Progress Report on Reducing Fertility Costs for Cereals

Trial Site: Fairview Research Farm

Research Coordinator: Dr. Akim Omokanye

From: Peace Country Beef & Forage Association 2017 Annual Report


Proper nutrition is essential for crop growth and production. Nitrogen is the most common limiting nutrient for crop production systems. In Alberta, the recent direct input expense reports showed that fertilizer costs constitute up to 25% of the total variable costs in cereal production, and up to about 30% for canola. Fertilizer alone had the highest of any single input cost. High fertilizer costs and the price volatility of cattle and grains are causing producers to look for alternate ways to manage farming systems that will improve soil health without sacrificing yields. Options to cut production costs could possibly include use of cocktail cover crops (CCC) in cropping systems, and the use of foliar fertilizer to nurture the soil food web, stimulate the activity of soil micro-organisms and improve nutrient cycling. CCC mixtures can cut fertilizer costs by contributing N to the next crop, and by scavenging and mining soil nutrients. Inorganic fertilizer use contributes to a rise in atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O), a major greenhouse gas contributing to global climate change.


This year, PCBFA started a short-term rotation project that will examine the agronomic and economic benefits of including cocktail mixtures, legumes (hairy vetch, peas and crimson clover) and tillage radish in rotation with a cereal crop (barley or oats) for grain and silage production. The goal is to test the effectiveness of cereal-legume rotation systems or fertilizer based cereal crop production compared to inclusion of annual cover crop mixtures and tillage radish on soil health improvement, fertility savings & C-sequestration. Redmond salt, Penergetic K & P, and CHI Liquid Carbon 9-5-3 are being used as nutrient supplements.


The full report for this project will be available after the 2018 growing season. A continuous barley crop will be used as a check in both years (2017 & 2018). The barley crop treatments will be used to compare other systems in both an overall cost-benefit analysis, as well as soil health analysis.

Methods

  • Project Site: Fairview Research Farm (NW5-82-3W6) on RR #35, MD of Fairview.

  • Previous Crop: Oats for greenfeed in 2016 and 2015

  • Site soil information(0-6” depth): Soil tests done at Exova laboratory (Edmonton) prior to seeding showed pH = 5.6 and soil organic matter = 8.0%.

  • The field was cultivated (disked and harrowed) before seeding.

  • Experimental Design: Randomized complete block design in 4 replications.

  • Treatments: Table 1 below shows the planned short rotation systems from 2017 to 2018.

Cocktail mixture seeded in 2017 consisted of:

  • Annual Ryegrass - 2 lbs

  • Proso millet- 2 lbs

  • Barley- 20 lbs

  • Peas- 20 lbs

  • Purple top turnip- 1 lb

  • Kale- 1 lb

  • Crimson Clover- 1 lb

The legume cocktail mixture seed in 2017 consisted of:

  • 25% Hairy vetch

  • 25% Crimson clover

  • 25% CDC Horizon peas

  • 25% Faba beans

Seeding Date: Seeding of the crops in Table 1 in 2017 was done on June 1


Seeding method: 6-row Fabro plot drill with 9” row spacing


Forage yield and forage quality were measured. All crops were harvested and removed from the plots.


Future Plan

Soil tests will be done in spring 2018 to determine nutrient credits from the treatments in 2017. Barley will be seeded for grain and silage in 2018. Cost-benefit analysis and soil health analysis will be carried out on emanating field data.

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