The young scientist spent a few days this past summer in the heart of Canada’s wheat belt working on the problem of aluminum toxicity in acidic soil. It’s a problem that affects wheat growers in many parts of the world although not in Saskatchewan, home to the CLS, where Kopittke spent an intense 36 hours earlier this year.
Globally, it is estimated that acid soils result in more than US$129 billion in lost production annually. In Western Australia, farmers lose A$1.5 billion annually because the aluminum in the soil destroys the root system, killing the plant. For the full story, click here.
In an effort to shine a light on the current status of herbicide resistance in Canada, Top Crop Manager (TCM) has launched the Herbicide Use Survey!
As an industry leader providing up-to-date information and research, TCM is looking to gather input from producers across the country in order to develop a more thorough understanding of the state of herbicide resistance in Canada.
TCM’s Herbicide Use Survey will offer participants the ability to help tell the story of these important crop protection tools by having farmers like you share how herbicides are being used.
The survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete, and will ask details like soil and farm acreage, types of weeds being targeted, as well as management practices. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Those who complete the survey will be entered into a random draw for a $500 visa card! Complete the survey here.
The Herbicide Use Survey ends December 8th. Results will be collected and presented at the 2018 Herbicide Resistance Summit in Saskatoon, Sask., on February 27 and 28.
Don't forget to Sign up for the TCM E-Newsletter to stay informed.
Soil is a vital natural resource and the foundation of agricultural production. The many benefits of a healthy soil are important - underpinning the long-term sustainability of the farm operation, our agri-food sector and our environment.
What is a healthy agricultural soil? Essentially it refers to a soil's ability to support crop growth without becoming degraded or otherwise harming the environment.
While a soil can be degraded through particular practices, the good news is that many best management practices (BMPs) can build back and safeguard soil health.
The draft strategy builds on the vision, goals, objectives and concepts presented in the 2016 'Sustaining Ontario's Agricultural Soils: Towards a Shared Vision' discussion document.
It also builds on the extensive soil health efforts of agricultural organizations and OMAFRA. It was developed in collaboration with the agricultural sector, and it reflects feedback received during public engagement on the discussion document, from farmers, Indigenous participants and other interested groups and individuals.
OMAFRA would like to hear your thoughts and feedback on the draft strategy. Your input will help guide the development of a final Soil Health and Conservation Strategy for Ontario which will be released in spring 2018.
For more information, click here.
That means a lot of the insects at the bottom of our food chain are dying out, which could have an unexpected, but noticeable impact on the lives of humans. READ MORE
On one hand, it is an essential nutrient for crops.
However, excess nitrogen in fertilizers can enter groundwater and pollute aquatic systems. This nitrogen, usually in the form of nitrate, can cause algal blooms. Microbes that decompose these algae can ultimately remove oxygen from water bodies, causing dead zones and fish kills.
In a new study, researchers have identified nitrate removal hotspots in landscapes around agricultural streams.
“Understanding where nitrate removal is highest can inform management of agricultural streams,” says Molly Welsh, lead author of the study. “This information can help us improve water quality more effectively.”
Welsh is a graduate student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She studied four streams in northwestern North Carolina. The streams showed a range of degradation and restoration activity. One of the streams had been restored. Two others were next to agricultural lands. The fourth site had agricultural activity in an upstream area.
The researchers analyzed water and sediment samples from the streams. They also analyzed soil samples from buffer zones next to the streams. Buffer zones are strips of land between an agricultural field and the stream. They often include native plants. Previous research showed they are particularly effective at absorbing and removing nitrate.
Welsh’s research confirmed previous findings: Nitrate removal in buffer zones was significantly higher than in stream sediments. “If nitrate removal is the goal of stream restoration, it is vital that we conserve existing buffer zones and reconnect streams to buffer zones,” says Welsh.
Within these buffer zones, nitrate removal hotspots occurred in low-lying areas. These hotspots had fine-textured soils, abundant soil organic matter, and lots of moisture. The same was true in streams. Nitrate removal was highest in pools where water collected for long times. These pools tended to have fine sediments and high levels of organic matter. However, pools created during stream restoration by installing channel-spanning rocks did not show high levels of nitrate removal. Creating pools using woody debris from trees may be more effective than rock structures for in-stream nitrogen removal.
The researchers also tested simple statistical models to understand which factors promote nitrate removal. Bank slope and height, vegetation and soil type, and time of year explained 40% of the buffer zone’s nitrate removal. Similar to the hotspots identified in the field experiment, fine sediment textures, organic matter, and dissolved carbon content were key to removing nitrates in streams.
“Our results show that it may be possible to develop simple models to guide nitrogen management,” says Welsh. “However, more work is needed in terms of gathering and evaluating data. Then we can find the best parameters to include in these models.”
Welsh continues to study how stream restoration influences the movement of water and nitrate removal. She is also examining how steps to increase nitrate removal influence other aspects of landscape management.
Read more about Welsh’s work in Journal of Environmental Quality.
Funding was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship.
Rising temperatures could open millions of once frigid acres to the plow, officials, farmers and scientists predict.
This story is part of our special report Rising Heat: A warming planet braces for a sweltering future. For the full story, click here.
The emergence of silks is the R1 stage. As a rough guideline, once pollination occurs, it takes about 60 more days for the crop to reach physiological maturity. Thus, silk timing can give a bit of an indication of when maturity of the corn crop may be expected – a crop that pollinated around July 25th may be expected to reach maturity or black layer sometime around September 25th. While there can be some small differences across hybrid maturities, hybrid maturity ratings have a much more significant impact on the length of time in vegetative stages than reproductive stages.
The R2 blister stage occurs following pollination when fertilized kernels are just beginning to develop, while the R3 milk stage occurs when kernels are turning yellow and are beginning to fill with an opaque milky fluid. Grain fill is rapid by the R3 stage, and maturity under normal conditions would be 5-6 weeks away.
The R4 dough stage occurs when the milk solution turns pasty as starch continues to form, with some kernels beginning to dent as dough begins to turn to hard starch at the dent ends of kernels. Under normal conditions, the dough stage may be generally 3-5 weeks from maturity.
The R5 dent stage occurs when the majority of kernels have dented, and the milk line, which separates the hard starch phase from the soft dough phase, progresses from the dent end towards the cob. The dent stage may last approximately 3 weeks.
The R6 maturity or black layer stage marks physiological maturity. This occurs when a small layer of cells at the base of the kernel near where the kernel connects to the cob die and turn black, which marks the end of grain fill from the cob into the developing kernel. Maximum dry matter accumulation has occurred, so any frost or stress event after this stage will have little impact on yield unless harvestability is compromised. Black layer normally forms once milk line has reach the base of the kernel, although significant stress events (extended period of very cool average temperatures, significant defoliation) can result in black layer formation before the milk line has reached the base of the kernel.
In the event where temperatures are low enough (ie. -2°C), or last long enough to penetrate and kill the entire plant, there is no ability of the plant to continue filling grain, and yield at that point has been fixed.
Any frost event during the blister or milk stage would result in significant grain yield losses as significant grain fill is still yet to occur at these stages.
A light frost event at the dough stage may reduce yields by 35% while a killing frost may reduce yields by 55% (Lauer, 2004).
Yield loss in the dent stage depends on the relative time left to mature. A light frost at the beginning of dent stage may reduce yields by 25% while a killing frost may reduce yields by 40%. During the mid-dent stage, significant dry matter accumulation has occurred, and light and killing frosts may reduce yields around 5% and 10% respectively.
Estimating Time to Maturity
“Farmers already have production challenges with growing crops, and this will add another layer of complexity...We don’t know yet how it is going to impact at the farm level,” says Mario Tenuta, a soil scientist at the University of Manitoba.
Tenuta says agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrous oxide is the big one for agriculture. The increase in agricultural emissions in Canada is largely related to an increase in nitrogen (N) fertilizer use. In Canada, N fertilizer use has risen five-fold since 1970. In 2009, agriculture in Manitoba, for example, was responsible for 35 per cent of total GHG emissions (excluding fuel and fertilizer production). Fifty per cent of nitrous oxide emissions came from fertilizer and crop residue, and another 27 per cent came from indirect emissions from the soil.
In December 2015, the Manitoba government committed to reduce emissions from 2005 levels by one-third by 2030 and one-half by 2050. The province is committed to being emission neutral by 2080.
“Nobody likes to be a target, but we are. It is happening so what are we going to do about it?” Tenuta says.
4Rs and enhanced efficiency fertilizers
The “4R” nutrient stewardship program focuses on getting the best nutrient use efficiency by using the right source, rate, time of application, and placement of fertilizer. It aims to improve or maintain yield and profitability, while limiting fertilizer loss and providing water and air quality benefits. From a GHG emissions perspective, Tenuta says financial incentives could be used to encourage implementation of the 4Rs to reduce emissions. In 2015 at the Manitoba Agronomist Conference he reviewed current research and outlined how using the 4Rs could reduce GHG emissions.
Two research projects in Manitoba showed how increasing the N fertilizer rate also increased nitrous oxide emissions. In a Carberry, Man., potato crop, nitrous oxide emissions increased linearly as the N rate increased from zero to 240 pounds per acre. The economic rate was about 60 pounds per acre. In another trial in Glenlea, Man., a similar increase in emissions occurred as N rates increased.
“The simple way to reduce emissions was to match application rate to crop uptake,” Tenuta says.
Crop rotation also affected emissions. Nitrogen fixing legumes such as fababean, alfalfa or soybean had little to no nitrous oxide emissions and were fixing N into the cropping system instead of emitting N. Other rate considerations to potentially reduce emissions include using variable rate N, soil testing every year, and better understanding differences in variety and hybrid N requirements.
The second of the 4Rs, placement of fertilizer, also has an impact on emissions. Subsurface banding N fertilizer reduces nitrous oxide emissions, and when enhanced efficiency fertilizers such as environmentally smart nitrogen (ESN) or SuperU fertilizers are banded, reductions are even greater, at 26 per cent less than banded urea.
“Good band closure and coverage of the band is important. We are also looking into band depth, because we are banding more shallow with crops like canola, and we don’t know enough about losses from shallow bands,” Tenuta says.
Another key component of the 4Rs is application timing. Traditional yield estimates based on N application timing showed fall broadcast/incorporated to be 80 per cent of spring broadcast/incorporated, while fall banded was equal to spring broadcast/incorporated, and spring banded was 20 per cent better. However, Tenuta has found very late fall application just before freeze-up doesn’t increase nitrous oxide emissions when compared to spring banded N. Two years of his research comparing fall versus spring anhydrous ammonia application found the spring timing had much greater nitrous oxide emissions.
“Lower emissions from fall application goes contrary to what people thought might happen. Because the soil temperature was very cool, the timing used nature to stabilize the N and freeze it in,” Tenuta says.
Fertilizer source is the final of the 4Rs to take into consideration. With conventional sources of N fertilizer, scientists generally accept that anhydrous ammonia produces the highest emissions, followed by urea, ammonium and nitrate fertilizers. Nitrification – the conversion of ammonium to nitrates – is behind most nitrous oxide emissions from N fertilizer.
The other choices in sources of N fertilizer come from enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEF). These include stabilized, controlled release, slow release and nutrient blend N products. The goal of these products is to slow the conversion of N fertilizer into forms that are more easily lost through ammonium volatilization, nitrification or denitrification, and to more closely match N availability with crop uptake.
Enhanced efficiency fertilizer mechanism of action. Source: Tenuta, University of Manitoba.
“In the field, the research shows that these EEF products really do work. They tend to provide a larger benefit in wet years,” Tenuta says. “I recommend that you talk to the manufacturer representatives to make sure you are using the right product properly.”
Another source of N that reduces nitrous oxide emissions is legume plowdown as an enhanced efficiency N source. Current research at the U of M has found that, compared to conventional cropping systems with N fertilizer, a legume plowdown results in very little emission.
“You have to estimate if EEF are worth it for your system. For example, if you’re putting more N fertilizer on in the fall to compensate for winter losses, you might be able to put on a EEF in the fall at a reduced N rate and that might pay for the additional cost of the product,” Tenuta says.
He adds that uses of the 4Rs and EEF N products are currently focused on improving yield and N use efficiency for higher profitability. But they can also play a role in reducing nitrous oxide emissions and helping to meet emission reduction targets. Ultimately, if farmers are contributing to emissions reductions, the hope is that they will be compensated for those practices.
Best management practice recommendations to reduce nitrous oxide emissions
• Use the 4Rs – right rate, time, source and placement.
• Optimize N application rates through soil testing, understanding crop requirements and interactions with the other Rs.
• Consider using lower emitting sources of N fertilizer.
• Legume crops emit little nitrous oxide.
• Green manuring limits nitrous oxide emissions.
• Banding works.
• Investigate ways of making EEF products work through reduced N application rates and improved N use efficiency.
• Spring apply N fertilizer unless fall banding can be accomplished shortly before fall freeze-up.
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Since 2011, Morrissey has been studying the impact of neonics on Prairie wetlands. More specifically, she’s been charting the extent to which wetlands could be contaminated by neonic residues, and the impacts on invertebrate life that form the basis of the food web, as well as effects on bird populations in those wetlands.
“We were interested in wetlands in the Prairie pothole region because of their ecological significance,” she says. “There’s an obvious interaction between water and agriculture in this region of Canada.”
Morrissey and her graduate students have analyzed hundreds of wetlands in the Prairies, and have bird studies at five sites in a range of landscapes across Saskatchewan. Almost all of these sites are located on private land. Morrissey says most farmers are receptive and interested in her work.
“Most people genuinely think the chemicals they’re using are safe because they’re on the market and they are generally following guidelines as to how to apply them,” she says. “It’s the guidelines that we believe are flawed. They aren’t necessarily as safe as [people] were led to believe they are. They do say you shouldn’t use the chemicals near water, but that isn’t possible in the Prairies.”
Last year, Morrissey co-authored a review paper looking at neonicotinoid use in more than 230 studies to come up with guidelines for safe levels. In Prairie wetlands, she says, the levels routinely exceed guideline levels researchers would set as being safe.
“These compounds are extremely toxic at very, very low levels — 1,000 times more toxic to an insect than DDT [dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane]. At these low levels, and because the compounds stick around for a long time, that is enough to cause effects on native aquatic insects,” she says.
Anson Main, formerly one of Morrissey’s graduate students, is the lead author on a study released last year looking at spring runoff transport of neonicotinoid insecticides to Prairie wetlands.
Main studied 16 agricultural fields on a single farming operation, each of which had at least one wetland collecting runoff from a surrounding field. He took samples of top and bottom snow, particulate snow and wetland water. “In the wetland water you could be detecting up to 200 nanograms of neonicotinoids per litre, but for meltwater it could be 489 nanograms per litre. The mean was something like 170,” he says.
“Prairie wetlands are 85 to 90 per cent formed by snowmelt, so these pothole wetlands were accumulating this runoff,” he explains. “Meltwater is scouring the surfaces of the fields where there is some residual insecticides that are persisting. In the spring, the residues are being washed in as these basins are filling with water.”
Depending on the chemical, the half-life of some neonicotinoids (including clothianidin) is about three years, Morrissey says. Neonics are highly water-soluble and re-mobilize when water pools.
Francois Messier is the owner of a 10,000-acre farm near Saskatoon, where Main conducted the study. He grows canola and cereals (including barley, wheat and oat), of which only canola seed is treated with neonicotinoid insecticide.
Messier, once a wildlife ecologist at the University of Saskatchewan, now makes his operation available to university collaborators for studies such as Main’s.
For Messier, the use of neonicotinoids is unavoidable when it comes to canola. “The impact of flea beetles could be so devastating,” he says. “The average seed cost is about $75 per acre, and you don’t want to lose the crop right off the bat. I don’t think there is an alternative to using insecticide.”
But Messier says a distinction must be made between canola systems and cereal systems. He believes neonics are used preventatively against wireworms in cereal crops but in most cases are unnecessary. “I never use any insecticidal seed treatment on my cereal seed, and I would put my yield against anyone else’s in my neighbourhood,” he says.
Morrissey says the biggest take-away from the research is that neonicotinoid insecticides should never be used as an “insurance policy” due to the potential long-term negative effects, such as the development of resistance. “A, it’s expensive,” she says. “And B, it’s a toxic chemical that is environmentally concerning.”
Over the next few years, Morrissey hopes to connect the research community with farmers in the Prairie pothole region in a new “resilient agriculture” project that will develop and implement sustainable practices at a field scale. The project will aim to find strategies to keep crop yields high and environmental impacts low, with farmers as the key decision-makers.
“The information farmers are getting is almost all from seed and chemical companies that are selling them a product,” Morrissey says. “That’s not all the information out there.
“The word hasn’t gotten out to producers as much as I would like. They need to know this information more than anyone,” she adds.
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“The Canadian Drought Monitor is kind of an early warning system. It provides a clear picture of what is occurring in near real-time. We’re tracking drought conditions continuously so that we know where we’re at and we can respond quicker to problems,” explains Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC leads the Canadian Drought Monitor initiative, working in close collaboration with Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
He notes, “There is a very large process around developing the Drought Monitor maps that is unique to this particular product. It is not as simple as feeding climate data into a computer and having it spit out a map.” That’s because drought is difficult to measure. It can creep up on people as the cumulative effects of ongoing dry conditions gradually mount up. Its effects are often spread over broad areas. And different groups define drought conditions differently, depending on their interests and needs.
So, the Canadian Drought Monitor draws together diverse information like precipitation amounts, water storage levels, and river flow amounts, as well as information about drought impacts on people. And it combines various drought indicators used by the agriculture, forestry and water management sectors into a single composite indicator.
“All that information is put together to create one easy-to-read map product, with just five classes of drought or dryness. Users can get a very clear picture of the areal extent and severity of the drought with one look at the map,” Hadwen says.
The five drought classes are: D0, abnormally dry – an event that occurs once every three to five years; D1, moderate drought – an event that occurs every five to 10 years; D2, severe drought – an event that occurs every 10 to 20 years; D3, extreme drought – an event that occurs every 20 to 25 years; and D4, exceptional drought – an event that occurs every 50 years. The monthly maps are available in an interactive form that allows users to see the changes in drought location, extent and severity over time.
The Canadian Drought Monitor provides useful information for people in many sectors. Hadwen gives some examples: “For agriculture, the information helps with things like where people might want to market grains, where there might be shortages, where there might be areas of good pasture, where livestock reductions might be taking place, all those types of things. The information is also very valuable outside of agriculture, in terms of water supplies, recreational use, forest fires – the list can go on for quite a while.”
The Canadian Drought Monitor maps feed into the North American Drought Monitor maps. “The North American Drought Monitor initiative started about 12 years ago. The U.S. had been doing the U.S. Drought Monitor project for a number of years, and Mexico and Canada were interested in doing similar projects,” Hadwen notes. “So we joined forces to create a Drought Monitor for the continent.” All three countries use the same procedures to monitor, analyze and present drought-related information.
The continent-wide collaboration provides a couple of big benefits. “Number one, drought doesn’t stop at the borders,” he says. The North American initiative provides an integrated view of drought conditions across the continent.
“Also, the Drought Monitor is extremely powerful in terms of the partnerships that have developed and the linkages to some of the best scientists in North America. We share ideas and build off each other, developing better and more accurate ways of assessing drought. We can utilize some of the information generated from U.S. agencies, like NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the National Drought Mitigation Center, and agencies in Mexico. This collaboration effort helps increase the efficiency of the science and the technical aspect of drought monitoring.”
According to Hadwen, the continental collaboration has been really helpful in building Canadian agroclimate monitoring capacity. “Over the last decade or so we have certainly matured a lot, and we’ve started to develop some really interesting tools and applications for Canadian producers and agricultural businesses to help deal with some of the climate threats to the farming industry, including droughts, floods, and everything else,” Hadwen says.
AAFC’s Drought Watch website (agr.gc.ca/drought) provides access to the Canadian Drought Monitor maps and to
other agroclimate tools such as maps showing current and past information on precipitation, temperature and various drought indices, and the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (scroll down for "When complaining about the weather makes a difference").
When complaining about the weather makes a difference
If you love to talk about the weather's impacts on your farming operation, the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (AIR) could be for you. If you want your comments about these impacts to make a difference, then AIR is definitely for you. And if you want to find out how the weather is impacting agriculture in your rural municipality, your province, or anywhere in Canada, then AIR is also for you.
AIR is a cool online tool developed by AAFC that grew out of a previous program to collect information on some drought impacts. "We have had a program in place to monitor forage production and farm water supplies in the Prairies for well over 15 years. Then about three years ago, we started to develop a tool to replace that program – a tool that would be national in scope and that could gather information on a whole range of agroclimate impacts," Hadwen explains.
AIR taps into a volunteer network of producers, AAFC staff, agribusiness people and others. "We use crowd-source data for this, gathering information from a whole wide variety of people. Some of them we know through our registered network, and others have a subscription to our email box and provide comments to us on a monthly basis," he says.
"We're trying to gather as much information from as many people as possible on how weather is impacting their farming operations. We ask the participants to do a short [anonymous] monthly survey, usually about 25 quick multiple choice questions, to let us know how things are going."
AIR is collecting impact information in several categories including: drought, excess moisture, heat stress, frost, and severe weather (like tornadoes and hail storms).
"We plot that information and produce a whole bunch of individual maps showing very subject-specific information from each survey question," Hadwen notes. "We also have a searchable online geographic database. On a map of Canada, you can zoom in on different regions and see where we're getting reports of a large number of impacts or not as many impacts. You can even drill down into that map and see the exact comments that we are getting from [the different types of respondents, in each rural municipality]."
The information collected through AIR provides important additional insights into the weather conditions and related issues and risks. He says, "Sometimes the data we have in Canada isn't as fulsome as we would like, and sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story. For instance, the data [from weather stations in a particular area] might show that it didn't rain for a very long period and the area is in a very bad drought, but the producers in the area are telling us that they got some timely rains through that dry period that helped their crops continue to grow. Or, the data might show that we received a lot of rain in a season – like we did in 2015, if you look at the overall trend – but the farmers are telling us that there were big problems in the spring. So, combining both those types of information certainly helps draw the whole story together a little better."
AIR information feeds into the Canadian Drought Monitor to help in assessing the severity of drought conditions. As well, the AAFC's Agroclimate group incorporates AIR information into its regular updates to AAFC's Minister and senior policy people; it helps them to better understand what is happening on the land, and that knowledge can help in developing policies and targeting programs.
Information from AIR is also valuable for businesses that work with producers, such as railroad companies wondering about regional crop yields and where to place their rail cars, and agricultural input companies wondering if they need to bring in extra feed or fertilizer.
AAFC is in the process building AIR into a national program. "We want to collect agroclimate impact information from right across the country. We have a history in the Prairie region, so we have more Prairie producers providing information. We've made inroads into B.C., so we're getting some reports from there already," Hadwen says. "[Now] we're going out to Atlantic Canada and Ontario. And over the next couple of years, we'll be expanding AIR right across the country."
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer AIR reporter, visit www.agr.gc.ca/air.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Top Crop Manager West.
2017 Manitoba Farm Women's Conference Sun Nov 19, 2017
Canadian Weed Science Society Annual MeetingMon Nov 20, 2017
Canadian Western AgribitionMon Nov 20, 2017
Grain Farmers First Aid CourseMon Nov 20, 2017
Agricultural Excellence ConferenceTue Nov 21, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Workshop: SaskOrganics transition and productionThu Nov 23, 2017