Most of the soils in Alberta are deficient in nitrogen and phosphorus; some areas are also deficient in other nutrients such as potassium, sulfur, manganese, iron and copper.
Regardless of tillage system, adequate soil fertility is essential for profitable crop production and a good fertilizer management program starts with a soil test for nutrient requirements. This can be done either in the fall or early spring.
Crop rotation and weather can significantly impact soil nutrient supply and crop-use year to year.
Apply adequate nutrients based on an appropriate soil-testing program. Learn to identify deficiency symptoms and use the growing crop as an indicator / measurement of nutrient management goals.
Fertilizer Placement - Some of the common fertilizer placement methods for direct seeding in Alberta are:
- Pre-seed Banding (fall or spring) – Fertilizer is placed in a band 3-6 inches below the soil surface in a separate-pass (preferably low-disturbance). Usually for N, this method can avoid some of the seedbed problems and logistics commonly associated with one-pass direct seeding under high fertility.
- Seed-placed Fertilizer (Single Shoot) – Granular or liquid fertilizer is placed with the seed. This is an efficient means of fertilizer application, but care must be taken to avoid seed damage and crop injury.
- Side-band (Double Shoot) – Where seed is placed nearby in a single or paired row on either side of the fertilizer band. Depending on soil conditions, moderate to high rates of fertilizer can be applied in a single pass with minimal risk for germinating seedlings. (ie: fertilizer and seed are safely separated 1 – 2 inches apart).
- Mid-row (fertilizer-N) – A placement method for high nitrogen rates to reduce injury to emerging seedlings. At seeding time (same-pass) fertilizer is centered between every second seed row using a separate opener (disc or coulter most common).
Opener Systems – Several ground openers and toolbars are available for variations in placement of seed and fertilizer. Direct seeders must choose a seeding implement with an opener design suited to their fertilizer management program. Click here for more information on openers. Some of the common terms and company trade names are:
Bourgault MRB (mid-row)
Morris Maxim III (double-shoot airdrill)
JD 1895 SFP (no-till disc)
Knife (single-shoot opener)
Seed Hawk (side-band)
Stealth (paired-row opener)
Seeding Speed – For precision seed and fertilizer placement most one-pass double-shoot openers work best below speeds of 6mph for low soil disturbance, adequate residue clearance, and less maintenance.
Click here for more information about direct seeding basics.
Nitrogen (N) Management - Beyond soil moisture (H20), N can be the most limiting factor in cereal and oil-seed production. Therefore nitrogen management is key to a successful fertilizer program. Low disturbance one-pass direct seeding systems enhance both N-cycling and crop water-use efficiency. N-fertilizer is usually applied in a soil band, rather than surface broadcast, but new research is advancing nutrient management, product recommendations, and associated placement techniques for direct seeding situations. Click here to read more about enhanced efficiency fertilizers.
Listed are some traditional and new sources of commercial N-fertilizer:
N–Fertilizer Forms New N-Products
Liquid nitrogen (28-0-0) ESN
Click here for more information on nitrogen management.
Phosphorus (P) Management – P does not move much in the soil profile and adequate levels are critical for crop production. Cool soil temperatures can make P less available in direct seeding therefore effective placement and timing is required. P-fertilizer can be effectively seed-placed and/or banded near the seed. Click here for more information on phosphorus management.
Potassium (K) Management - K is essential for optimum yields however most soils in Alberta are not K-deficient, with the exception of some isolated areas with high rainfall and sandy soils. If the soil test calls for K, it can be seed-placed or banded. Click here for more information about potassium management.
Sulfur (S) Management – As an important crop nutrient, S-levels within a field can vary widely depending upon soil type and slope position. S-fertilizer can be effectively seed-placed, banded or surface-applied. Click here for more information about sulfur management.