Agronomist says too many producers are playing ‘farm Vegas’ with inputs

Norm Flore says there’s a place for many specialty inputs but 
they can add to costs without generating much of a return

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Producers have better odds playing the slots in Vegas than they do playing “farm Vegas” with their inputs, says agronomist Norm Flore.

“Not all inputs are having the same likelihood of a return,” Flore, manager of agronomic services for Crop Production Services Canada, said in his FarmTech presentation.

“At the end of the day, it’s got to put more jingle in the jeans.”

Instead of rolling the dice on products that might not produce a profit, producers should go after “low-hanging fruit” — products with a high probability of generating a return, he said.

In most cases, nitrogen efficiency enhancement products don’t pay off in soil that is well drained and where nitrogen has been spring or fall banded, said Flore.

“That’s not where those products have a fit. I think there is a place for these products, but it is a targeted approach.”

For example, they can be effective in limiting losses when liquid nitrogen is banded.

Seed nutrient dressings are a “very fast-growing market,” said Flore, but third-party research conducted so far has been limited and not very encouraging, he said.

In most cases, the seed nutrient dressings contain very low amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium when compared with the nutrients already available to the seed.

“(Seed nutrient dressings) are just reformulated fertilizers,” said Flore. “These products are worth testing, but not at the expense of that low-hanging fruit.”

Micronutrients are a bit of a wild card, he said. Because micronutrient deficiencies in the soil are common across the Prairies, taking a “diagnostic approach” to their use can improve the odds that they’ll work.

“There’s good science behind (micronutrients),” said Flore.

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But if producers are basing micronutrient application on visual symptoms, rather than soil tests, they’ll “probably be wrong more times than (they) are right,” he said.

“I’m not ruling them out. We need (micronutrients) in certain areas, but it’s a matter of finding those areas.”

But foliar-applied micronutrients have “questionable value” because “leaves weren’t designed to absorb a whole lot of nutrients,” he said.

Flore wouldn’t bet on foliar macronutrients either. “Foliar macronutrients (have) very low efficiency and are not really recommended.”

He also questioned phosphate products that claim to offer enhanced efficiency, saying the underlying issue is usually that a farmer has been skipping phosphate applications.

“You can get away with this for a few years because of the reserves, but you can’t do this forever,” he said. “It is going to haunt you, and sooner than later.”

The “wrecks” happen within four to five years, he said.

“If you subscribe to that program for a lengthy period of time… with a perceived high-efficiency product, you’re probably going to be paying a premium to mine your land faster.”

About the author

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Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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