Canola School: Starter fertilizer considerations

With canola prices where they’re at, producers want to hit those optimum yields. There are a few hurdles to overcome this year though, as high fertilizer prices and dry conditions might limit starter fertilizer rates.

In this Canola School episode, Kara Oosterhuis is joined by Jack Payne, grow team advisor at Federated Co-operatives Ltd., on how experience can help make those tough fertilizer choices.

“For nitrogen, the standard recommendation has been to use 2.75 to 3.2 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of yield,” says Payne. “But, there’s no one number because it depends on your situation, depends on your soil, and depends on your area in terms of moisture, so what coefficient you use really comes from your own experience or from your agronomist.”

In the video, Payne gives the example of applying 40 to 60 pounds of N (for the season, not with the seed). “That first 40 to 60 pounds is going to give you the biggest bang for the buck or the best return because it’s on that initial part of the yield response curve, where it’s the steepest,” says Payne. Once more product is applied, the yield response curve starts to plateau.

Watch the full video to hear more from Payne, and field editor Kara Oosterhuis, story continues below video:

When it comes to sulphur, it’s an important nutrient for canola, and when placing it in the seed-row, producers need to pay close attention to rates.

Payne says that one of the standby recommendations comes from Dr. Ross McKenzie, former soil and crop research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: if the test shows 15 pounds of sulphur or less in the top six inches of soil (the A horizon), apply sulphur, regardless of what’s in the second depth (the B horizon).

Beware of the salt effect when applying ammonium sulphate with seed, and Payne advises to back off the rate, or go for an elemental sulphur product with small particle size, as it’ll oxidize faster.

Dry conditions are prevalent across much of the Prairies this year,  so there are a few nutrient management decisions to make. Payne says not to adjust the target yield. Water is the main factor that drives yield potential so the million dollar question will be whether it rains or not.

“If you’re hedging that it’s dry and it’s going to continue to be dry, maybe you want to dial back your rates to hedge your bets,” says Payne. On the other hand, setting the bar low will determine where you max out on your yield. It’s a gamble, just like a lot of other decisions in farming.

For phosphorus, it’s really important to watch the seed-placed rates. Payne says that over the years there hasn’t been enough phosphorus applied to canola crops though. Canola will use almost a pound of phosphate per bushel of yield. It’s a double-edged sword this year though, because the the price of phosphate fertilizers is high this year.

Finally, boron has been identified lately as deficient on some soil test reports. Foliar products are good for topping up to treat the symptom, but consider applying boron to soil too, if tests indicated it’s lacking.

Payne’s last piece of advice is to keep good fertilizer records by starting with a soil test in the fall after harvest and, based on that outcome, working out a plan.

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