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Progress Report On: Strategies to Reduce Fertility Inputs in Mixed Crop-Livestock Systems

Funders: Alberta Agriculture & Forestry, Alberta Wheat Commission, Alberta Canola Producers Commission

Collaborators: Chinook Applied Research Association (CARA), Oyen

Research Program Manager: Dr. Akim Omokanye

From: Peace Country Beef & Forage Association 2018 Annual Report

Proper nutrition is essential for crop growth and production. Profit potential for farmers depends on producing enough crop per acre to keep production costs below selling price. Fertilizer costs can constitute up to 25% of the total variable costs for cereals and up to 30% for canola. Fertilizer alone can also make up the highest of any single input cost. High fertilizer costs and the price volatility of cattle and grain markets are causing producers to look for alternate ways to manage farming systems that will improve soil health without sacrificing yields. Soil health is a major criterion that determines the long-term productivity of a particular soil. In this project, the focus will be on achieving a consistent soil productivity without compromising the soil health. This ultimately raises the concern of how fertilizer use can be reduced in crop-livestock production


Our objectives are:

1. To examine the effects of incorporating cover crop cocktails (CCCs), bale grazing, and swath grazing in crop rotations/cropping systems, and the use of manure and foliar fertilizer on soil health improvement, fertility savings, C storage & potential carbon sequestration rates.

2. To compare the cost-benefit analysis of the different systems on two soil types in Alberta.

The project was set up using a randomized complete block design (RCBD) with three (3) replications at 2 sites (Fairview Research Farm and on a producer’s farm (Sedalia), near Oyen)

Nine treatments are being tested (see Table 1) below. The plots were seeded on May 28 at Fairview.

Soil samples were taken before seeding, and soil pH seemed to slightly increase with increased soil depth (Table 2). As expected, soil organic matter (SOM) was highest at 0-6” soil depth, and decreased with increasing soil depth. Table 3 shows a summary of soil biological and physical indicators before the implementation of the treatments.

For the crop rotation treatments that involved harvesting for grain/seed in year 1 (Peas-Canola-Wheat, Barley(with manure)-Canola-Wheat, and Barley(soil rejuvenation + fertilizer)-Canola-Wheat), the grain/seed yield and protein are provided in Table 4 below.

The peas yielded 33.6 bushels/acre.

The barley with manure produced about 63 bushels/acre grain yield, and the barley with fertilizer + soil rejuvenation produced about 61 bushels/acre grain yield. The barley grain protein varied from 13.9-14.3%.

The forage crude protein (CP) was highest for CCC Rolled, followed by CCC Legume and then CCC Swathed/CCC Grazed (Table 5).

Preliminary conclusions

The mean pH values of 5.19 in the surface soil (0-6”) showed that the surface soil was acidic.

Application of manure before seeding barley seemed to show some benefits in barley grain yield, compared to the fertilized (inorganic fertilizer) barley that received both soil and foliar nutrients.

Looking at the forage nutritive values, all CCC treatments, including CCC Rolled, had sufficient protein, energy (TDN), Ca and P for a dry gestating beef cow.

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