Timing is Everything
Farmers look forward every year with hope to a new growing season. Each year brings its own challenges and rewards. Last year we had record-breaking wheat harvests in some areas, while other areas suffered badly from the hot dry weather and drought conditions.
This year is already proving to be a wet spring. In a season when timing is so precious, managing nutrient applications around these wet conditions may be more challenging than ever. Now that spring planting is underway, it is worth remembering the importance of carefully timing nutrient application to get the biggest benefit.
More and more certified crop advisors (CCAs) in Ontario are now qualified to advise farmers on nutrient application using the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program. This program emphasizes applying nutrients from the right source, in the right place, at the right rate, and at the right time. This philosophy of nutrient application includes not only purchased inputs, but manure as well.
Part of applying nutrients at the right time means taking into consideration the conditions of the soil and the expected weather forecast. This is especially important in the non-growing season, when nutrients, especially manure, should not be spread on frozen or snow-covered ground. But timing is also important in spring when significant storms and still largely bare fields mean water can get moving quickly. Careful timing helps ensure that nutrients, in whatever form, are taken up by plants rather than washed away in a heavy rain.
Good stewardship benefits both farmers and the broader public. While the benefits of keeping nutrients where they are applied are obvious, sometimes the cost of any loss to the farmer is not economically significant enough to change practices. However, it is important to remember that even small losses of nutrients, when added together over the broader landscape, can have a more significant environmental impact. Through good nutrient stewardship on every farm, all farmers have a role to play in the successful effort to better control nutrient losses.
There is increasing public attention on the impacts of excessive phosphorus in our waterways and lakes. Ontario, in cooperation with the federal government, is currently in the process of developing a Domestic Action Plan for Canada to reduce phosphorus loading into Lake Erie. A significant portion of the phosphorus that ends up in the lake is transported during major storm or thaw events.
Phosphorus that ends up in the lake comes from a number of urban and rural sources. The Domestic Action Plan outlines many different actions across a number of sectors to reduce phosphorus from these diverse sources. CFFO is actively engaged with the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program and is participating in government working groups that are consulting on this complex issue. As part of collective action on phosphorus reduction, all of agriculture is actively working to be part of the solution.
Opinions expressed in the CFFO Commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily represent CFFO policy.