Agronomy Update – April 1st

Good morning everyone,

Spring has definitely arrived in Prince Edward Island.  Lots of folks are working on gear, starting to grade seed, and getting ready for another cropping season.  I wish you all the best as you prepare for another planting season, and I hope that you all stay safe and healthy during the busy time ahead.

The last two weeks, AIM Working Groups have been meeting to solidify project plans for this year.  In addition, Morgan and I have been following up with growers on both existing trials as well as potential trials for this summer.  As always, thank you to all of the growers who are keen to work with us on projects…your interest and involvement are fundamental to the success of the AIM program.


Seed Grading/Movement:  Helpful Hints

There are quite a few farms starting to grade and transport seed.  The prospect of an early planting season as well as warmer temperatures has quite a few folks getting an earlier start at grading.

A few things to keep in mind regarding seed handling and movement:

  • All equipment involved in the handling and movement of seed needs to be regularly and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. This includes graders, bin pilers, loader scoops, seed cutters, truck boxes, and more.  C & D is more than just “peace of mind”…it’s fundamental to ensuring that you aren’t bringing diseases and pests on to your farm and that you are keeping your seed as clean and disease free as possible.  If a truck arrives at your farm to transport seed and it isn’t cleaned and disinfected…that isn’t acceptable.  Let’s all do our part to reduce the risk of disease spread.
  • Consider upgrading the disinfection capabilities on your seed cutter. There has been increased issues with blackleg and bacterial soft rot on some varieties in the last few years on a number of farms.  One factor in this appears to be a change in blackleg species.  Increasingly prevalent is a new blackleg strain (Pectobacterium parmentieri) which is more aggressive and spreads more easily through seed cutting.  You may want to look at adding more frequent knife cleaning/disinfection capabilities to your cutter to help reduce the risk of blackleg spread.
  • Pay attention to temperature and humidity in your seed storage. I’m getting lots of reports of seed that is breaking dormancy and sprouting earlier this year.  I’m sure that this is due in no small part to the stress that much of this seed experienced in hot, dry conditions last year.  Growers will have to pay attention to temperature and humidity levels to keep seed from going out of condition.

    For those using refrigeration to keep seed cool, remember that there is such a thing as keeping seed too cold as well.  The biological optimum seed storage temperature (where the tuber remains dormant and doesn’t add physiological age) is around 4 degrees C (39 F).  Temperatures colder than this can cause the tubers to be stressed, converting starch into sugars and adding physiological age.  Warmer temperatures can of course accelerate sprouting/physiological age and increase the risk of some pathogens.

    For an increasing number of varieties (particularly those that are very apically dominant), adding a little warmth in advance of cutting/planting can be useful, as it may increase stem/tuber number on those varieties, as well as accelerating emergence.  If you are growing a new variety this year, consult with your seed supplier to understand that variety and how it may need to be handled differently than varieties you usually grow.

  • A video of our seed management workshop (as well as the slide deck) from earlier this month is available on the Agronomy Website on the Seminars/Presentations Page.

    March 9-10, 2021
    AIM Workshop:  Seed Management
    Presenters:  Ryan Barrett, Steve Watts, Mary Kay Sonier
    Powerpoint Presentation (PDF)         Video of Livestream Presentation (YouTube)


Looking for Trial Participants:

The Seed Working Group is looking for some growers who would be interested in doing some field-scale evaluations of different seed size this spring.  In particular, looking for some growers interesting in evaluating the following:

  • Increasing average seed piece size
  • Eliminating a greater proportion of small sets (1.5 ounce and less)
  • Planting whole seed pieces separately from cut seed pieces, possibly with different spacings

If you would be interested in doing a bit of a field trial in this area, please give me a call or send me an email…I’d love to hear from you about setting up a bit of a trial.


Last Call for Operation Pollinator:

Seed is currently being ordered for those participating in the Operation Pollinator program this year.  If you haven’t already reached out to me or haven’t received an application form yet, please contact me ASAP.

Creating a pollinator refuge will look good on your PSA questionnaire or similar sustainability audits with your customers!  And we are covering the cost of seed as well as a small per acre payment to help with establishment costs.  Contact me for more details.


Keeping an Eye on Fertility:

A few thoughts on fertility considerations, as farms are finalizing their fertility plans:

  • If you are planning to fertilize winter wheat/fall rye…don’t be in too much of a rush to get nitrogen on. It’s supposed to stay cool and wet the next two weeks, and any nitrogen applied now won’t be able to benefit the crop very much and is at risk of leaching.  Work by the Atlantic Grains Council showed that winter wheat fertilized in mid April yielded better than winter wheat fertilized late March or early April.
  • Pay attention to your Phosphorus (P) rates in your fertilizer blends. If you’re looking for an opportunity to save money on fertilizer this year….lowering P could be part of that.  Most fertilizer blends that I see are applying much more P than is needed by the crop, and soil test levels for P in potato rotations are regularly quite high.  Yes…fields with low pH and high Aluminum (Al) levels can tie up P, so consult with your nutrient management planner or agronomist to find the right rate.  However, a 350 cwt/acre potato yield will only remove 52.5 lbs/acre of P2O5 (or 22.9 lbs of P) per acre…so be aware of how much you actually need.
  • The same 350 cwt/acre potato crop will remove 10.5 lbs/acre of sulphur (S). Sulphur is perhaps a nutrient we have ignored a bit in the past.  Keep an eye on your soil tests and work with your agronomist/nutrient planner to ensure that you have sufficient S in your fertilizer blends.  Good sources of sulphur include K-Mag, Ammonium Sulfate (AS), and gypsum.


Volunteer Management:

With a milder winter and less frost in the ground this year, there may be a higher number of volunteer potatoes kicking around this year.  Volunteer potatoes can be a source of disease like late blight or PVY and need to be managed.

Spudsmart did a webinar recently on volunteer management, if you’re interested in learning more about the topic.  You can find it at:

All the best to you and your families this Easter weekend!