Soil School: New online calculator provides quick estimate of nutrient removal

A new online tool has been launched to help farmers and agronomists in Western Canada understand nutrient removal rates to make more informed fertilizer decisions.

The Prairie Nutrient Removal Calculator provides updated estimates of nutrient removal for 12 different crops, based on samples collected from farmers’ fields in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in 2020 through 2022.

Anyone using the calculator just has to select a crop type and enter a yield number, and it immediately calculates removal rates for all the macronutrients (N, P, K, S) and several micronutrients (copper, boron, and zinc.)

The tool is the result of a three-year project, led by the University of Saskatchewan’s Dr. Fran Walley and Dr. Rich Farrell, involving a team of soil scientists, industry agronomists, and government extension staff across the Prairies.

It was one of the last projects John Heard worked on in his role as the soil fertility specialist with Manitoba Agriculture prior to his retirement this spring.

“We kicked over this apple cart and said, ‘you know, the varieties and the production systems we’re using now are probably different enough that those 40 or 50 year old nutrient removal values should be obsolete,'” he explains, discussing the nutrient removal calculator and the updated data behind it in this new Soil School episode.

“I don’t want to give all the credit to varieties, but with modern production systems — tillage, rotation, pest management, fertilization, and genetics — we’re getting higher yields while not requiring quite the same amount of nutrients per bushel as the old numbers that we’ve been using,” says Heard.

He expects the calculator will mainly be used for fertility planning, to better understand what’s being hauled off in the grain that comes from a field. Landlords may also be interested in using it to track how fertility levels could be changing in their land.

While Heard admits he still has a soft spot for the paper nutrient removal/uptake card he carries in his wallet, a surprise special guest drops by to demonstrate how quick and handy the new online calculator is for determining actual removal rates on any phone in the field. Check out the video to find out more:

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