Increase profitability by following the 4 Rs
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (AARD) scientists are leading a research project in collaboration with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) that may soon benefit many Albertan producers’ bottom lines. The four-year project—which compares different rates, timing and placement of traditional urea with Environmentally Smart Nitrogen (ESN) polymer-coated urea—will determine best practices for nitrogen fertilizer management to maximize individual farms’ profitability.
“This project is a very intensive and extensive field research project to look at updating our nitrogen recommendations in light of current agricultural practices. We’re looking at the whole 4R system: the right product, at the right rate, at the right time, at the right place,” said AARD’s Len Kryzanowski, a lead researcher on the study. “This project is not based purely on achieving target yields; it’s about determining how producers can best invest their fertilizer dollars to get the best agronomic, environmental and economic benefit.”
Findings will be used to update the Alberta Farm Fertilizer Information and Recommendation Manager (AFFIRM) software that many farmers use to make fertilizer management decisions.
Financed by $1.7 million from the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund Ltd. (ACIDF) and involving almost 20 staff, this is one of AARD’s larger research studies. In addition to evaluating the impacts of nitrogen management changes on crop yield, quality and growth by geographic area and soil type, researchers are also analyzing nitrogen rate limits to reduce seedling damage and calculating how changes in nitrogen use reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The 2012 growing season will be the final year of data collection, with test plots of barley, wheat and canola grown at nine sites around the province. Kryzanowski hopes to have final results inputted into AFFIRM by June 2014, but said early results indicate grower-applicable value in this research.
“From the data I’ve looked at so far, there are some very good results, especially when you start incorporating economics,” he said.
At many sites, Agrium’s ESN fertilizer appears to be living up to its advertised benefits. Moisture and temperature sensitive, ESN fertilizer is designed to increase nitrogen efficiency by releasing the nutrient at the same rate a plant grows.
“In general, we have found that ESN fertilizer has performed fairly well, especially on canola, where we’ve seen economic benefits in about 70 per cent of the crop across the province,” said Kryzanowski. “Wheat and barley have been a little bit less responsive to ESN fertilizer, but we’re still seeing benefit in about 55 per cent of treatments in terms of economic and yield increases. We are also seeing less seedling damage from higher rates of the ESN product.”
Moisture is proving to be a huge factor in nitrogen response, as well.
“Areas of the province that have had good moisture responded very well,” he said. “Even areas that have suffered from drought conditions have shown some economic benefits, which was a little unexpected.”
In terms of strategy, spring versus fall application holds some significant differences, he said.
“Our greatest challenge is to identify where and when each of the nitrogen fertilizer products will give the greatest benefit and options for crop production,” said Kryzanowski.