High Performance Plant Nutrition at Work

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Help Your Crop Reach Maturity Faster

The growing season is already upon us and some folks are still harvesting last year’s crop or dealing with wet and soggy ground. Soils are also still cold. As I write this, the thermometer is indicating temperature below the ideal 5 degrees Celsius, and the forecast is calling for wind from the north to north east.

Soil temperature has many implications on nutrient availability to seedlings and emergence. For example, until soil temperatures reach at least 12 degrees Celsius, phosphorus, potassium and zinc are unavailable to the seed. The uptake of manganese, another important micronutrient for plant growth, is also impeded by cold soil.

OMEX Primers® were developed to provide the seed with enough nutrients to carry it to the 3–5 leaf stage when the root system is fully developed. These products are formulated to help the crop emerge quicker, better compete with weeds and access soil banded fertilizer early on.

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Water quality and burn-off or in-season spraying

Water chemistry plays a large part in getting maximum efficacy from your herbicides during pre-season burn-off or in-season spraying. Tank mixing herbicides with hard water that has high pH levels can reduce their effectiveness, which can ultimately lead to less weed control and loss of yields.

The water from wells and dug-outs that’s often used on the farm is usually hard water. Testing for water hardness and pH level is a good place to start, and there’s a good chance the test will reveal it isn’t as soft as you’d like it to be.

Water hardness is measured in parts per million (ppm). Test results from 100–200 ppm indicate hard water, with anything over 160 ppm being very hard. The pH level of water for crop spraying shouldn’t exceed 7 on the pH scale. When the test reveals hard water and/or high pH levels, I always recommend a water conditioner to soften the water and lower its pH to make it more suitable for crop spraying.

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Why pay attention to phosphorus when sowing into cold, wet soils?

During the fall of 2016, much of the Prairies experienced heavy rain and the ground remained saturated until winter. The arrival of unseasonably warm weather this spring is tempting many farmers to seed early, as they look to maximize yield potential and help manage the workload associated with seeding large acres. Those who have crops left in the field are even more anxious to get started, as dealing with swathed or still-standing crops will delay their seeding operation.

Farmers are seeding into cool or cold soils and often into wet conditions, which don’t allow for much availability of phosphorus, potassium or zinc, and this trio doesn’t become available until the soil temperature warms up to above 12 or 15 degrees Celsius. If they are seeding early, I believe the best thing farmers can do to get their crops off to a good start is to use a primer on the seed and a starter fertilizer in-furrow with the seed. This tactic is especially important this year as saturated soils are going to be slow to warm up.

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Product Spotlight: Starters

Liquid starters give developing seeds a boost of readily available nutrition in the seed row – providing nutrients like copper, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and zinc to aid with early root establishment, advanced crop maturity and good overall plant health. If your soil tests have indicated that you are facing a nutrient deficiency or are dealing with other less than ideal conditions, you should consider using a starter.

Liquid starter fertilizers offer a number of benefits over their granular counterparts. Unlike many granular fertilizers, every drop of liquid starter contains a homogeneous blend of nutrients, providing a balanced nutrient profile across the entire seed row.

Liquid starters also bring nutrients closer to the seed. According to Michigan State University, when using granular fertilizer, nutrients that aren’t very mobile in soil, like phosphorus, can’t get closer than the individual granule they’re contained in. But when applied in liquid form, these nutrients are better spread, making it easier for developing roots to access the nutrition they need to grow.

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Have you “fungal-screened” your seed lot?

Many reports over the course of the winter suggest that we can expect issues with the quality of cereals and pulses this spring, caused by the heavy rainfall and high moisture levels experienced during the summer and fall of 2016. The excessive moisture has made it challenging to control diseases and keep harvested seeds healthy.

Excess moisture also affects the seed’s ability to dry up and achieve proper dormancy, thereby affecting germination and vigor. This spring, it won’t be surprising to see farmers seeding crops with germination and vigor below normal. To make matters worse, the high level of seed-borne pathogens will limit growth and cause a wide variety of damping-off, root rot and other early-season seedling diseases, which will thin stands and set the crops back in their growth and development.

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Spray Water Quality: Hard Water vs Soft Water

Have you ever wondered if you have hard or soft water? Perhaps you’ve heard or been a part of a conversation regarding water being hard or soft and wondered what exactly that means. You may have also noticed scaling and deposits left by hard water on the interior or exterior of plumbing and pipes. Maybe this didn’t bother you because, after all, water is water, isn’t it? But, consider this — what if the water quality that affects your drinking and shower water also makes a difference in the chemistry of what you are spraying on your crops?

The Basics

Water in its natural form doesn’t contain any minerals and is considered “soft.” However, when it contains a high concentration of dissolved minerals, especially calcium (carbonate) and magnesium, it becomes “hard.” Water often picks up these minerals when passing through materials such as limestone. Calcium and magnesium also increase the pH of the water, with magnesium having twice as much impact as calcium.

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Primers in Action

In spring of 2015, growers Connie Matson and Bernie Hullman were getting a late start to their canola seeding (May 19) and dealing with very dry conditions. I had the opportunity to work with them on a nutrient plan to get their canola crop off to the best possible start under those less than ideal conditions. As part of the nutrient plan, I recommended Primer Canola. With the help of Primer Canola, Matson said it wasn’t long before robust canola seedlings were emerging in their field.

A photo comparison of two neighbouring crops, one untreated and one treated with OMEX Primer Canola. Matson and Hullman's canola crop (right) emerged far quicker than neighbouring fields

Matson said that by June 15, their canola had caught up with their neighbours’ crops that were planted a week to 10 days earlier. According to Matson, they saw impressive root development of their canola crop. She says that their crop’s roots grew deeper into the ground than their neighbour’s crops, an achievement she credits to their use of Primer Canola.

Primer Canola includes high concentrations of phosphorus, potassium, zinc and other essential micronutrients specifically formulated for canola. Our research has shown that this combination can have a very positive effect on canola germination and emergence.

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Product Spotlight: Primers

Harvesting more bushels on the same acreage over the years leads to a diminishing reserve of essential nutrients in the soil and to a lower nutrient density in the seed. Once grasslands, Western Canadian Prairie soils have been converted to agriculture, used for high value crops such as cereals, canola, pulses, potatoes and others. Crop removal keeps increasing while replenishment remains the same or diminished, due to a variety of factors, such as tighter rotations, tighter budgets and slow mineralisation. It is no surprise to see sluggish crops struggling for emergence and establishment early in the spring.

To remediate the lack of essential nutrients in the seed, seed dressings, also known as Primers®, were developed back in the early 2000s to provide the seed with enough nutrients to carry it through until the root systems can develop and tap into the side-banded fertilizer. Most Primers were formulated with a phosphorus, potassium and zinc base – nutrients not readily available to the crop at seeding due to cold and/or wet conditions.

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Prepping for the Season: Thinking About Plant Nutrition

As we inch closer to the first days of seeding, producers across Western Canada continue to think through critical decisions that may make or break the growing season.

Plant nutrition is one of the single greatest factors in the success of developing plants, with the first 30 days of a crop’s growth being crucial for attaining its full yield potential. Missed opportunities due to lack of nutrition in these first 30 days can lead to reduced yields and delay the onset of plant maturity.

Developing plants first feed on the nutrients that are inherent in the seed. Growing in deficient soils or under stress conditions, seeds often have a lower seed nutrient density. Providing high performance nutrition by dressing the seed coat with a primer will give crops an additional kick of nutrients to balance its nutrient density and maximize yields. Priming a seed with nutrition before seeding helps with germination and early root development, giving the crop the best chance to grow to its full potential despite early season challenges like the cold and wet soils that much of Western Canada is facing this year.

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