – How to assess the nutrient status in a poor growth area of a field
It is not enough to only take a plant sample and have it tested for nutrient content in a poor growth area of a field. This only tells you part of the nutrient situation and more information can be obtained. Ideally, three sets of plant and soil samples can be taken to better diagnose the nutrient status in the whole field, and the poor growth area. This is done by taking both a soil sample and a plant sample in a good or better growth area, in a medium growth area, and also in the poor growth area. By comparing the nutrient status of all three plant samples, along with what is potentially available as indicated from the soil analysis results in all three areas, a person can better understand and diagnose what actually may be deficient in the poor growth area.
June 10, 2012 – Plant sampling and testing
Plant samples can be taken early in the growing season for a few reasons. One, it is useful to see how well your crop is doing as far as nutrient contents, and determine if your pre-plant, and at planting applications of fertilizers are being accessed adequately by the crop. Second, to determine if the crop might benefit from an additional application of a side-dressed, broadcast, or foliar application of nutrients that are lower in plant concentration than ideal.
June 1, 2012 – Visual observation of plant deficiencies
Many nutrient deficiencies have been discovered by observing poor crop growth areas in fields, when fields are scouted early in the growing season. However, not all poor growth areas are a result of a nutrient deficiency. There can be other reasons for poor growth, such as plant root diseases, insect pests, crop harming levels of residual herbicides, and adverse soil conditions such extremes in soil pH, compaction, or sandy low moisture holding areas of soil. It is important to check out all possible causes and eliminate other potential poor growth causes before trying to diagnose a nutrient deficiency.
May 20, 2012 – There are many starter fertilizers available
Originally back in the mid 1900s, it used to be that the only starter fertilizer available was a seed-row application of a granular ammonium phosphate fertilizer, i.e. 11-48-0. Today there are numerous products available, besides the still effective granular ammonium phosphates (11-52-0). These products include liquid ammonium polyphosphate (10-34-0), or multi-nutrient blends in compound granular products, blends of granular fertilizer (e.g. a blend containing 11-52-0, 0-0-60, and 21-0-0-24), or multi nutrient liquid fertilizer blends. It is always helpful to determine what are the rates and costs of the actual units of nutrients applied, when comparing various starter fertilizer options. In most cases the actual rates of soluble nutrients applied are as important, or more important, than the form of fertilizer, as long as there is adequate distribution of all nutrients along the seed-row.
May 10, 2012 – Apply adequate, but not excessive, rates of starter fertilizer
Starter fertilizer rates should be adequate to supply enough nutrients to improve seedling development, but avoid excessive rates that will kill germinating seeds, or inflict seedling root damage. Don’t compromise germination and seedling establishment with convenience to apply extra fertilizer in the seed-row. Greater than seed-row tolerable rates of nutrients should be pre-plant banded, side-banded or mid-row banded at planting, or top-dressed after planting to avoid an inadequate plant stand establishment.
May 1, 2012 – Use of starter fertilizer can improve seedling establishment, improve yields and help crops mature earlier
Starter fertilizers usually contain a moderate rate of P along with low rates of N, K, and possibly a micronutrient or two. The starter fertilizer encourages improved root growth and establishment, and helps prepare the plant to make good use of soil moisture, and soil and fertilizer available nutrients. Improved seedling growth and establishment can often result in a crop with improved yields, and earlier and more even maturity.
April 20, 2012 – Re-calibration of seed and fertilizer rates on planters
It is helpful to check the calibration of rates of seed, seed-row starter fertilizer, and side-banded fertilizer on planting equipment. Adjustments made before the long and busy days of spring planting can prevent too high, or too low, rates of application, and then ensure adequate rates are achieved. Peace of mind is experienced when you know your planting equipment is doing what you want it to.
April 10, 2012 – Make sure your planter has sound sealed bearings and properly lubricated grease joints and oiled chains
The looseness of critical sealed bearings, and greased bearings, can be assessed and excessively worn bearings should be replaced. Greasing and oiling according to equipment manufacture specifications will help ensure the planter equipment is ready to go, and do the job of planting needed.
April 1, 2012 – Planter maintenance can save time and money
When it comes to adequate planter or seeder performance, it is more effective to conduct maintenance before planting, than to stop and repair a planter during the short ideal spring planting window. Part of planter maintenance includes checking how worn soil engaging disks or hoe-openers are, and if they are excessively worn replacing them. This helps ensure planting depth is uniform and accurate, and that if side-banded fertilizer is applied there is adequate separation between the seed-row and the fertilizer band.
March 20, 2012 – Proper Timing of Weed Control can Conserve Soil Moisture and Fertilizer Nutrients
It is beneficial to apply your herbicides for in-crop weed crop at the proper crop stage. Delaying applications can result in increased weed growth, and unwanted use of valuable soil moisture and available crop nutrients by weeds rather than your crop. It doesn’t cost more to spray a bit earlier than later, and it just takes a bit more planning and preparation to be on time.
March 10, 2012 – Fertigation of N can be Effective Option for Irrigation Farmers
Some irrigation farmers like to apply the majority of the N fertilizer for their crops by injecting liquid urea ammonium nitrate (UAN), e.g. an analysis 28-0-0 or 30-0-0, into irrigation water early in the growing season. This is called fertigation and has been shown to be a very effective, and efficient way of applying N. Usually UAN prices are similar per unit of N to urea (analysis 46-0-0) fertilizer. UAN is usually available from fertilizer retailers in most irrigated areas.
March 1, 2012 – Consider Starter Fertilizer for Spring 2012
For good or bad it appears that we are going to experience a cool and delayed spring in the NGP for 2012. This is because it is the third year in a row we are having a so called “La Niña” year described as the appearance of cooler than normal waters in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. One of the best management practices we have available to us is to help our crops get off to a good start for germination and emergence by applying a starter fertilizer in the seed-row of spring planted crops. This can be done using a liquid or granular blend of fertilizer that dominantly contains P, but also contains N, K and in some cases zinc (Zn). This is especially important on low testing N, P, K, and Zn soils, but there are often responses to moderate applications of starter fertilizer on even adequate testing N, P, K and Zn soils, when spring soil temperatures are lower than normal. See your local fertilizer retailer for what starter fertilizer blends are available for your use.
February 20, 2012 – Balanced Fertilization in the Northern Great Plains is More Than Just Applying the Correct Rates of N and P Fertilizers
Don’t neglect K, S and other mineral crop nutrients in your nutrient management program. Even though N and P fertilizers are applied in larger amounts compared to other major plant nutrient containing fertilizers (e.g. K, S, and the micro nutrients copper, zinc and manganese), if any of these other nutrients are low in availability, crop yields will be lower than potentially possible. One of the best ways to determine whether or not your soils are low or deficient in any of the necessary plant nutrients is to have soil samples taken and analyzed. Your local soil test laboratory agronomist will be able to advise you what nutrients to have tested when your soil samples are submitted for analysis.
February 10, 2012 – Minimizing Nitrogen (N) Fertilizer Losses
Of all the crop nutrients we apply in fertilizers, N is applied in largest quantity, and it is the one nutrient most subject to potential losses. This is because plant available N (ammonium (NH4+) or nitrate (NO3-)) is very reactive in the environment and under certain conditions can be lost from the soil–plant system. Generally the NH4+ is less prone to losses because the positive ionic charge is strongly attracted to the negatively charged soil particles. The soluble and negatively charged NO3- ion is much more subject to losses. One potential loss is by leaching downward and out of the soil profile into groundwater. Another is that under wet or saturated soil conditions soil bacteria exist under oxygen depleted conditions, and are adept at using the oxygen from NO3- and the N is lost to the atmosphere in the form of nitrous oxide (N2O), or nitrogen gas (N2). This type of loss is called denitrification.
There are some management practices that can be used to reduce N losses from applied fertilizer. Ammonium fertilizers or fertilizers easily converted to ammonium (e.g. urea or anhydrous ammonia) can be injected into the soil in shallow bands either under cool soil conditions (e.g. <5 C) in the fall, or just before spring planting. This will help delay conversion to the NO3- N form and will reduce potential denitrification losses. Another is to add nitrification inhibitors to ammonium based fertilizers in the fall or early spring to delay NH4+ conversion to NO3-. Yet another way to reduce losses is to apply a controlled or slow release N fertilizer to delay conversion to NO3-.
February 1, 2012 – Take a Look at Increasing Your Plant Densities
While attending agronomic meetings this past fall I have been impressed at the reported benefits from moving towards higher planting rates, and the resulting increased plant stand densities. Generally speaking there are some achievable benefits from increasing plant stand densities. Benefits include: more crop competition to weeds and less weed growth; less late tillers on cereal crops and less branching off main stems in broadleaf crops that result in earlier and more even maturity; improved crop grain quality due to the more even maturity, and in many cases improved yields. This is a management practice that is relatively easy to implement and can result in benefits. One item of advice is to check with other farmers and local agronomists in your area and discuss practical increased planting rates for the crop varieties and hybrids grown in your area.
January 20, 2012 – Cover Crops are an Increasingly Used Management Tool in Farming
A cover crop is a crop planted and grown on a field but that is not harvested. It is grown on a field in between harvested crops. Growth of the cover crop can be terminated using tillage or non-selective herbicides. Generally it is grown for a number of reasons: such as providing residue cover for erosion control, and or weed suppression; taking up, storing and conserving readily available crop nutrients that might be susceptible to leaching or gaseous losses. The conserved nutrients will be released to subsequent crops; and in the case of N-fixing legume cover crops, act as a supply of N for following crops. Each different agro-climatic region has cover crops that are more or less suitable for use. One example in the Northern Great Plains (NGP) region is when a small grain cereal can be broadcast spread over a potato field just before potato harvest in the fall. The cereal grain will germinate and grow providing valuable residue protection from wind or water erosion over the late fall, winter, and early spring until the next crop is planted. Often a spring cereal wheat or barley is planted that will be killed by freezing temperatures over the winter and there is little need to terminate cover crop growth by tillage or non-selective herbicides. It is useful to ask your local retail agronomist or government extension service to find out what types of cover crops are suitable for your area.
January 10, 2012 – The Importance of Maintaining or Increasing the Organic Matter Content of Topsoil
If two adjacent areas of a field are similar in soil properties, but one area has a measurably higher level of organic matter, chances are that area will consistently have higher yielding crops. Organic matter, often called humus, allows a soil to be more suitable for crop growth. This is because the organic matter helps make the soil less dense with more pores to allow easier root growth, and increased storage of water and air in the soil. It also increases the soils ability to store and release crop nutrients. As well, the organic material is itself a source of crop nutrients as it gradually decomposes. Differences in organic matter levels among soils in a field can be the result of many factors, but a couple can be affected by farmer management. One is the choice of crop rotation that will help gradually return more crop residues to a soil, compared to a different rotation. This includes both above surface residues and root mass below the soil surface. A diverse crop rotation that can include perennial forage crops generally helps increase organic content of soil. Another factor is a well balanced crop nutrient supply. This supply can be improved and managed by applying fertilizer and or manure in proper amounts or rates, and at the optimum time so the nutrients are available when crops need them. If crop nutrients are readily available, crops will effectively use these nutrients along with improved use of water from precipitation and or irrigation. Increases in both nutrient and moisture use efficiency by crops usually results in increased yields.
January 1, 2012 – No-tillage and Moisture Conservation
Over the past few decades one of the main benefits of farmers switching over to no-tillage cropping, from tilled cropping systems in the drier areas of the Northern Great Plains region, has been the benefit of conserving moisture. In most years increased available moisture results in increased crop yields. This is because even during a somewhat moist growing season there are usually some weeks when there is a moderate deficit of moisture for optimum crop growth. Some persons mistakenly think the extra moisture conserved is just due to less evaporation of moisture from the soil surface for no-tillage compared to when tillage operations are done. This is only one reason no-tillage results in additional conserved moisture. Another reason is that maintaining crop residues on the surface under no-tillage results in increased infiltration of precipitation, and less surface runoff. This is especially so when intense rainstorms occur. Also, soil that is no-till cropped has more and continuous cracks and previous crop root channels in the soil profile. These fill up with moisture, and water moves further and faster down into the soil, than if the cracks and root channels are disrupted to the depth of cultivation by tilling.
December 20, 2011 – The Value of Crop Records
There is great value in keeping crop yield and quality records on the fields you farm. The more years you have records the more insight it can give you as to how your fields have produced over time. It is important to realize that there can be great variation in the level of crop yield from one year to another, due to differences in the amount of precipitation received. However, there is often precipitation data available from government sources gathered at weather stations near your farm that can help you understand large ups or downs in crop yields from one year to another.
December 10, 2011 – Assessing the Level of Organic Matter in Your Fields
The level of organic matter in much of the soils in Northern Great Plains has declined since it was brought out of natural vegetation, mostly prairie grassland, and cultivated for field crops. Roughly there is half as much organic matter as originally present, and for the first few decades after being ploughed for agriculture the breakdown of the humus in this organic matter was the main source of N, S and some other nutrients for crop growth. The good news is that since the introduction of conservation tillage practices and application of adequate fertilizer, especially N, P, K, and S to replace harvest removals of these nutrients, the decline of organic matter levels has actually in most fields began to gradually increase. It is a slow process to increase organic matter content and it takes very accurate soil sampling and well designed statistical procedures to accurately document any change in the level of organic matter. If you have soil test results regularly over many years, at least a decade, that include analysis of the percent organic matter, you may be able to see a gradual increase in organic matter after implementing conservation tillage methods and balancing exported nutrients with nutrient applications.
December 1, 2011 – There is More Information than Just Nutrient Availability in Your Soil Test Report.
Soil test laboratories conduct more analyses than just plant nutrient availability when analyzing a soil sample from one of your fields. These other routine tests are done to help understand soil properties and characteristics that can affect crop growth and response to possible added plant nutrients in fertilizer. These tests usually include most of the following measurements:
- Soil Texture gives you the relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay-sized particles in a soil, and is often estimated by a laboratory staff person experienced in hand-texturing a soil, but can be accurately determined in a separate soil analysis procedure. This soil texture characteristic can help you understand and interpret other soil test results.
- Soil pH measures the reactivity of hydrogen ions in a soil (expressed as the negative log to base 10), or whether a soil is acidic (<6.5), alkaline (>7.5), or neutral (6.5 to 7.5). The pH of a soil can greatly affect how available various nutrients can be and how well crop plants may grow.
- Electrical conductivity (EC) measures how much soluble salts there are present in a soil. The more soluble salts the more saline a soil is and the more restrictive to plant growth. The scale of EC goes from close to zero up to 35 but most crops grow poorly after EC is greater than 4, and very poor to no growth after an EC of 8.
- Organic Matter content is expressed as the percentage organic material on a dry weight basis of the total weight of a soil. This test is not routinely done at all soil test laboratories but is at some, and can be requested at all soil test laboratories. In most mineral soils the levels can go from less than 0.5% to 12%. Generally a higher level of organic matter is beneficial to crop growth but many low organic matter soils can be successfully farmed. You can seek advice from your local soil test laboratory agronomist to see whether your soils organic matter level content is low, average or higher for soils in your area.
- Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is a measurement of the ability of a soil to store and release cations (e.g. calcium (Ca), K, magnesium (Mg) and sodium (Na)) it is expressed as millequivalents (meq) per 100 gram of soil, or centimols of positive charge (cmol+) per kg of soil. It is greatly affected by the clay and organic matter content of a soil. For example a loamy sand soil may have a CEC of 3 to 5, a loam soil 7 to 15, and a clay loam soil a CEC of 25 or greater. Soils with low CEC levels usually will require greater amounts of K fertilizer and sometimes Ca and Mg also.
November 20, 2011 – How Reliable is Soil Testing for Determining Whether You Need to Apply Micronutrients to Your Fields?
It depends on the micronutrient in question. In the Northern Great Plains region the main micronutrients that might be deficient in availability are zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), and boron (B). The soil analysis test calibrations for Zn, Cu, and Mn have been shown to be quite reliable in determining if a soil is low to deficient in these nutrients. Boron soil analysis and test calibrations tend to be less reliable. It is useful to contact the agronomist from the soil test laboratory where you regularly send your soil samples, if you have questions about interpreting soil test results for micronutrient availability.
November 10, 2011 – Monitoring Sulfur Availability in Your Fields
Sulfur availability monitoring through soil testing is much more difficult than N, P, or K. This is because residual plant available sulfate in a field can be very variable from one area to another. Sulfate is soluble in water and tends to move where the soil water flows and can accumulate in areas where water tends to evaporate. This happens especially if soil salinity is present, in the topsoil or subsoil. A person taking soil samples in a field should avoid taking any soil samples close to known patches of salinity. One sample from a mildly saline area can cause a blended subsample of soil from a field to show adequate to high levels of sulfate-S, while the majority of a field may be marginal to deficient in S.
November 1, 2011 – Monitoring the Availability of P and K in Your Fields
Of the major nutrients applied as fertilizer, namely N, P, K, and S, the availability of P and K is most reliably indicated using soil test results. These nutrients are slowly mobile in the soil, and when added tend to stay in the soil and are primarily taken from the soil through crop uptake and removal of harvested crop portions. Other losses are through surface runoff of water soluble P or K from surface located crop residues, or soil erosion of P or K attached to soil particles. Soil test levels of P and K tend to change gradually in soils and if the level of availability is determined to be marginal to deficient, crop yields are truly lower than could be achieved if adequate amounts of supplemental P and K are applied as fertilizer.
October 20, 2011 – How Can You Tell if You Applied Sufficient N in Your Cereal Grain Crop?
One method to determine whether you applied sufficient N to your crop of wheat or corn is to compare your crop’s protein level to what is considered an adequate acceptable protein level. There are protein levels considered adequate for various crops, for example spring wheat (13.5%), winter wheat (12%), and grain corn (8.0%). If the protein level in a crop is lower than these levels there is a good chance the crop could have used more N to produce both a greater yield and a higher level of protein. You can see how your crop compared by having representative grain samples analyzed for your various fields. If the results show protein levels close to the level considered adequate, your rate of N was probably close to optimum. If a lower level is measured, you might consider applying an increased level of N fertilizer. Lastly, if the protein level is greater than levels considered normal, maybe your N rates were a bit high. You also need to consider the weather experienced during the growing season. Generally if the weather was droughty you will achieve lower than normal yields and higher than normal levels of protein. Conversely if higher than normal precipitation was received, yields can be above normal and protein levels lower. So, using the above mentioned good-average protein levels as a standard, looking at the protein level of your grain samples can be useful, but take into account what moisture conditions were this year.
October 10, 2011 – It is Useful to Assess the Effectiveness of Nutrient Management on Your Fields?
One of the principles of sound nutrient management is to balance nutrient additions with nutrient export in harvested crop grain and, or forage. Some growers conduct a simple accounting procedure to determine how close additions are to harvest removals. For example after harvesting a wheat crop yielding 50 bu/A (13.5% protein) an estimated removal per acre of N, P2O5, K2O, and S is approximately 72 lb N, 25 lb P2O5, 21 lb K2O, and 5 lb S. If these amounts are greater than nutrients added as fertilizer and/or manure, the overall nutrient supplying capacity of a field soil will decrease. If nutrient additions are close to removals, crop production capacity is more sustainable.
October 1, 2011 – Before You Shorten Your Crop Rotations Consider the Benefits of Having a Diversity of Crops
The benefits of having a variety of crops in your crop rotation are well known. It reduces the risk of a build-up of crop diseases, allows more opportunities for selection of different methods of weed control (e.g. different choices of herbicides and crop competitiveness by some crops), and gives you different marketing opportunities in case one crop price is slumping in the markets while other crop prices stay more stable. However, because of market conditions there may be an opportunity to grow more of one crop that has strong prices. Before you drop one crop from your crop rotation and increase the amount of another crop grown, make sure the short-term marketing benefits are greater than the longer-term disadvantages.
September 20, 2011 – Consider Doing Soil Testing by Management Zones on One of Your Fields.
Conventional soil testing is done on a field basis by taking 15 to 20 soil cores at random spots in a field, bulking the soil cores together and submitting a sub-sample to a soil test laboratory to determine plant available nutrient levels. This approach gives you an average assessment of plant nutrient availability in the whole field. If you have always done conventional soil sampling and testing this way I suggest you consider a new approach on one of your fields. This is soil sampling by crop determined management zones. Developments in precision farming and variable rate technology now make it possible to divide a whole field into zones of different productivity by using multiple year satellite imagery that measures crop growth amounts. The field images are divided up into three to five different repeating zones of distinct growth potentials. The process is based on the principle that there are areas of fields that consistently result in greater or less crop growth and crop yields, compared to other areas. Using global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) a field map can be developed for your field showing the location of these different management zones. Separate soil samples can be taken and analyzed for the different management zones in the field. Usually the recommended rate of fertilizer nutrients varies between the different soil management zones. If you are interested in trying out this technology there are precision agriculture consultants and companies that will develop the maps showing the management zones for you and may be willing to do the soil sampling for you. Or you can take your own soil samples as guided by a GPS-GIS system. The potential benefit is to apply more nutrients to some areas where needed and less nutrients to other areas where less is needed, compared to a regular blanket field application of fertilizer. This can result in improved fertilizer use efficiencies and improved crop yields.
September 10, 2011 – Returning and Spreading Crop Residues is an Important On-Farm Recycling Program.
All farm production dependent on the growing of plants powered by the harnessing of sunlight energy through photosynthesis. Certain harvested portions of plants are the basic food stocks that are eaten directly by humans, further processed by the food industry into food products, or fed to livestock to be later processed into meat products consumed by humans. An often forgotten and less appreciated portion of crop growth is the residue left in fields after the harvested portions of crops are removed. These residues are important for the recycling of plant nutrients back into the soil. Sometimes the straw and chaff is collected and fed to livestock on mixed farms and the manure is eventually spread on fields, but on grain only production farms the residues are usually redistributed as evenly as possible back onto the soil surface. The overall crop residues not only include the straw and chaff, but plant roots and attached stems and dropped dead leaf material. These residues contain a portion of all nutrients needed by crops. The majority of N, P and S taken up by crops are removed with the grain in a grain crop, but still a minor portion of the N, P and S is contained in the residue. Potassium is different as the majority of it remains in the residue and only a minor portion is contained in the harvested grain. The recycled nutrients in crop residues are incorporated back into soil by leaching of soluble nutrients with precipitation, and or incorporation and mineralization of the remaining residues by the action of soil animals and microbes. It is important to spread the residues as evenly over the soil surface to achieve as even redistribution of the nutrients as possible.
I can remember one cooler than normal spring when I was asked to come look at uneven crop growth in a field of spring wheat planted into a field of barley residue. There were dark green strips of good growth wheat seedlings between yellowing wider strips of poor growth wheat seedlings in a repeating pattern across the field. The uneven crop growth was the result of uneven distribution of K in the field. The narrower dark green strips were where straw and chaff were windrowed behind the combine the previous fall. The original intent was to bale off the straw and chaff for cattle bedding and feed. However harvest took longer and winter snows came sooner and the windrows of straw and chaff were left in place over the winter. The straw in windrows was spread over the field by harrowing before no-till planting of the wheat crop in early May. The K in the straw and chaff is very soluble and was mostly leached by precipitation out the residues and into the topsoil over the fall, winter and early spring. There appeared to be sufficient K for the wheat seedlings in the windrow strips, but insufficient in the strips between the windrows. There had been no application of K in the seed-row starter blend of the wheat. The grower wondered if he should top-dress the crop with potash. I suggested that with warmer weather coming the soil would warm up and K in the topsoil would become more available and the poor areas would improve in growth. This did happen, but I suggested that soil tests be done in the fall to assess if K availability in the soil was becoming marginal, and the grower should consider including potash in the seed-row blend for future crops.
September 1, 2011 – Where Does the S in S Fertilizer Come From?
The majority of S used to make fertilizer now originates from either the separation of S compounds present in crude oil and natural gas fossil fuels, or the scrubbing of S after the burning of coal at thermal electric generating plants. The separated S can be elemental S that is burned to produce SO2, which is then reacted with anhydrous ammonia to produce ammonium sulfate ((NH4)2SO4), a granular fertilizer with the analysis of 21-0-0-24S. Other methods to make S fertilizers involve the use of straight elemental S, or elemental S along with ammonium sulfate. An example is a granular elemental S product formed by mixing finely ground and heated elemental S particles in a liquid state with a swelling clay compound (bentonite), usually 10% clay by weight, to produce a fertilizer analysis of 0-0-0-90S. In the Northern Great Plains, this source can take 3 to 4 years to be oxidized by soil microorganisms and become completely converted to the plant available sulfate-S ion (SO4-2). Other uses of elemental S in fertilizers include the mixing of fine particle-sized elemental S into compound dry granular fertilizers composed of ammonium phosphate or ammonium sulfate. Also S can be processed into ammonium thio-sulfate a liquid fertilizer with an analysis of 12-0-0-26S.
August 20, 2011 – Where does the K in K Fertilizer Come From?
The majority of K fertilizer used in the world is in the form of the muriate of potash or potassium chloride (KCl). This is a very soluble potassium salt that is an excellent source of K for crop growth. It is obtained by the mining of sedimentary salt deposits originating from the evaporation of former inland seas associated with continental uplift. Usually the deposit is a mixture of sylvite (KCl) crystals and halite (NaCl) crystals. The mined ore is crushed and the NaCl or salt is separated from the KCl using a brine tank technology where amine facilitated micro-air bubbles lift the KCl crystals up and out of the tank leaving the NaCl crystals behind. The KCl is formed into a granular product similar in size to other granular fertilizers and is used as the K component of fertilizer blends. There are other sources of K salts used as fertilizers. For example there are mined deposits of Langbeinite or potassium magnesium sulfate (K2SO4•2 MgSO4) that is used as a source of both K and magnesium (Mg) for crops. Potassium sulfate (K2SO4) is a less plentiful and more expensive K source, commonly obtained by the evaporation of extremely salty in-land sea waters (e.g. the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, and the Dead Sea in Israel). It is used for the fertilization of crops sensitive to chloride (Cl-)but requiring K (e.g. many fruit crops such as grapes). Muriate of potash can come in two analysis grades. First, 0-0-60 originates from crushed and separated sylvite crystals which are often red in color due to the inclusion of iron (Fe) in the crystals. The other analysis is 0-0-62, which is a white granular fertilizer that is close to pure KCl and usually originates from solution mining of sylvite ore, or the dissolving and subsequent controlled precipitation of crystals using heat evaporation of sylvite ore, with the resulting separation of the NaCl and KCl minerals.
August 10, 2011 – Where Does the P in P Fertilizer Come From?
Phosphorus in P fertilizer originates from natural mineral deposits, mostly sedimentary rock. These sediments are commonly called rock phosphate which is made up of apatite (Ca5(PO4)3(F,Cl,OH)CO3). Its content and composition depends on the rock source. Its phosphate (P2O5) content can vary from 18% to 40% depending on composition of the geologic deposit. More premium ores contain around 30% P2O5 or more. During processing the rock is ground, washed, and acidulated (often with sulfuric acid). This solubilizes the P, and after filtering out calcium sulfate (one of the reaction end-products) the remaining phosphoric acid is further used to manufacture soluble P fertilizer by reacting it with anhydrous ammonia. The most common P fertilizer in the Northern Great Plains is dry granular mono-ammonium phosphate (NH4H2PO4) or 11-52-0, but there are supplies of dry granular diammonium phosphate ((NH4)2HPO4) or 18-46-0, and liquid ammonium poly-phosphate (10-34-0). All three of these P fertilizers are made by reacting anhydrous ammonia with phosphoric acid, using somewhat different processes. The end result for all three of these P fertilizers is that a low-solubility rock phosphate mineral deposit is processed into soluble P fertilizer that benefits crop growth, yield, and quality.
August 1, 2011 – Where does the N in your N Fertilizer Come From?
Many people are surprised to learn that the N in fertilizers comes from the same air we breathe. Air contains approximately 78% N as di-nitrogen gas (N2). It is quite inert or unavailable to plants in that form and needs to be converted to a more reactive form to be available for plant use. At N fertilizer manufacturing facilities, N2 is converted to anhydrous ammonia (NH3) using a sophisticated industrial-chemical reaction called the Haber-Bosch process. Described simply, N2 is reacted with hydrogen gas (H2) under high heat and pressure in the presence of a catalyst to make ammonia. Normally natural gas or methane (CH4) is both the source of heat to accomplish the Haber-Bosch process, and the feedstock used to obtain the H2 gas. This is why NH3 is usually manufactured at locations where there are abundant supplies of natural gas.
July 20, 2011 – Are You taking a Short Holiday this Summer?
If you are, take some time during your travels to observe agricultural production in the area you visit. When travelling in a different state, province, or country I always learn useful information by observing what crops are grown and how the local farmers manage those fields and crops. I’ve taken opportunities to stop sometimes when a farmer is working in a field close to the road I’m driving on, and visit briefly with them. I’ve always been received most politely and they are enthusiastic to talk about their farm and crops. I tell them where I’m from, that I work in agriculture and I’m interested in learning about agriculture in their area.
July 10, 2011 – When Your Urban Relatives Come this Summer for a Visit, Take Them on a Tour of Your Farm
Many of our relatives who live in cities or towns could benefit from learning about how agricultural production happens on your farm. Visiting nieces and nephews, or if you are a little older, your grandchildren, can learn a lot from having the opportunity to walk them your fields and pastures with you while you teach them about crop and livestock production. Also explain how what you produce on your farm becomes food that they eat. The warm sunny days of summer make the out-of-doors on a farm, an ideal classroom to explain your business of agriculture.
July 1, 2011 – Consider Attending One or More Field Research Days this Summer
Find out what research field days are being held in your area this summer and consider attending. Events such as agricultural research station field days or grower commodity group tours are excellent opportunities to learn about new crops, improved varieties, new fertilizer developments, recently released pest control products, and research findings that may have beneficial use on your farm. I find one of the greatest benefits from going to one of these field days is the one-on-one discussions you will have with researchers, fellow farmers, and industry representatives. Don’t forget to take your camera, those images you take can be useful to help you remember important information.
June 20, 2011 – There are multi-nutrient foliar products that you can add into and along with your weed and fungicide spray solutions. How effective are these?
This approach to supplying plant nutrients can be beneficial if lacking nutrients are supplied at sufficient rates. It is useful to obtain the opinion of an agronomist or crop adviser, who is not connected with marketing the product, as to whether or not the rate applied is sufficient and the ingredients are effective. Sometimes, the actual rates of nutrients applied is too low, to result in a possible positive effect. The marketing promotion may sound good, but the amount of available and needed nutrients is lacking.
June 10, 2010 – There is a new product available in your area, it is supposed to increase crop yields, and it is claimed to contain crop nutrients and a micronutrient among others. Should you consider trying it?
Just because a sales person claims a product is great and will result in crop yield increases, it is good to remember to ask a few vital questions before considering using it. First, if the product contains plant nutrients (fertilizer), it should have a registered label or specification sheet, and a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) document available that describes the actual concentration of nutrients in the fertilizer, and it’s physical, chemical and toxicological properties. Second, ask for a reference to third-party independent research results from your area. If there is no local area or even research from the same continent, be cautious before purchasing it. Lastly, ask what rate of application is recommended and how much of the wanted micronutrient is applied at this rate. Most micronutrients need to be applied at a sufficient rate to get enough of the nutrient spread sufficiently over a field to supply the needed amount to all, or at least a majority of the target crop plants. For example, when applying boron to a crop, the commonly accepted rates are 2 to 3 lb/A if broadcasting a granular product, and 0.1 to 0.5 lb/A if applied as a foliar spray. Check with your local ag-input supplier, crop adviser, agronomist, or soil test laboratory for advice on what rates of application are used for the various micronutrients.
June 1, 2011 – How can you do an infield test to see if you might obtain a benefit from applying a micronutrient?
If you are not certain you have a micronutrient deficiency in a field and the soil testing only indicates that the level of availability is marginal, you might consider trying a few test strips of micronutrient application before applying a blanket application on a whole field or fields. For some nutrients where a foliar application is effective, e.g. copper and boron, this can be done by applying a high quality foliar micronutrient product at early to mid-vegetative stage of the crop. An ideal piece of equipment to do this with is a narrow boom sprayer installed on a quad recreational vehicle, or a small three-point hitch sprayer using a small tractor. In the case of a granular product, you can hand apply a short narrow strip of granules using a hand-crank, or wheeled yard fertilizer spreader. Be careful to calculate out and apply the appropriate rate of application, and mark the treated area using a tall enough stake with a bright-colored flag. Note the location of the test strip using a GPS unit. Observe the treated area through the growing season up until crop harvest and see if there is improved crop growth or not. You may also want to have plant samples taken from the treated and untreated area for analysis of the concentration of the nutrient in question.
May 20, 2011 – Detection of some micronutrient deficiencies earlier in the growing season allows you time to correct the deficiency.
It is usually more effective to apply a needed micronutrient fertilizer before or at planting than after a deficiency is discovered in a growing crop. Most micronutrient deficiencies can be best corrected through applying a sufficient rate of high solubility granular product as a broadcast and incorporated operation, or as a component of the seed-row blend. If, however, no micronutrient deficiency was suspected and it is first observed as a visual symptom at the early vegetative growth stage of a crop, there may be a possibility to supply some micronutrient by a foliar application. It is important to use a high quality, highly soluble product containing the needed micronutrient. Check with your local crop adviser or agronomist for advice on what available products you might consider using.
May 10, 2011 – What forms of micronutrient fertilizers are available and what types are best for your use?
Many of the micronutrients in their pure chemical elemental form are metallic compounds; for example, zinc, manganese, iron, calcium, magnesium, and copper. The source of raw product for many of these micronutrients begins as by-products of the metallurgy industries. This is usually in the form of oxides of the metal, for example copper (Cu) as cupric oxide (CuO). This form of Cu is not immediately available to crops because plants can only absorb Cu as the cupric ion Cu2+ ion. For this reason, cupric oxide is usually reacted in manufacturing with an acid such as sulfuric acid to form a hydrated copper sulfate (CuSO4 ·5H2O). This type of granulated copper sulfate can be used as a fertilizer, but is rather corrosive on equipment and a partially acidulated material is more easily formulated into a granular product. When purchasing a granular micronutrient fertilizer, it is useful to check the product label to see the level of solubility. As a general guideline, the solubility should be 50% or higher. Using the example of Cu mentioned above, a granular Cu product with less than 10% solubility means that 90% of the Cu in the granule is in the CuO form and will be poorly available to the target crop. Just because a product contains the micronutrient needed, it doesn’t mean it is in a soluble form immediately available to the crop.
May 1, 2011 – How much of a micronutrient do you apply to a crop?
The rate of application of a specific micronutrient depends a lot on how you apply it. If you plan on using a micronutrient formulated as a granular product, you will apply more if broadcast and incorporated compared to applying it as part of a starter fertilizer blend placed in the seed-row of a crop. For example, if you want to apply zinc (Zn) to a wheat crop, you would commonly apply it at a rate of 5 lb Zn/A if broadcast and incorporated compared to 2 lb Zn/A if included in a seed-row blend. Additionally, if applied as a foliar spray, the rate would be lowered to a 0.5 to 1.0 lb Zn/A. Check with the manufacturers label for the micronutrient product you plan on using for the appropriate rate of application to use with different application methods.
April 20, 2011 – How can you determine whether or not you might want to apply a micronutrient?
There are a few ways to find out if you should consider applying a micronutrient. One is visually observing deficiency symptoms specific to a certain nutrient and crop, in poorer growth areas of a field. Second, have a soil sample taken on a field prior to planting and have it tested for plant-available levels for the micronutrients of concern. Third, have a plant sample taken during the growing season, e.g. at an early or mid-vegetative stage of the crop, and have the plant sample analyzed for levels of micronutrient content. The testing laboratory can let you know whether or not the level of nutrient measured falls safely within a commonly accepted range of nutrient sufficiency. Fourth, have the grain or harvested portion of a crop analyzed for micronutrient content. Quite often the first way, or seeing poor growth areas exhibiting a severe nutrient deficiency, is the first sign that there may be a micronutrient deficiency for a crop in a field. At this point, there is usually severe yield and economic loss experienced. It is less costly to notice marginal levels of nutrient availability through soil testing, plant sample testing, and or grain testing before the deficiency becomes severe.
April 10, 2011 – How much of a micronutrient is really used by a crop?
It depends on the nutrient and there are differences between various crop types. In the case of a wheat crop, the actual amount of copper (Cu) used is rather small in comparison to the macronutrients – N, P, and K. For example, the N, P, and K taken up and removed in the grain of a 59 bu/A wheat crop as part of a research study was 107 lb N, 13.2 lb P (30.4 lb P2O5), and 16.8 lb K (20.1 lb K2O) per acre. In comparison, the Cu taken up and removed in that same wheat grain was 0.017 lb Cu. There was 6,294 times more N, 776 times more P, and 988 times more K, than Cu in the wheat grain. However, it needs to be emphasized that even though the actual amount used is small or “micro”, for a micronutrient compared to a macronutrient, that small amount is vital to crop growth. I have seen a field of wheat that could yield 59 bu/A, when there is adequate moisture and heat units received, to yield only 20 bu/A, or even less, when there is a severe Cu deficiency in the soil. While crops use a small amount of many micronutrients, they are “big” when plant growth and yield are concerned.
April 1, 2011 – The name “micronutrients” doesn’t mean “little in importance nutrients”
There are fourteen mineral nutrients that are considered essential for plant growth. We can categorize these nutrients into three groups based on the amount of the nutrients used. The macronutrients are those that are used in greatest amount and include N, P, and K. Next are the secondary nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. The last group, the micronutrients, include boron, chloride, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel and zinc. Just because a nutrient is grouped into the secondary or micronutrient category doesn’t mean it isn’t vitally important to plant growth. It is useful to have both soil samples and plant samples analyzed for nutrients from all three categories. You don’t need to test for all fourteen mineral nutrients as many soils can supply some of those nutrients for hundreds of years of farming without any supplemental additions. It is useful to check with your local soil test laboratory to know which nutrients are usually tested for in your area, and which may become marginal or deficient in availability to crops.
March 20, 2010 – The Benefits and Risks of a Higher Speed Planting Operation
There is always a trade-off between getting planting done sooner by increasing the ground speed, causing poorer depth placement of seed. For example, many planters and associated openers are designed to operate within certain intervals of ground speed, e.g. usually 4 to 5 mph (6 to 8 km/hr). If planting operations are done at excessively high speeds, e.g. 7 to 9 mph (11 to 14 km/hr) more acres can be planted in less time, but seed depth is less accurate, often too deep. This happens when seed-rows planted with the front ranks of openers can be covered over with extra soil being thrown by openers in the back second or third ranks of openers on the planter. These differences in depth of planting can be observed with uneven crop emergence where at least one-third of planted rows emerge late because of excessive planting depth. It is important to check with planter manufacturers to know the advised speed of operation.
March 10, 2011 – Check and Replace Excessively Worn Openers on Your Planting Equipment
Many of the new planting machines, especially air-drills, can be equipped with double-shoot openers that allow placement of seed and side-banded fertilizer all in one field operation. It is important that there is adequate separation between the seed and the zone of fertilizer. This is usually at least 1.5 to 2 in. separation. After many acres of planting, the openers can become worn, especially in abrasive, coarse textured soils, and the amount of seed-fertilizer separation can decrease to the point that crop germination and emergence is decreased due to ammonium toxicity from added N urea or ammonia-containing fertilizers, or even from the salt effect of all the fertilizers in the side-banded fertilizer. Your planter or opener manufacturer or dealer can advise you on when to replace worn openers on your planter.
March 1, 2011 – Less Overlap of Planting and Fertilization Reduce Farm Costs
Complementary technologies are available that can be used to prevent overlap of field planting and fertilization operations. Steering guidance control systems allow field operations to be so accurate that if overlap does occur it is less than inches compared to even extremely accurate manual steering that usually had up to one or two foot wide gaps or overlaps in fields. Another development is sectional control systems available on some planters and fertilizer application equipment. It is possible to shut off one or all sections on a planter or fertilizer applicator, if it is equipped with three to five separately controlled sections. It has been estimated that use of these sectional control systems can save 10 to 15% on seed and fertilizer inputs by just avoiding overlap applications. This sectional control technology was developed for spraying equipment but now is being successfully used for other field operations.
February 20, 2011 – Consider Additional Spring Soil Sampling and Analysis this Year
Most of the Northern Great Plains region received above to excess levels of precipitation in 2010, although there was a droughty area in northwest Alberta or the Peace River area. There was severe flooding in some areas, especially northeastern Saskatchewan and some areas of southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. In eastern Saskatchewan, the excessively wet conditions prevented many fields from being planted and a forced year of summer fallow. Above average rainfall in most areas encouraged good crop growth, but lower than normal heat units, especially in the early spring and summer, which delayed crops from maturing. Fortunately, warm and sufficiently dry weather in October and early November allowed harvest of most seeded crops.
The exact nutrient availability status of the excessively wet, fallow fields is not known. It is advised to have soil sampling and analysis done on these fields to know levels of available nutrients, especially N. Reports from fall soil sampling are quite variable show there can be quite different levels of available N from field to field, and even within a field. Farmers should seek advice from their local retail agronomist or certified crop adviser on how to have soil sampling done to assess nutrient availability on specific fields.
February 10, 2011 – Keep Weeds at a Disadvantage by Having Crop Growth Type Diversity in Your Crop Rotation
If you only grow crops of the same growth habit in your crop rotation, you will encourage the best adapted weeds to flourish. For example, if a winter wheat - fallow rotation is used and only winter wheat is grown every other year, you encourage infestation of winter annual weeds that have the same growth habit as winter wheat. Examples are winter annual grassy weeds such as Downy Brome (cheatgrass) or Japanese Brome. By introducing a crop with a different growth habit into your rotation, you can reduce the successful growth and seed set of the weeds. For example, by growing a spring planted crop, e.g. spring barley or wheat, or a spring seeded broadleaf crop such as field pea or mustard, you can greatly reduce the amount of Downy Brome or Japanese Brome in your fields. Consider replacing winter wheat for one of two possible plantings during 4 years of a crop-fallow rotation with one of the spring-seeded crops noted above.
If you continuously crop or plant fields every year, a strategy of growing a rotation of different growth habit crops helps reduce weed problems. For example, inclusion of just one year of a fall planted winter cereal in a 4-year rotation rather than all spring seeded crops can reduce the amount of wild oats in your fields. One example of a rotation might be a spring seeded pulse crop (e.g. field pea), followed by winter wheat, then a spring seeded oilseed crop (e.g. flax or canola), and finally a spring seeded cereal (e.g. wheat or barley).
February 1, 2011 – Most Crops Benefit from Early Planting
Planting early generally results in greater yields than planting late. It is useful to take a look at what crops you are planning to grow this year and decide which crops to plant first and which ones to plant later. For example, crops that can tolerate early planting better than others are wheat and field pea. Barley can be planted early, but due to a shorter growing season requirement, it can be planted later. Spring canola does better with slightly warmer soils for planting and is less frost tolerant than the previous crops mentioned. There are other crops that need warm soil and will just sit dormant in a cool soil before adequately germinating; a classic example is corn. So, one possible planting order of the crops used as examples above might be field pea, wheat, barley, canola, and finally corn. There may also be choice of different varieties or hybrids within each main crop type that can be planted earlier or later depending on required heat units.