Understanding Rainfall and the Fate of Soil Nutrients

To understand what happens with nutrients in the soil and how to manage zones within a field, you have to pay attention to how the soil handles water.

If that wasn’t obvious enough, it becomes clear when you visit Mitch Timmerman and his ‘rainfall simulator’ trailer.

“Water can influence the fate of nutrients, the development of soils, delineation of management zones, and ultimately it’s about providing information to inform decision-making by growers,” explains Timmerman, the agri-ecosystems specialist for Manitoba Agriculture, in the video below.

Commissioned by the provincial ag department with funding from Fertilizer Canada, the mobile simulator compares a spectrum of soil types and how they respond to rainfall. For example, the sticky clay soil from the Red River Valley tends to have ponding on the surface, while the water quickly moves down through the gritty sandy soil from Carberry.

Beyond soil type, the simulator adds slope and tillage practices to the equation — both factors that influence water movement and need to be considered when trying to maximize nitrogen efficiency and minimize leaching and denitrification.

From there, the conversation shifts to deciding whether to use a slow release fertilizer, nitrogen placement, and crop timing of nutrient uptake, explains Timmerman.

“The use of nitrogen fertilizer is essential for production, but naturally with rainfall, it’s going to induce emissions, so we want to empower the industry with the knowledge on what can be done to mitigate those emissions while farmers are seeking profits and feeding the world.”

Check out the video below for a much better description and tour of Manitoba Ag’s new ‘rainfall simulator,’ filmed at the 2016 Crop Diagnostic School in Carman:

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