Seed Bed: Avoiding the pitfalls posed by ‘cheap’ fertilizer

With last year’s fall in fertilizer prices, it’s important to guard against overuse that can hurt your fields, your pocketbook and the environment


For the first time in my memory, we are dealing with fertilizer prices that are less than half of the previous year’s values. The fact that this follows two years of unprecedented increases in fertilizer prices, or that the prices are still higher than they were four or five years ago, is immaterial.

It feels like fertilizer is inexpensive

Seed Bed: What tillage system is right for you?

Drainage, crop rotation and the condition of your soil can all influence
how well no-till works on your fields


The growing season of 2009 has been, for many parts of Ontario, cooler than normal and frequently plagued by wet soil conditions that interfered with field operations. The result has been a challenging year for all crop producers, but the perception (and sometimes the reality) is that no-till suffered more than other tillage systems.

Seed bed: What grade do you get on your cropping report card?

Understanding how your yield compares and what factors affected it can help you plan for next year


Unlike school, where the students get their final report card in June, farmers get their grades in the fall when the crop is harvested. This is an excellent time to assess your soil and nutrient management program, and to plan for any changes that need to be made for next season.

Seed Bed: Are you getting the most from your manure?

Not all manures are created equal. Knowing their different characteristics, and when and how to use them, will help you get more value from your applications


You are probably sick of hearing the truism that “Manure is a valuable resource,” especially if you have just spent a couple of days emptying the manure pit – again. And while it is hard to argue with the fundamental truth of this statement, we knowthere is a huge variation in the value of manure to different operations.

However, applying some knowledge about the nature of this material can help you to capture a bit more of that value for yourself.

Seed Bed: Can you fertilize your way out of poor soil conditions?

Using extra inputs to compensate for poor soil conditions has its limitations.
Here’s a primer to help you sort out how far this strategy can take you


“I know conditions weren’t quite right, but I couldn’t wait any longer. What should I do now to make up for it?” 

This is a common question anytime we have been pressured for time and went to the field despite poor soil conditions. The culprit may have been a wet harvest season, a late spring combined with a full manure tank, or even making that first pass with the cultivator just to keep up with the neighbours. Whatever the cause, the end result is a compacted, crusted or cloddy seedbed, with a much-reduced ability to provide nutrients and water to the crop.

SEEDBED: Are you ‘mining’ your soil or just making strategic withdrawals?

Keeping track of the nutrients in your fields will help you decide if you need to add fertilizer or whether you can draw on the existing balance


“Can I get away without applying phosphate or potash this year?”

That has been a common question this year, with some justification given the spread between crop and fertilizer prices. The answer, as with most agronomic questions, is not a simple yes or no.

Seed Bed: Three ways to avoid soil compaction

The surest way to avoid yield losses from soil compaction is to prevent it from happening


Soil compaction is usually an invisible yield thief. The damage is below the soil surface, so unless it is severe the impact on root growth and water or nutrient availability is not obvious. In fact, the yield impact from compaction may be negligible in years with good growing conditions, only showing up when there is weather stress on the crop.

Seed Bed: Figuring out the benefits of biochar

The value of char is obvious in tropical soils, where it allows continuous cultivation. Could it also to help improve soil health and enable carbon sequestration in Ontario?


There has been lots of chatter about biochar from the incurably enthusiastic as the “next big thing” in agriculture. So far, very little experimentation has been done with biochar under Ontario conditions, so we are in a situation where enthusiasm exceeds understanding.

Fortunately, though, there doesn’t appear to be any risk of harming our soil by adding biochar, but it will take some work to determine if the benefits claimed for this product are real.

Seedbed: Use the cheapest and nearest source of magnesium for your soil

Lab studies about the disadvantages of dolomitic magnesium ignore the realities in the field


Just the other day, I had an email from an agronomist looking for information about magnesium, since there were salesmen in his area trying to sell calcitic lime, despite the fact that they were sitting next to a quarry producing high-quality dolomitic lime.

I was able to respond that there is no advantage to the calcitic lime, and that growers in his area should use the most economical source of lime.
Since trucking is the largest part of the cost of lime, this generally means the source closest to home.