Wheat Pete’s Word, Feb 5: Phos responses, new products, ice levels, and headland management

Do you adjust plant populations, fertility, or other product applications on headlands? If not, why not?

In this week’s Wheat Pete’s Word, Peter Johnson answers questions on liquid vs. dry fertilizer and fertilizer set ups, plus what to do with soil test results on sandy soils. He also throws down the challenge of using precision or good old fashioned manual tools to decrease input costs on those unproductive headlands.

Have a question you’d like Johnson to address or some yield results to send in? Disagree with something he’s said? Leave him a message at 1-888-746-3311, send him a tweet (@wheatpete), or email him at [email protected].


  • Where will Wheat Pete be? If you get a chance to see Pete in PEI or Nova Scotia this week, say hello!
  • Next week, February 11 — Canada’s Ag Day, he’s at Kemptville, Wednesday he’s at Dufferin Soil and Crop, then off to Saskatoon for Thursday.
  • Lots of Twitter traffic and questions this week.
  • Is there a relationship between ice cover on the Great Lakes and whether or not we get an early spring? Less ice means more lake effect snow, yes, but it doesn’t decide spring’s arrival at all.
  • A farmer in eastern Ontario says Lake Ontario is one foot higher than peak lake levels in 2019. If we get a bad spring, with lots of moisture, it could go up another foot. This farmer lost 40 acres in 2019 to high water levels, another foot will eat 100.
  • All this talk of profitability and precision — there are some low-tech ways to save money too. Think about headlands,. What is our problem? How many people reduce population and fertility on the headlands? We know that along the tree line, we’re always in the red for yield. Why are we putting all that money down for little to no chance of return? Farm it, sure, though for some areas permanent hay or pasture might be the right move, but even if you don’t have auto shut off, get off the planter and do it manually. It’s worth it.
  • Temperature fluctuations and winter wheat, will warm weather kill it? Temperature is rarely fatal in Ontario, but water and ponding can very much be. We are in decent shape so far, in Johnson’s opinion
  • Johnson’s got a clarification from the last episode regarding fertilizer boxes vs a liquid system
  • Also, is liquid fertilizer more efficient and what’s the difference in cost? There is NO difference in efficiency. Costs per pound of nutrient is variable, however, with liquid being more expensive.
  • Dry vs liquid changes other things: like how much you can put down with the seed, for instance
  • So many questions about row spacing! Don’t put more fertilizer in wider rows, as you’ll kill the plants because it’s so concentrated. It’s the dreaded salt effect.
  • Phosphorus question on sandy soil. Oddly enough, the very best soils, those that aren’t too heavy clay or too sandy respond the least to P.  Response is all about root growth! In a sand soil, we get great root growth, but that top 2-4″ dries out. It’s not a cation exchange capacity thing (CEC), as P is not a cation. Why does clay respond? Same reason — roots — but because of a lack of root growth in general, trying to bust through hard clays
  • One farmer has sales people offering new, different products — do they pay? Well, you have to do the trials on your own farm. For example, Johnson and his tech did a three-year trial for Quick Roots on corn and wheat, and just had no response. But the very next year, two farmers did their own trials and saw good results. The moral of the story? Ask for enough to do your own trial on-farm.
  • Any drill/planting equipment with opener depth control beside where the seed is going in will get you more yield, regardless of paint colour on the unit.

Tune in next week for more on row spacing!

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