Three online crop tools to stretch your fertilizer dollar

Soil testing is key but there are also two free online tools to better gauge your fertilizer requirements

fertilizer beads spilling from a hand
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An Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development specialist is recommending three tools he says can be a big help with controlling fertilizer costs.

“Soil testing is one of three tools you can use to make your fertilizer dollar stretch further,” said Harry Brook, a crop specialist with ARD in Stettler. “The other two tools in the box are the Nutrient Use Calculator and the AFFIRM fertilizer program, both available free from ARD. Fertilizer costs are one of the most expensive inputs for annual crops. Shouldn’t you do everything within your power to improve your bottom line?”

A sound management decision on what to spend on fertilizer needs good information, said Brook.

“A soil test, in the spring, can give you a good understanding of the average level of nutrients in your field. It’s important to get a good, representative sample to accurately predict the average supply of macronutrients in the soil. This means multiple samples taken from the field in different locations and mixed together. The sample sent to the labs is taken from this larger, mixed sample.”

Any farm commodity sold off the farm is composed of nutrients that are exported. A big crop of canola or wheat removes a lot of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur as well as small amounts of trace minerals.

“Knowing how much goes into a crop can be used as a guideline to decide how much fertilizer you’ll need to provide to get your target yield of a crop this year. The Grains, Forage and Straw Nutrient Use Calculator on ARD’s website easily gives you that information, breaking down nutrients for the straw and the grain. You fill in the expected yield and it will give you the macronutrient use in that crop. If your crop takes out 100 pounds/acre of nitrogen and you’re only putting 60 pounds on, then the rest is coming from the organic matter in the soil and will have to be replaced some time.”

The AFFIRM software program is also on the ARD website under Decision Making Tools.

“It’s a free download where you put in the soil test results, last year’s crop and yield, this year’s crop and expected yield, and it generates a soil fertilizer recommendation. It also allows you to adjust the moisture conditions, fertilizer budget and minimum return expected per dollar spent on fertilizer, and then generates a nutrient blend that meets those conditions.

“Combine the soil test, the Grains, Forage and Straw Nutrient Use Calculator and AFFIRM together to help make the wisest fertilizer decisions and get the biggest bang for your fertilizer investment,” adds Brook. “You’ll be glad you did.”

For more information on fertilizer costs call the Ag-Info Centre at 301-FARM (3276).

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