Can you imagine a world with no fertilizer?

Agriculture without fertilizer is already a reality in many developing countries. 
What would it be like if it happened here?


Some of you may watched the various programs on television based on “what if” scenarios of various calamities and the dire outcomes from these. Most of these programs are pretty far-fetched, but it did spark a thought in my mind about just what would happen if suddenly there were no mineral fertilizers available for agriculture.

Are you farming for the short or the long term?

Maintaining the long-term productivity of the soil means adding management activities 
that may have little, if any, short-term economic advantage


Managing a farm, like any business, is always a balance between generating enough cash to pay the bills in the short term, and investing in building the long-term value of your business. Problems arise when this balance gets skewed one way or the other.

Should I have used more N this year?

Many fields that showed N deficiency suffered little, if any, yield loss. Those that did – and had yellow, stunted leaves – were few in number


A significant number of corn fields this year showed typical nitrogen deficiency symptoms on the lower leaves. In some cases, the entire plant was pale instead of the dark green colour we associate with healthy corn plants, but more often it was simply the yellowing starting at the tip of the leaf and extending down along the mid-rib, followed by browning of the affected tissue. (See photograph, above)

This leads to three questions. Why did it happen? How much did it hurt my yield? And should I change my fertilizer program for 2011?

Four steps to help you make sense of yield data

Drowning in data at harvest time? Here are some approaches that will help you 
make sense of the masses of numbers and find the biggest potential for yield increases


With more and more combines in the field having yield monitors, I get the sense that many farmers feel they are “drowning in data” at harvest time.

In the worst cases, growers may be completely overwhelmed and give up trying to sort through the masses of numbers. They may actually end up with less useful information than their neighbour who keeps track of the loads coming out of each field with a pencil and notebook. 

Seedbed: The three tillage tools misused most often

The mouldboard plow, smooth roller and subsoiler all have their uses in specific situations. But they can also cause soil damage if used inappropriately

by Keith Reid

As I am writing this, the spring seeding is just finishing up, so the cumulative impact of all the various tillage implements is obvious across the landscape.

My first reaction to what I am seeing is that there are some tillage tools we would be better off without. But then I realized that I, myself, have recommended each of these implements for specific situations. The problems arise where they are used too often, too aggressively or in the wrong place. 

Seedbed: Understanding the carbon to nitrogen connection

Being aware of the relationship between these two elements can help you better manage your soil, whether you are using organic or mineral sources of nutrients.


With the widespread use of nitrogen fertilizers, it is easy to forget that carbon and nitrogen are inextricably linked in the soil and in the plants that grow on that soil. What affects one will inevitably affect the other. Understanding the relationship between these two elements can help you better manage your soil, whether you are using organic or mineral sources of nutrients.

Seedbed: What we know and don’t know about manganese deficiency

A review of the research suggests that glyphosate does have an impact on manganese nutrition in Roundup-Ready crops, but that there’s little evidence of a looming crisis


Soon after the introduction of Roundup-Ready (RR) soybeans, there were reports of “yellow flash” following glyphosate application, which looked a lot like manganese deficiency. This resulted in widespread recommendations to include manganese with the glyphosate, leading in turn to poor weed control from inactivation of the herbicide in the spray tank.

Seedbed: Making sense of variable rate nitrogen

If we can get it right, it will increase crop yields, save money and reduce losses to the environment


Variable rate nitrogen is the “Holy Grail” of fertilizer application technology. If we can get it right, it will increase crop yields, save money and reduce losses to the environment through leaching and denitrification.

Three components are necessary for any variable application program – the ability to variably apply, the ability to measure variation, and the “smart program” to interpret the variation to predict optimum fertilizer applications. The first two components we have had for many years, but we haven’t quite figured out the final piece of the puzzle.

Seed Bed: When should you head to the field to start tillage and planting?

The key to ‘picking the right day’ is to know what is happening, not at the surface of the soil, but just below the depth of tillage


There are lots of resources to help you choose the right seed varieties, and to make sure your fertilizer and herbicide programs are optimized. Books have been written about the importance of equipment maintenance. Equipment salesmen stand at the ready to sell you the latest advances in tillage and planting technology.

But with all this expertise, there is silence on the one decision that will determine if you have the potential for an excellent crop, or only a mediocre one. When do you head to the field to start tillage and planting?

SEED BED: Soil quality is a long-term investment

Even though it’s difficult to show that changes in soil quality have affected yield, investing in it does make sense, even if only from the perspective of risk management


I’ve written many times in these pages about the need to improve soil health or soil quality, and I really do feel it is critically important for the long-term productivity of our soils.

The trouble is that it’s difficult to show a consistent yield response to practices like cover crops or no-till that should improve soil quality. The challenge, then, is to prove to the skeptics that soil quality is more than “motherhood and apple pie” and can have a real impact on the bottom line.