Seed Bed: Seven simple ways to reduce P loss from your fields

With phosphorus inputs into lakes a major issue, here are some tips to help you
play your part – and benefit economically as well


I’ve recently spent some time with the policy folks dealing with the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and reducing phosphorus inputs to the lake is a major issue. Since agriculture covers a major part of the watershed, agricultural practices are up for discussion.

SEEDBED: 10 reasons to start soil testing – if you’re not doing it

Nearly half of Ontario’s soils are not sampled regularly. Here’s why you should take the time to evaluate yours


Soil testing is identified as the basis for any rational plan for managing fertilizer or manure, and yet the Census of Agriculture shows that nearly half of the soils in Ontario are not sampled regularly.

Obviously, the conventional arguments about saving money or improving profitability don’t provide enough impetus to these non-samplers, so we need to try a different approach.

Seedbed: The myth of ‘ideal’ soil pH ranges

Some take these ranges to mean that they should try to reduce a high soil pH,
which is generally futile and has little impact on crop growth


A popular chart in many agronomic publications is the list of ideal pH ranges for various crops. The implication is that you shouldn’t even try to grow a crop that is outside this range, or that you should work diligently to make sure your soil is within the range for the crops you want to grow.

While I don’t want to minimize the importance of soil pH on crop productivity, I find that the implied meanings of these charts greatly exaggerate the reality.

SeedBed: Maxing your profits from precision farming

Calculating the likely benefits from using precision techniques is not always simple.
Here’s what 10 years of experience tells us about the potential savings


A decade ago, precision farming was being hailed as the next great new thing, and many farmers jumped on the bandwagon. Today, the buzz has died down, or at least changed. However, it is worth looking at what we have learned over the past 10 years to see where the greatest potential exists for profit now, and in the future.

There are two ways by which precision farming could improve the bottom line – decrease the cost of inputs, or improve crop yields or quality, as long as these improvements are greater than the cost to achieve them.

Seedbed: Jumping to conclusions about ‘soil carbon’

It’s not just promotional literature that can provide misleading information. It can even come from scientific publications, as in this example from the Journal of Environmental Quality


In January I wrote about some of the things you have to watch for in promotional literature to avoid being misled. I had fully intended to expand on the theme in this column by creating a misleading advertisement of my own, and then showing how I had tried to fool you.

I may save that idea for a future column, for I found I didn’t have to make anything up this month. I was handed an example of dubious claims and misleading use of statistics on a platter – not in a product pamphlet, but in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Seedbed: Separating the wheat from the chaff in product claims

Some tips to help you look critically at the glossy literature and all the product claims to see whether they really represent something that will work on your farm


The mailbox is heavy with brochures and flyers, full of glowing product claims, as each company works hard to get your business.

If all these claims were true, your yields would be sure to break all records, but if they’re not true, does that mean that all marketing departments are liars?

We do have laws to protect us from outright fraud, so there has to be some support for the claims being made, but the job of a marketer is to present their product as favourably as possible. Your job is to sort out which of the many choices are best for your operation.

Seedbed: Does fertilizing to crop removal make sense?

Keep in mind that every field will eventually reach a point where it just doesn’t make sense to keep adding more fertilizer with no possibility of an economic return


“I didn’t get around to taking a soil test. We’ll just replace what the crop is taking out. That should be close enough.”

Have you ever used this excuse? And have you ever thought about what it might be costing you?

The number of fields fertilized to crop removal seems to be increasing. Some of this may be an unfortunate consequence of including crop removal as part of the nutrient management software, implying that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs now “approves of” crop removal for fertilizer recommendations, the same as our neighbours to the south.