Is it time to start thinking about adding sulphur?

For the first time, analyses of plant samples from a number of alfalfa fields have been showing low sulphur levels. Is this an anomaly or the new normal?


Those who have followed my writings for the past couple of decades know that my message regarding sulphur has been pretty consistent:  “All of Ontario, except the far northwest, gets enough sulphur from air pollution, so we don’t need to add any sulphur fertilizer.”

Not everyone agreed with me, but the evidence I could find all supported this position.  Even canola, the crop with the greatest hunger for sulphur, only showed sporadic responses if more was added.  

Lessons from the summer drought of 2012

With most farms hurting, this is a good time to reflect on what happened and how to avoid it in the future


By the time you read this, the cropping season of 2012 will be pretty much done except for assessing the drought damages.  As I write in late July, however, the corn is just tasselling and the soybeans are flowering while we are in the middle of record-breaking heat and dryness with no sign of significant relief in the long-range forecast.

Building a healthy soil that can resist challenges

The health of your soil can affect the way it responds to too much water, dryness or heat


It’s often said that weather is the biggest factor in setting the yield for a crop. This is true as far as it goes, but it ignores how much the health of the soil can affect the way the crop responds to the weather.

Crops growing on abused soil can grow well when conditions are ideal, but they start to suffer at the first sign of too much water, dryness or heat. Healthy soil, on the other hand, produces crops that continue to grow well despite these challenges, and will generate good yields in all but the worst weather. Incidentally, this will mean more bushels in the bin every year, but especially in the years when prices are high.

How to decide on buying or selling manure

As livestock farms become larger, there will be more situations where it is better for farmers to sell the manure to a neighbour than to spread it on their own farm. The challenge is deciding on a fair value


Many livestock farmers recognize the advantages of adding manure to their cropping programs. The savings in fertilizer costs and the potential for improved yields from adding organic matter can easily add up to a hundred dollars or more per acre.

Why don’t my split soil samples give the same value?

There are lots of reasons for variation in soil sample results. But it is still the best way to know what nutrients are available in your soil before you plant the crop


It’s not uncommon to hear reports of someone who wanted to check the performance of a soil test lab by splitting a soil sample and sending it to two labs. Often, widely different results are obtained from each lab. Does this mean soil testing is flawed?

Not at all, but there is a certain level of variability in soil testing that needs to be understood to interpret the results of these differences.

How much tillage is enough?

When it comes to tillage, less is almost always more. For many situations, one pass in the fall and one or two more in the spring should be enough


As the days start to get longer, and bare soil appears from under a covering of snow, many farmers get itchy to head to the field with the tractor and cultivator. We almost seem to be hard-wired to enjoy the look, smell and feel of freshly turned soil, and I know that even some dedicated no-tillers need to fight the temptation each spring. Since most farmers still include tillage in their crop production package, the question for most is not whether to till, but how much?

Nitrogen fertilizer: how much more efficient can we get?

Eventually, we will hit the biological limits of N use efficiency. But, for now, there is still room for improvement


Nitrogen (N) fertilizer has improved grain yields with huge economic benefits for the agricultural sector. However, it is a resource that needs careful management. Too little and crop yields suffer. Too much and it increases the risk of losses of ammonia and nitrous oxide to the air and nitrate to groundwater, not to mention increasing overall costs.