From the editor
Heartland member is OSCIA Forage Master
Perth SCIA launches new website
Wellington SCIA thanks 2017 sponsors
Nutrient Smart 2.0
Ray Weil - Soil 101
Cropping systems nutrient management panel
Compaction: What are you leaving behind?
Is the corn greener on the other side of the fence?
New cost-share program announced: GreenON
Well, I thought spring was sprung, but as I write this update, snow is once again on the ground and I've got the fireplace going. But it won't be long before the longer days and warm sunshine will mean all of you will be busy on your farms for #plant18. Let's hope this year is a little drier and less anxiety-inducing than #plant17!
As usual, it's been a busy winter for Soil and Crop members. I was fortunate to attend each of the AGMs in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington, and I'd like to extend a big thank you to the directors and secretaries for organizing such great events for your members and for your ongoing work to promote the work of your local soil & crop association.
I'd also like to extend a big thank you to Doug Walker and the Huron County board of directors, who recently hosted the Heartland Spring meeting in Brodhagen on March 5. We had a great turnout and heard from some fantastic speakers.
There are lots of events still to come in 2018 Nutrient Smart 2.0, a bus trip to Quebec, and summer twilight tours are some of the highlights. Stay tuned to your email inbox, the Heartland website and upcoming editions of the newsletter for more information!
Speaking of the newsletter, you will see a few changes as we move forward. For those members for whom we have an email address, you will now be receiving a regular monthly e-news in your inbox around the 20th of the month. For those who don't use electronic communication and those who still like to read a paper version of the newsletter, you will continue to receive the newsletter 4x a year in your mailbox, which will be a compilation of the articles from the e-newsletter from the previous months. If you feel you don't need to receive the information twice, please let me know and I will take you off the hard-copy mailing list, and save a few trees and postage costs at the same time!
Mary Feldskov, Regional Communications Coordinator
2018 is Doug Johnson’s year. A regular competitor in OSCIA’s Forage Masters Competition, he was often a finalist but hadn’t yet taken home the big prize—but that all changed at the 2018 OSCIA AGM, where Doug was named Forage Master Champion. You can read more
about the competition, and it’s revamped format, in the OSCIA newsletter.
Doug is a Perth County SCIA member, and farms with his wife, Laura and brother Dave and their respective families at Maplevue Farms near Listowel.
A dairy producer, Doug prides himself on growing the best possible forages to feed his cows. He is also passionate about taking care of the land — he practices no-till planting and is continually experimenting with cover crops.
Doug’s farm is a true family farm, with multiple generations working together to build on the success of the past. Even his Forage Masters presentation, which he gave first at the Perth SCIA AGM before presenting at the OSCIA AGM in February, was a team effort — he jokes
that he would never have been able to pull it all together without the tech support from his kids.
Congratulations to Doug Johnson on this prestigious award!
It’s time to update your bookmarks! Perth County SCIA can now be found at perthsoilcrop.org. Stay tuned as new features such as member profiles, upcoming events and news are shared! For more information, or to contribute news or articles to the site, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about this special event, being held March 23 in Waterloo (PDF)
Nutrient Smart 2018
By Karen Dallimore
Soil doesn't just hold a crop upright while you pour on fertilizer, it's alive. Soil is a complex, integrated community that can be managed for an environmental and economic win-win.
Ray Weil is a Professor of Soil Science at the University of Maryland where he delves into the relationship between soil form and function. More specifically his research encompasses soil organic matter management, sustainable cropping systems, and soil management for improved nutrient and water cycling.
The sun's energy doesn't all go into your soybeans, Weir told the audience at NutrientSmart 2018 in Waterloo. Weir describes plant roots as a conduit in this integrated soil community, taking 30 to 40 percent of the energy of the sun underground to be excreted as energy to organisms in the soil. In turn, those organisms eat the organic matter to release nutrients to feed the crop above.
Science is only just beginning to understand these complex relationships, said Weil, where the plants, microbes and bacteria all talk to each other through chemicals.
When a pest attacks a plant, for example, the plant sends an SOS signal for help to deal with that pest. It's a complex series of symbiotic alliances, said Weil, which does best if not disturbed. Plows don't encourage this, said Weil.
Within this complex soil community, each nutrient has its own cycle. Each one is different; each one needs to be understood separately in order to be managed.
Take phosphorus, for example. The majority of phosphorus is tied up in organic matter. Microbes eat that organic matter and excrete the portion that is in excess of their needs providing a small amount - 0.5 percent - in solution for the plant to use.
Plants build root hairs to increase the surface area of interaction to access phosphorus, but that isn't good enough because when phosphorus is low the amount of available phosphorus is even lower. So some plants create chelating compounds to release phosphorus from iron or aluminum; some exude acids to dissolve calcium phosphates to make phosphorus more available.
The build up of phosphorus is one of the sins of our grandfathers. Back in the 30's they were told to put on high levels of phosphorus, something that helped in the first year but was needed less over time. This overburden was eventually recognized but not until the 1980's.
As little as ounces per acre of phosphorus lost by leaching or runoff can do a lot of damage to the environment. Sewage plants, detergents and other sources have contributed to algae bloom problems in Lake Erie and now it's agriculture's turn to address its role in these issues.
Another problem with the loss of phosphorus to our waterways is that it's a finite resource. ìWe need it,î said Weil. There are no substitutes so we need to "husband" it and not let it wash away.
We want to operate at optimum levels of nutrients but our soil tests donít always tell us what we want to know. Part of that phosphorus shows up on our soil tests as inorganic orthophosphate H2PO4, but a large amount may be in organic forms that we never measure.
Weil had a few management suggestions, such as using gypsum as an inexpensive surface application that can help clay particles to stick together, reducing erosion and subsequently the amount of nutrients leaving the land, especially through tile drainage.
Cover crops are also beneficial for managing nutrients. Many cover crops become part of a mycorrhiza - a symbiotic alliance between ancient fungi in the soil and plant roots - enhancing diversity. "It's a sweet deal," said Weil. The fungi increase the amount of surface area in contact with the soil and in return for their protection from disease they get sugar from the plant.
Brassicas such as rapeseed or forage radish don't form a "mycorrhiza" but they do excrete enzymes that make phosphorus available. "You can use them like fertilizer," said Weil. Plant a row of radish and measure the phosphorus after the radish has died off, it will be out of sight.
Going overboard with nutrient application costs in terms of money and damage to the environment. Fertilize to supplement, not supplant, giving what is needed at the right time. Keep balance in mind - what's coming in versus what's going out? When you're operating at optimum level you won't lose much either way.
Nutrient Smart 2018
By Karen Dallimore
It was a gnarly year for Warren Schneckenburger in 2017. The banks of the river breached at least three times at his Cedar Lodge Farms in the St. Lawrence Valley near Morrisburg, leaving him wondering if at least some of the land wouldn't have been better off left in hay?
Schneckenburger farms 3,000 acres rock-blessed clay-loam, growing corn, soybeans, wheat, cereal rye and edible beans with a commercial grain elevator and small beef feedlot. Prior to 2010, he was all about moldboard plowing and continuous corn. Then he saw Ray Weil and it made him question everything; every decision changed.
"We've tilled it to death in Ontario," said Schneckenburger, but he hopes that some of the changes he has made will help the soil to heal. As soon as you abandon tillage you've got high residue so he started with the basics, like investing in a combine that spreads the residue evenly. For residue management, Schneckenburger said there is payback to resetting the head knives, particularly for soybeans. Drainage will be key while the soil heals: sixty-foot tile doesn't work anymore, sometimes going as tight as ten feet.
Clay ties up the nutrients which means compaction is a "yield killer", one that he addresses with tracks and 'quasi' controlled traffic farming. "It starts with patience," said Schnecknenburger. "I refuse to rut our fields," often ending up the last in the county to harvest, but frozen ground carries machinery well.
As he told the audience at NutrientSmart 2018 in Waterloo, 2017 taught him some lessons. "Our nitrogen cycle was broken," and after record rainfall in 10 months of last year, we all know now about denitrification.
He uses the bulk of his fertilizer on corn. His grandfather side-dressed anhydrous for over 45 years, but last year was the last ñ heíll move to UAN next year. He was "forced" to invest in a Nutraboss 120-foot system, resulting in fewer ruts. It's fast, very versatile, and it sort of works in 9' corn, although he doesn't recommend it.
He's got up to 20 years of yield data but only five are usable, taking out the oddball years to start zone prescription work based on soil sampling every three years. After a lot of research, he uses multiple applications of all-banded P and K; fall strips get the potash.
Across the border in Springport, Michigan, Marc Hasenick farms 4800 acres - 40 percent corn, what he calls "poverty grass"; 40 percent soybeans; and 20 percent wheat, also known as "profit grass". "If it weren't for the wheat the corn wouldn't be competitive," Hasenick told the audience at NutrientSmart 2018. For him though, soybeans are the shining star.
His soil has more sand than loam with an average CEC of 4.7 and an average organic matter of 1.4 percent. ìThere are places that have lost more than we have. With such low CEC's he focuses on pH with calcium and magnesium. He hasn't applied any phosphorus for crop removal in six years.
Corn receives .9 pounds N per bushel of nitrogen in three passes for 230 bushels; wheat gets 1.2 pounds in two passes, pre-applied in the fall and top dressed in the spring. Each area has its own yield goal, said Hasenick.
Their soil is naturally deficient in sulphur, so he'll use both sulfate and low-rate elemental sulfur tied to nitrogen rates in frequent application for all three crops. And although he's starting to think he may be all wrong, he'll apply phosphorus in the fall ahead of soybeans; in-furrow orthophosphate in corn; and MAP in a blend ahead of wheat. The rates are targeted below maintenance, derived from removal and the Bray P2 scale. "Even though we're doing it wrong, it's working," said Hasenick, after listening to the other presentations that day.
As for micronutrients, "weíve tried every jug of magic goop - it just doesn"t pay. "He has yet to find a foliar product with a positive return on investment.
At Greenholm Farms near Embro, Gord Green is a 5th generation dairy farmer and past president of the OSCIA. Along with his son Dave he milks 230 cows, crops 800 acres, and he isn't sure why but he has 20 beef cow calf pairs. He also has a 250-watt anaerobic digester that not only converts manure to digestate but also breaks down off farm organic materials such as grocery store waste to become methane gas, solid bedding material, and liquid nutrients for the fields. The liquid digestate goes into manure storage with the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus still there. Digestion doesn't change that content, said Green.
"I'm Scottish," said Green. "I don't like to waste money." That's why he feeds the crop without over applying nutrients, testing the soil every two to three years and using cover crops such as cereal rye or oats which not only add organic matter but also provide a good feed source. The cover crops tie up and stabilize nutrients between cropping seasons and provide economical feed for livestock. If everyone used cover crops, "we could feed a lot of beef."
If nutrient levels get too high he'll scavenge with soybeans, although that hasn't happened lately. He uses NMAN Agrisuite software to balance the nutrients, using commercial fertilizer to fill in the gaps.
It's important to use digestate on cover crops, which can remove a lot of phosphorus and potassium, said Green. He compares digestate to hog manure, with the nitrogen quickly available. Corn is the first priority because it likes nitrogen; he'll also apply it after each cut of hay. If he does put it on bare ground he will go over it with an Aerway. He'll apply low rates of digestate just before or after cover crop planting, another in late fall on residue and another in the spring, no more that 4,000 gallons at a time or it will run. He's been no-till or strip till since 1995, suggesting between that and cover crops, "you can get to a better place than with either one separately."
Compaction. It’s a big topic of conversation among Ontario farmers these days, and often found on the agenda of Soil and Crop meetings across the province. As farm machinery has gotten bigger, so has the impact on the soil—which can have a negative impact on yields and soil health. So what can be done about it? First, we have to understand it.
In September 2017, Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario (IFAO) hosted Compaction Action, a one-day, hands-on and interactive field demonstration for Ontario farmers featuring
European scientist Mattias Stettler from Bern University of Applied Science in Switzerland.
“To me, [compaction] is like a silent thief’, says Ian McDonald of OMAFRA. “We struggled to know how to deal with it, we’ve tried to ignore it for so many years. Now, we have sophisticated tools to see where it’s happening, and not just at the surface."
To measure the impact of compaction, sensors were placed in the soil a Shawridge Farms, Compaction Action host farm, at various depths—6, 12, and 20 inches—and then machinery at different weights and with varying tire set-ups drove over the sensors to determine the impact of compaction on the soil.
The results of the tests were broadcast live to the more than 400 attendees at the event, who also benefitted from the expert commentary provided by Stettler, Real Agriculture’s Peter Johnson and others. But in order to share the information gleaned from the event more widely, IFAO created a series of videos highlighting the important findings from the day.
Heartland Region Soil & Crop, with support from the Farmland Health Grant, was one of several sponsors of the video series, which are now available to view on the Heartland website at heartlandsoilcrop.org.
The video series includes:
An introductory video featuring Stettler, Johnson and McDonald.
Tires vs Tracks
What has greater impact? Tires or tracks? In this video, find out the results of the live demonstration.
Tire Pressure Trials
How big of a deal is tire pressure? The take-home from the day is that tire pressure makes a difference, and it’s worth taking a look at how to reduce the impact of tire pressure.
Skinny vs. Wide Tires
In this trial, skinny tires were placed on one side of a sprayer, with wide tires on the other. See the impact of each in this video.
Looking to take a short-cut through the field to get home? Think again. See how even a trip across your field in your pick-up truck can have a negative impact.
Farmers Talk, featuring Ken Nixon and Shawn Schill
Following up to the “Tires vs Tracks” debate, hear from 2 farmers with experience.
Mattias Stettler on Compaction
Hear highlights from the keynote presentation.
Read the full report from the day.
Can farming in Ontario be compared to Brazil, China or the Ukraine? On the world stage, how do we compare?
John Molenhuis is a Business Analyst for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. As the OMAFRA Cost of Production Program Lead he is in charge of providing and analyzing data from the agri benchmark project, comparing cost and production data from around the world.
The agri benchmark project was founded in 2006 as a global, non-profit network of agricultural economists, advisors, producers and specialists in the value chains of agriculture and horticulture. The network is jointly operated by the Thünen Institute of Farm Economics and the German Agricultural Society (DLG) with up to 45 countries providing comparative data in beef and sheep, cash crop, dairy, swine, horticulture, organic and aquaculture.
“You put your country in, you get the world back,” Molenhuis told the audience at FarmSmart 2018. The agri benchmark network is more of a comparison tool than an averaging report with its power reflected in the ability to see the numbers and generate questions. “We’ve got this data, what do you want to know,” he asked?
Experts devised a definition of a ‘typical’ farm in each sector in order to compare the data from such varied sources. Ontario has only been providing data to the agri benchmark project since 2014 with two typical cash crop farms and one beef farm production model in the dataset so far. The more data, the richer the information will be, said Molenhuis, but he points to some interesting observations so far.
Take corn, for example. The major players are the US, China, Brazil, Argentina, and the Ukraine. Canada ranks 11th, two-thirds of which is out of Ontario.
As the country song says, rain makes corn. Do the top five corn producing regions also receive the optimum rainfall? Is there a correlation between rainfall and yield? Comparing the top five producing countries to Ontario, from a yield perspective, Ontario and the US are highest yielding at just over 160 bushels per acre. The amount of rainforest in In Argentina and Brazil indicates high rainfall but yields lagged behind. Brazil yields an average of 100 bushels per acre; Argentina is in the 120- to 130-bushel range. Is there more potential with better genetics or management to increase yield?
Total corn input costs at the farm gate are highest for China at $2.40 per bushel, followed by the US at $2.03, Brazil at $1.80, and Ontario at $1.52, while Argentina and the Ukraine are close at $1.21 and $1.15 respectively. Ontario is once again in the middle of the pack.
For soybeans, Canada is 7th, again with Ontario providing two-thirds of Canadian production, with the US, Brazil, Argentina, China, and India round out the top five.
Ontario and the US are doing well yield-wise at 54 and 50 bushels per acre, respectively. Brazil and Argentina are right behind, double cropping, so you’re looking at 48 and 44 bushels per acre, twice. Why is there a yield difference between Brazil an Argentina, asked Molenuis? They’re right beside one another. Ukraine yields 31 bushels per acre; China comes in at only 13 bushels per acre. Did China have three bad years? Remember that the data doesn’t represent the average; it was supplied from high yielding areas that represent the biggest impact on the country.
Soybean input costs include seed, nitrogen, potash, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. For Ontario, that added up to $2.62 per bushel. Argentina was at $1.38, Brazil $3.77, China $1.78, Ukraine $3.37 and the US $3.17 per bushel.
Land rent in Ontario at $212 per acre compares to $100 in Argentina and $65 in Brazil but their cost is spread across a double crop. The US comes in at $300 per acre; Ukraine is only $35 per acre.
In Ontario we can produce soybean but on the higher cost side. What if high producing countries such as the Ukraine start getting other factors right? What can we do about the costs, quality, or value added to compete?
So far the data is showing that Ontario yields good or better than major corn and soybean producing countries while showing up in the middle of the pack on direct input costs. Land costs are the most significant difference between Ontario and the US compared to South America and the Ukraine. Costs for land, labour and machinery are significantly higher for China.
On the beef side, data was compiled from 31 countries and divided into four different systems: pasture, grain finished, cut and carry, and silage. So far Ontario has only had one year of beef data to share. China, EU28, US and Brazil are the largest beef producers, followed by Russia, Argentina, Australia and India.
Pasture based systems tend to be lower cost but it takes longer to grow them out so feed costs are not significantly different. US and Canada will gain an edge as feed prices come down.
In terms of profitability, Ontario is receiving farm gate prices that match total costs for corn, soybean and beef. This indicates that these sectors are not likely to expand or contrac
GreenON Agriculture is a new program from the Green Ontario Fund,a non-profit provincial agency mandated to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from buildings and the production of goods.
The program is delivered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) under two separate initiatives:
GreenON Agriculture Retrofit supports eligible upgrades to production facilities.
GreenON Agriculture Innovation is focused on the design, development and implementation of new and innovative technologies. (Please refer to the GreenON Agriculture Innovation Program Guide for Producers for more information.)
Who is eligible?
The GreenON Agriculture Program supports Ontario farm businesses producing agricultural commodities in permanent, climate-controlled buildings (e.g., swine or poultry barns, greenhouses) or using grain dryers.
Fore more information, visit www.ontariosoilcrop.org/greenon-agriculture/
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