Wheat Pete's Word, Feb. 6: Dissolved phosphorus risks, starter fert on soys, and a soil test reminder


As we march in to February, Peter ‘Wheat Pete’ Johnson is busy making the rounds at the winter conferences: from FarmTech last week in Edmonton, to Ontario Soil and Crop’s AGM at Kingston this week. In this episode of Wheat Pete’s Word, Johnson shares some of what he’s heard on the show circuit, as well as cover the top questions that have come in on the listener line and via social media.

Most of the content this week is centred on fertilizer — and, as Wheat Pete says, any of these questions have to start with a recent soil test. Don’t have one? Listen on, because Pete’s got some choice words for you.

Have a question you’d like Johnson to address? Or some yield results to send in? Disagree with something he’s said? Leave him a message at 1-888-746-3311, send him a tweet (@wheatpete), or email him at [email protected].


  • Well, we thought we were doing OK on this wheat crop, but up comes the wind and there goes the topsoil. Begs the question: how many tonnes of soil move with wind? Surprisingly, it’s not that much tonnage, but it’s your best soil moving, y’all. The best of the best with your highest organic matter. Cover that soil!
  • The wind exposed the wheat crop, too, increasing the risk of cold injury, especially on hill tops and knolls
  • Johnson heard lots about the stress, anxiety, and the vilification of agriculture (read about the background on Cam Houle’s tweet here) at the OSCIA AGM.
  • Be proactive. Reach out and share what we do, why we do it. Connect, and show that we’re real people, not villains
  • Also this month, Before the Plate, an Ontario documentary is free to view
  • Now, some tough talk: It is indefensible to farm without current soil tests, meaning one in five, or one in three years. A current soil test is the very basis of nearly every fertility decision and informs many others. Don’t call with fertility questions unless you’ve got some recent soil test figures. It’s an environmental issue, too.
  • Manure vs. human biosolids: if there are issues with manure movement after rain, or when spread on snow, what about biosolids pellets? The biosolids are actually quite benign, unless they physically move (bad for both manure and pellets).
  • Phosphorus moving off site isn’t just about particle movement, it’s also about dissolved phosphorus movement, and that’s where manure is at much higher risk
  • Winter rainfall is a huge contributor to phosphorus movement. In one watershed, they measured 1/4 pound per acre lost over three days., which was 1/3 of the loss for the entire year. And more water = more loss (it doesn’t dilute)
  • Cover crops: after wheat, and froze in the fall. Does that contribute to phosphorus loss? Depends on type of cover crop grown, but still lower vs. bare soil. Really cool!
  • Plant green… soil health may compensate somewhat for the yield drag, but still building the data
  • Questions on Twitter about when starter fertilizer is worth if for soybeans. Let’s remember we need to start with a soil test…again. On a low soil test, P and K make all the difference
  • Soybeans are 4x more likely to be injured by salt toxicity, so seed/fertilizer band separation is key
  • On a low soil test, where we broadcast P, we get 3 bu/ac response; broadcast K, we got 2 bu/ac, but if we broadcast BOTH we got 16 bu/ac. That’s some good math. Soybeans need ’em both, synergistic effect. Build up those soil tests to medium levels and you won’t miss out on that yield year by year…
  • Setting up a new planter, is it worth setting up a 2×2 band AND on-seed fertilizer placement? On true heavy clays, yes!


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