I have to apologize for the length of time between columns this year. I have had some health issues but am now on the road to recovery so hopefully you can expect more regular articles in the future.
I have, over the years, written a number of pieces on the importance of soil testing. In fact, the first article that I wrote for this column was on that subject.
I am not going to belabour this, other than to say that soil testing is a key tool that you have available in your toolbox that allows you to monitor the nutrient levels in your fields.
Samplers operate across the West with trucks equipped with soil probes and GPS.
If you want, you can also pull out the old “back-saver” probe and sample yourself.
A number of qualified labs are available to analyze your samples and provide you with meaningful results.
A nitrogen return calculator is another tool that is of considerable use in conjunction with a soil analysis. It is available to download on Manitoba Agriculture’s website at www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/soil-fertility/nitrogen-rate-calculator.html.
The calculator allows producers to enter expected crop and fertilizer prices, existing available nitrogen in the soil and crop type. It then uses average yield data for a particular soil type to estimate the net per acre financial return.
It also estimates total increased crop yield in bushels and total net for the crop. Comparing profitability between barley, wheat and canola isn’t the calculator’s main goal, but it can be used for that purpose.
The program as it exists on the Manitoba Agriculture website is geared for Manitoba, but its results will be valid for the parkland (black soil zone) area of Western Canada. In fact, using the arid crop tabs for wheat and barley would likely produce results that reflect drier areas on the Prairies.
The program was developed by Rigas Karamanos and is based on the principle of net return as described by University of Wisconsin Professor M. Rankin. That calculator, Nitrogen $ Rate of Return Calculator Version 4.1 University of Wisconsin, is available at www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/NComparison.htm.
The use of the results from good, accurately sampled soil samples analyzed by an accredited western Canadian lab and the nitrogen rate of return calculator spreadsheet will go a long way in helping farmers determine the optimum nitrogen rate based on their soil analysis for nitrogen fertilizer.
Thom Weir is an agronomist with Farmer’s Edge. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.