06 Apr Agronomy Update – April 6th
After much of the Island got snow (and a significant amount in the east), a couple of days of sun and plus temperatures is dealing with that white stuff pretty quickly. The long range forecast looks decidedly more spring-like…thankfully.
I want to thank everyone who was able to take in any of the conference at the Potato Expo last week. We had a good line-up of speakers and good attendance. I should have videos of the presentations edited and uploaded soon, and I’ll share those links with you when I get them. Thanks to Lorraine MacKinnon who was co-chair of the conference with me.
Folks are starting to turn their attention to grading and moving home seed, finalizing fertility and crop rotation plans and making sure everything is ready for the field season. Now that “meeting season” is pretty much over, I plan to try and get out to visit growers in the next couple of weeks to follow up on last year’s trial results, discuss possible trials for this year, and just have some good agronomy and research conversations. Let me know if you want to schedule a visit!
Optimizing Crop Rotation:
I know lots of growers are trying to finalize cropping plans, and a big part of that is looking at the rotation crops between potato crops.
We all know that fertilizer prices have mostly doubled, seed prices and fuel costs are up…but so are commodity prices. Hopefully many of you will be able to capitalize on higher prices wheat, barley, soybean, canola, peas, mustard, etc that have all risen to all-time highs in many cases.
Most growers in PEI precede their potato crops with a forage crop or mixture or some type of soil-building crop. A few thoughts of mine when you’re looking at your rotation plans this spring:
- If you trade/rent land with beef or dairy producers and you need to be growing some hay, give serious consideration to alfalfa. Last year, we completed a 3 year trial looking at different forages and their effect on both potato early dying (PED) and marketable yield. In both fields, marketable yields were the best following alfalfa/timothy compared with double cut red clover, ryegrass, or white clover/grass.
Yield and quality for Prospects
|> 10 oz
|Total Defects %||Specific
|DC Red Clover||340.9 ab||0.9||35.1||9.0||1.077||310.1||3683 ab|
|Alfalfa/Timothy||354.6 b||2.3||49.0||2.8||1.076||337.4||4060 b|
|White Clover/Festolium||280.2 a||2.0||31.4||3.6||1.078||268.5||3225 a|
|Festolium||297.6 a||1.5||29.6||2.8||1.078||285.0||3379 ab|
Yield and quality for Mountain Gem Russets
|> 10 oz
|Total Defects %||Specific
|DC Red Clover||295.5||5.5||27.2||0.1||1.086||279.2||3682|
- A few reasons why alfalfa may contribute to higher yields:
- It is a compaction fighter, helping to break up compaction layers in your soil.
- It fixes a considerable amount of nitrogen, particularly important at a time of high fertilizer prices.
- Generally, we’ve seen lower nematode number following alfalfa than following red clover.
- And not to be forgotten…alfalfa makes better quality hay/silage than red clover…particularly in a dry year due to its drought tolerance.
- Don’t be afraid to sell a crop or two of hay/silage if that helps with cash flow and helps pay for your seed and fertilizer. However, make sure that you are getting enough for that feed to replace primarily the potash that you export.
- Word of warning: alfalfa doesn’t really like soils much below 6.0 pH.
If you’ve got fields that are not seeded to forage already and are supposed to go into potatoes in 2023, there are options to consider:
- On strong fields, you might be better off to grow an early-to-harvest cash crop (barley, wheat, peas, mustard) to capitalize on high commodity prices. Just make sure you establish a cover after that cash crop, as our cover crop research seems to indicate that has both short-term and long-term benefits. If you’re trying to keep fertilizer costs down, both barley and peas are relatively low fertility crops compared to wheat, corn, etc.
- On your problem fields…try and diagnose what your biggest challenge is and suit your crop to match it. Check out the Rotation Crop Reference Table I put together a couple of years ago to help you come up with options.
- For those that heard Aaron Mills’ presentation last week, a key point from his rotation research that is in line with studies elsewhere: ultra-diverse seed mixtures don’t really seem to improve soil organic matter or yields more than less diverse mixtures that are geared for potatoes in mind. What is in the mix is more important than how many species there are.
- Finally…I often get the question “which rotation crops build soil organic matter the fastest?” From the work that we’ve done plus the work being done elsewhere…it looks like the choice of crop is less important than these factors:
- Keeping your field green with living roots as long as possible
- Minimizing tillage wherever possible
- Maximizing biomass
Looking for trial fields – Compaction Detection
AIM is looking for a couple of fields as part of a trial with UPEI on detecting soil compaction with soil electroconductivity sensors. What we’re looking for:
- To be planted to potatoes in 2022
- A field that you think may have variable levels of soil compaction within the field
- Ideally, would be looking for one field that was tilled last fall (residue tillage) and one that will be spring ploughed before planting.
The trial is very simple…your field would be scanned for electroconductivity, and follow up yield samples will be taken in the fall of 2022. No further work would be required on your end. Please let me know if you think you might have a suitable field.
Interested in Trials?
Do you have something you’re interested in doing some trial work on? Give me a call or shoot me an email…I’d be happy to discuss it with you!
A couple of areas I’d be very interested in finding some trial partners on:
- N reduction in seed production (particularly newer varieties)
- Manure management
- Bruise reduction/seed handling
SpudChat this week: Irrigation Management
On this week’s episode of SpudChat, I talk with Michele Konschuh, one of our speakers at the Potato Expo, about irrigation management as well as how they irrigate in Alberta. Available here or where you get your podcasts.
Managing Wireworm – The Agronomists from RealAgriculture
I participated in a panel talk with two other fine gentlemen from Ontario and Alberta on Monday night on the topic of wireworm management. For anyone interested in watching or listening, you can check it out. Thanks to Christine Noronha for letting me share some of her research results in addition to work that we’ve done through the Board.
Enjoy the rest of the week…bring on more sun!