Spring Fertilizer Requirements
Snow might still be on the ground, but it’s never too early to think about the year ahead. Many producers have their crop plans already in place. Last fall’s early snow means spring fertilizing is on the radar for a lot of farmers. In this month’s article, we talk to Connor Bohachewski, our Territory Manager for northern Saskatchewan and northern Manitoba. A certified agronomist, Connor grew up in one of the regions that he now represents. He knows the unique challenges that exist for producers in the north. Soil conditions, weather patterns and growing seasons all affect spring fertilizer requirements.
SPRING FERTILIZING: REMEMBER THE 4Rs
When it comes to spring fertilizing, one thing is for sure. There are a lot of questions. When is the right time to apply? Which product to use? How much and how often? One pass or two? What happens if you damage the soil? The answers will be dependent on many factors, but to keep things simple, Connor likes going back to the basics and remembering the 4R’s. The right product at the right rate at the right time using the right placement. The more planning and preparation you do ahead of time, the better equipped you are for being ready to roll when the snow melts.
What kind of product should you use? There are many options out there and each one has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s also about personal preferences as well. “Using the right fertilizer will depend on your operation and what you like to work with,” says Connor. “Some people like using granular because it’s easier to see and you can see the separation between the seed and the fertilizer.”
There’s also liquid fertilizer as well as anhydrous ammonia, typically used when pre-seeding is recommended to warm the soil up and where more moisture is present. The downside of using liquid fertilizer, says Connor, is that you can’t see it so you don’t know how much is actually staying in the soil.
“Sustainable farming practices are always top of mind for today’s producers so more and more of them are using no till or one pass applications,” he adds. “In some areas this isn’t always possible though. Where it’s colder and the soil has a lot of moisture, you really need to work it to achieve proper seeding conditions.”
A complete fertilizer is a mix of the three main nutrients that plants need to grow: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The rate is the combination of how much of each nutrient is needed for maximum growth. Fertilizer rates as they equate to yield are available from provincial Departments of Agriculture.* However, it’s important to note that varying soil conditions (wet vs dry) and crop intentions (cereal vs legume) are two factors that also determine how much fertilizer is required.
“It’s not always about achieving more yield,” says Connor. “It’s also about realizing cost efficiencies. Moisture is the most limiting factor when it comes to determining yield across the prairies.”
Having too much fertilizer in the soil can cause it to leach out or, even worse, severely damage the soil to the point where it becomes unusable. Too little fertilizer greatly reduces your crop’s growth potential. In both of these scenarios, there would be a loss to your bottom line.
What’s just as important, says Connor, is ensuring you have the proper seeding tool set up. “You want to look at the amount of seed separation you can get as well as the amount of product that you can put down. It’s about tailoring your system to the tools you have. So if you’re looking at one-inch banding with your canola, you’re limited by what your drill can actually do.”
Connor also recommends working with a certified agrologist to help you come up with the right fertilizer rate plan. Additionally, regular soil sampling – every two or three years – can prove useful during the planning stages. “Knowing what you’re putting into the soil will always be in direct correlation to what you’re planning to take out in the way of yield.”
It’s a popular saying: timing is everything. But when it comes to fertilizing, it’s critical. Being aware of current soil conditions, regional growing seasons and changing weather patterns contribute to good planning and preparation, particularly around the time you want to fertilize.
“Here in the north, we have shorter growing seasons. It’s important to stay as close as possible to 100 percent yield potential,” says Connor. “We don’t have a lot of time for downtime and if the seeding isn’t done right at the outset, that means a second or even a third pass, which drastically affects yield potential.”
One of the best things a producer can do, says Connor, is to be flexible. Be ready and willing to adapt the plans that are in place for what might happen later. “It’s about reading your operation’s capabilities and having confidence to know you’re well prepared. If needed, can make adjustments to ensure yield without negatively affecting your input costs.”
This is a direct reference to your equipment and tool capabilities and your seeding intentions. If you’re planning to do a single shoot application, you need to be mindful of both the fertilizer and the row in relationship to the seed. A narrow band is limiting while a wide band lets you put down more fertilizer. In a double shoot application, you’re able to see where the seed goes and where the fertilizer is put down.
Connor says, “Good spring fertilizing is really about focusing on what will help you realize the best yield, what has the potential to generate the greatest return and which is the most sustainable for your individual operation.”