If you think rocket science is tough, try farming

Farmers must understand the complex workings of soil nutrients and adapt to changing conditions if they are to operate efficiently.  |  File photo

Agriculture’s complexity means that agronomic advice with solid science behind it is invaluable to producers

Farming isn’t rocket science. It’s much more difficult than that.

Understanding the complex workings of soil and plant requires time, effort and an understanding that conditions are constantly changing.

Senior adviser Tim Eyrich of Agri-Trend put it this way at a March 2 regional meeting in Lethbridge.

“What we do is harder than rocket science. You guys are in the manufacturing business.”

Taking wheat as an example, “it’s a manufacturing plant for starch and protein. Your manufacturing plant changes daily. It may change hourly. You could wake up on a nice, bright sunny day on Wednesday, July 31, of X year and the factory that you have in the morning may not be the same factory you have in the afternoon.

“Why? Cloud cover. Temperature could drop. What you guys do is a lot harder than rocket scientists. It’s tough.

“And then you’ve got to make a profit at it. Ever found a rocket scientist that really had to make a profit? NASA’s pretty much got to pay what a rocket engineer wants them to pay.”

Eyrich, a self-described “plant guy,” described the needs of crops and the role nutrients play in plant processes.

Gerald Anderson, a Lethbridge-area crop adviser, said the 11th annual event is designed to give farmers a chance meet and question experts.

Anderson said agronomy advice with solid science behind it is invaluable to farmers. As an example, he said retailers often recommend additional nitrogen as the answer to crop issues.

“That’s because you get immediate visual response … but quite often what you’re actually doing is exacerbating the existing problem because nitrogen is not the issue, or lack thereof. What is often the issue is either a lack of phosphorus or lack of potash or lack of another nutrient or combination of other nutrients.”

Help for a crop problem begins with good soil testing, said Anderson. Inadequate tests from a small area are akin to examining a Quonset full of soil using a desk lamp.

A & L Canada Laboratories president Greg Patterson also emphasized the value of good soil tests.

“I’m concerned that people are doing a bulk sample on big broad acres, and getting a combination of soils in a pail that really are going to average nothing,” Patterson said in an interview after his talk.

“They’re going through the motions but they’re not getting good information to tell them what the spatial variability is in that field. So they need to do a little better job on understanding the production zones and the variability in the field so they can make good educated decisions on how to deal with it.”

Patterson said site-specific soil tests are not needed every year but they should be done at least once to provide a benchmark. Then the effect of treatments can be better gauged.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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