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Fertility Management Survey: Filling a Big Gap in Information (PCN Spring 2016) MAR 29 2016 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Pulse Canada Staff

Over the past few decades, significant improvements have been made to fertilizer application management in Canada. Several practices have improved the efficiency of fertilizer use, including banding fertilizers, timing fertilizer application to maximize plant uptake, or using enhanced-efficiency fertilizers.

The adoption of these practices not only benefits farmers in terms of productivity and profitability, but also the environment by reducing the potential for nutrient losses from the land. Fertility management has a major impact on environmental outcomes such as greenhouse gas emissions and water quality – both issues which are top of mind for consumers, industry and governments.

However, there are currently no national surveys to collect information on fertilizer management practices for crop production. There is a real need to understand the current state of fertilizer management in Canadian crop production, both to frame the current landscape, and to track future changes in management.

To fill this information gap, a survey has been developed to collect fertilizer management information from Canadian producers of major grain, oilseed and pulse crops, focusing on 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place). This survey is one part of an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Growing Forward 2 project with industry support from the Canadian Canola Growers Association, CropLife Canada, Fertilizer Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, and Pulse Canada.

An online survey was delivered to farmers during the winter of 2014-15. A random sample was taken of 400 farmers within Western Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). Producers were asked to provide information on canola, spring wheat and pea production.

The survey focused on collecting information on fertilizer management practices for individual crops including: source of fertilizers (e.g. urea, anhydrous ammonia, etc.), timing of fertilization (e.g. fall application, at seeding, etc.), placement of fertilizer (e.g. broadcast and incorporated, banding, etc.), and rate of application of different nutrients.

Information related to general fertility management practices was also collected, including information on: soil sampling, approaches used to determine nutrient application rates, and use of variable rate fertility programs.

The information developed from the survey provides a clear picture of the current state of fertility management. The survey provides solid evidence that the majority of crop producers are banding fertilizer, which is the recommended practice compared to broadcast and incorporation of fertilizer.

The survey also provides evidence that the majority of nitrogen-based fertilizers in Alberta and Saskatchewan are side-banded or mid-row banded at planting (71 per cent and 58 per cent of nitrogen-based fertilizers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, respectively). By contrast, in Manitoba, 44 per cent of nitrogen-based fertilizers are applied in the fall (majority banded as anhydrous ammonia).

The survey also provides an overview of methods to manage soil fertility, demonstrating that farmers utilize many different approaches, some of which may be improved. For example, in Western Canada, annual soil sampling for nitrogen is only utilized by 24 per cent of farmers. In Saskatchewan, only 17 per cent of farmers conduct annual soil sampling for nitrogen. The majority of farmers also utilize the same fertility program for all of their canola fields (67 per cent), as well as for their wheat fields (61 per cent).

Regarding pea production, the survey also provides important insights regarding phosphorus management. For example, only 44 per cent of growers fertilized their pea crops with phosphorus. Fertilizing peas with phosphorus is more popular in Alberta than Saskatchewan, with 58 per cent of growers compared to 36 per cent, respectively. When peas were fertilized with phosphorus, Alberta producers also applied higher rates, with an average of 32 lbs of P2O5 compared to 24 lbs of P2O5 in Saskatchewan.

There are many soil fertility researchers in Western Canada who are concerned that soils are being mined of phosphorus. This survey data provides more evidence that more soil phosphorus is being removed by crop harvest than what is being replaced. The long term implications of low phosphorus fertility may have an impact on crop health, seedling vigour, and crop yields over an entire crop rotation.

The 2014 survey is the first of four surveys to be conducted during this project. Subsequent surveys will be conducted during the winters of 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18. The goal is to capture baseline information for all major grain, oilseed and pulse crop in Canada. During the winter of 2015-16, the western Canadian survey will focus on barley and soybean production. In addition, information on canola production will be tracked throughout the survey in order to see if there are changes from year to year.

The full results of the surveys will be available for download at