Fertility and Nutrients
Spring advisory meetings under way
April 7, 2011 -One of the first signs of spring is the start of regular weekly meetings of Ontario crop advisors, dealers and provincial extension personnel. And Tuesday’s meeting in Exeter yielded some surprising topics for this stage of the growing season.
April 7, 2011 By Top Crop Manager
April 7, 2011 –Some farmers have begun spraying their wheat, others are considering converting forages to soybeans or even corn. The discussions were varied and intense, trying to determine early season issues and directions being taken in the field, as crop advisors, farm dealers and extension personnel from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) met Tuesday morning in Exeter.
The issue foremost on everyone’s mind was corn: are we seeing more acres being converted? Some agreed that edible bean acres will take the largest hit in terms of conversion to corn, although there was one mention that some in the vegetable-growing regions were considering turning tomato and cabbage fields into corn. Others noted they’ve been getting phone calls about turning forage acres into soybeans or even edibles. The point to remember with many of those calls is that came from Dufferin, Grey-Bruce and east of Toronto, where the ground isn’t like southern Ontario; it may be good ground but it needs to be worked first instead of planted to no-till soybeans.
On the production side, Peter Johnson, provincial cereals specialist, noted that Ontario growers planted nearly a million acres of wheat last fall (987,000 acres, according to Agricorp). Eight percent of that is soft white, 13 percent is hard red and most of the remaining crop is soft red. There is some concern, Johnson said, about snow mould, mostly to the north of London and into Midwestern Ontario, as the remaining snow on the fields continues to recede. Are the levels of the mould sufficient to kill the crop? Likely not, said Johnson, but it could cause a set back to crop’s progression as the weather warms. Johnson also mentioned the possibility that dwarf bunt could be an issue this year, and that he’ll be keeping an eye on the condition.
Another issue that came up in the discussions was declining potassium soil test levels. Tests from Ottawa to Niagara and down to Chatham-Kent are showing some drastic changes; in some cases from 170 three years ago, down to 70. Several theories were put forth, including stronger corn stalks that aren’t decomposing as quickly or that larger corn yields of the past few years are depleting the soils. Further discussion suggested that perhaps it’s an every-other-year phenomenon, and that perhaps we’re in the down year. Something significant is happening, environmentally, and it’s worth further investigation.
On the inputs side, early application of fungicides was discussed, as was the use of sulphur (ammonium thiosulphate and potassium thiosulphate) on wheat. Fungicide use was raised because of the rates of nitrogen that are being pushed, in order to boost yields in wheat. But with the propensity for lodging that has been seen in the past few seasons, it is best to use an early fungicide application, especially if growers are pushing higher N rates. Test results indicated that 120 lbs of N with an early fungicide application saw a 1.5 bu/ac response. Another 30 lbs of N on top of that garnered a 2.5 bu/ac yield response, also with an early fungicide application. But one crop advisor noted that fungicide use isn’t the only impact on standability; it’s a total package, he said. So it isn’t only a reflection of N rates, but of P rates, fungicides, planting populations; a total package.
As for the use of ammonium sulphate, sulphur levels continue to fall. Acid rain is less of an issue, so more research is needed into whether it is a matter of "if" versus "when" it’s needed. Research by OMAFRA’s Greg Stewart from 1999 to 2001 saw no effect from the addition of sulphur, however, a decade of reductions in acid rain levels could mean there is a need for it. Dale Cowan of Agris Co-op, with its head office based in Chatham, has carried out research at four sites and saw a response to ammonium sulphate in wheat, however it was on lighter, sandier soils with lower organic matter levels, and it was for one year. Peter Johnson added that he’s also looking for participants in some field studies for much the same work.