Take the time to evaluate new techniques properly

It takes more time and effort, but you get a better payback when you implement a change on your farm that is based on solid data rather than on single comparisons


Every year, a range of new techniques are developed for you to try on your farm. Some come with lots of data to support them, and others with almost none. The ultimate test, though, is whether they work on your own farm. 

Are you getting the most out of your manure?

Knowing what is in it and using it where it will give the most benefit are
keys to maximizing your manure’s value


If livestock are part of your farming operation, their manure is something you will need to deal with. For some, manure is no more than a byproduct that is expensive and time-consuming to get rid of. Properly managed, however, manure can be a valuable source of nutrients for the crops on your farm. The difference is due primarily to your attitude, but also to the supply of manure relative to the needs of your crops.

Making sure the bad crop years don’t hurt as much

We can never overcome all the impacts of adverse weather, but good soil management will keep the yield hit to a minimum


The trouble with following an excellent year for growing crops, like 2010, is dealing with the disappointment when this year’s crops don’t measure up to our expectations. The hurt is especially sharp when crop prices are at historic highs.

As you look up and down the concession, however, it is easy to see that, while everyone suffered with the challenging weather in 2011, not everyone suffered equally. Was it just luck? Or is there something you can do to make sure you are in the “lucky” group the next time the weather turns against you?

What’s your excuse for not doing soil sampling?

If it’s just somewhere on your ‘to-do’ list, or you have no intention of sampling at all, think again


Late summer through early fall is an ideal time to collect soil samples. The fields after harvest are easy to travel across, a few showers have softened the ground to make sampling easier, and there’s lots of time to get the results back for planning next year’s fertilizer program.

Despite this, I am sure that some of you still have soil sampling on your “to do” list, or have no intention of sampling at all. Let’s look at some of the more common excuses I hear for not sampling, and see if they hold up to scrutiny.

What’s the best way to deal with high pH soils?

In most cases, high pH is a symptom of a problem elsewhere in your production system, so addressing it without dealing with the root causes will be ineffective


Occasionally, farmers will complain that their soil pH levels are increasing and demand some way to bring the levels back down. They are generally quite disappointed when I tell them that anything they try will be expensive and not likely to be effective anyway. 

To avoid this unpleasantness, it is worth considering what may be causing soil pH to increase (whether real or apparent), and how changes to farm practices may prevent soil pH changes.

Ways to reduce dissolved P losses from your soil

For a start, applying phosphorus in the spring carries much less risk than applying it in late fall or winter


Anyone who has taken a soils course, whether at college, university or farm school, is familiar with the truism that “phosphorus sticks to soil particles, so if you control soil erosion you control phosphorus losses.” 

Unfortunately, while there is a lot of truth in this saying, life is too complex to be easily captured in a sound bite. There is more and more evidence that a significant part of the phosphorus leaving the landscape is not attached to soil particles, but is dissolved in the runoff water.

Is your soil blowin’ in the wind?

Soil erosion can be damaging to your fields and the environment. Planting windbreaks and keeping crop residue or cover crops on the surface can help defeat it


We have all seen the photos of the dust clouds and drifts of blown soil from the “Dirty Thirties,” and that is often what comes to mind when we think of wind erosion. 

Unfortunately, thinking of wind erosion only in terms of extreme events means that we ignore the more subtle and more common losses of soil that occur every year.

Do high yields demand higher rates of fertilizer?

The answer depends on what factors led to the high yields and whether you are talking short or long term


Farmers in Ontario grew record or near-record harvests of corn, soybeans and wheat in 2010, and many farmers had higher yields than they had ever achieved before. This has led many to ask whether we should be using higher rates of fertilizer.

The answer is no, and yes, because it is really two different questions – first, whether you need higher rates of fertilizer each year to support higher yields; and, second, whether you will need to add more fertilizer in the long run to replace what the higher yielding crops are removing.

Just how important is CEC?

A hazy understanding of cation exchange capacity can lead to management decisions that are not necessarily good economics or agronomics


Cation exchange capacity, more commonly referred to as CEC, is one of those basic soil properties that is poorly understood by most non-soil scientists. This may mean that CEC is ignored as a factor in soil management. Too often, this lack of knowledge leads to some very strange and expensive decisions regarding fertilizer applications.

How can we avoid the negative effects of tillage?

Too much or the wrong kind of tillage can damage your soil. Some tips on retaining its benefits while avoiding its negatives


Most crop fields in Ontario are tilled at some point during the rotation. If you ask the average farmer why, you may get an answer about improving crop yields but few details beyond that. Tillage is simply a deeply ingrained habit.

Unfortunately, too much or the wrong kind of tillage leads to a number of undesirable outcomes:

Increased soil erosion by wind or water;

Scalping of topsoil from the knolls and moving it down slope;

Loss of soil organic matter;

High costs for equipment, maintenance and fuel.