The Agronomists, Ep 68: Warren Ward and Peter Johnson on starter fertilizer considerations


Welcome to another episode of The Agronomists!

For this episode, host Lyndsey Smith is joined by Warren Ward with the Canola Council of Canada, and RealAgriculture resident agronomist, Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson. The topic of discussion today is starter fertilizer — of course with some other colourful tidbits thrown in there as well.

The story continues with varying, and in some cases, extreme conditions, throughout Canada which undoubtedly affects when and how much fertilizer you apply to your crop.

Is it best to do a split application? Get the phosphorus on when you have the window of opportunity during seeding and then go back with nitrogen and sulphur? Of course, even this method largely depends on soil quality, moisture and upcoming moisture. You always run the risk of your nitrogen getting washed away completely if you apply it after the fact and then Mother Nature decides to bring in a big ol’ rain.

The panel dives into this topic, along with many other factors and variables that you should be keeping in mind or at least considering, as they discuss different locations and the conditions that are present, currently.


  • Eastern Ontario went from 0-100 real quick, fertilizer suppliers were having a hard time keeping up
  • Which had Pete reminiscing about the 1988 drought
  • Eastern Saskatchewan on the other hand is feeling the pressure as not many have a lot of crop in the ground and are well behind the average for this time of year
  • As the seeding window gets smaller and smaller, what sacrifices have to be made just to get the crop in the ground and can these be made up for down the road
  • For folks in Manitoba who still have a lot of moisture – can broadcasting canola and working with a harrow be successful?
  • Our guests say yes, but it should be a last resort and you must have a good fertility plan in place
  • Ontario has seen the heat lately and the wheat… well, isn’t looking so hot
  • Is this a critical stage for the wheat where the high temps could damage yield potential? Not quite yet
  • Is there such a thing as too much rain? Yes. Ask the farmers in Moorefield, ON, who got three inches of rain in an hour… no great.
  • Ontario has had previous years much drier, which has made for less tillage now
  • When conditions are too dry – you run the risk of several things including the fertilizer being too close to the seed which could create salt effect or ammonia toxicity, depending on the fertilizer
  • You may need to adjust your safe max rate
  • Reminder: fertilizer always takes on moisture first which could result in high salt content by the time the seed germinates
  • Is a split application your best bet?
  • If you apply less off the hop and get a big rain, can you make up for the decrease in fertilizer after the fact?
  • Is there a problem with high commodity prices? Maybe says Wheat Pete – it makes us want to do everything to get every last bushel we can

CLIP 1: Canola School: Starter fertilizer considerations

  • Soil residual N is something to keep an eye on…especially in drought conditions. Don’t forget to keep that in mind
  • Nitrogen coefficients, ya’ll
  • How early the release in the spring starts plays into this, too
  • Where do you make the sacrifices if you’re trying to save a couple of dollars? (We know input prices are through the roof)
  • If you now have to get the fertility on in a new way — whats do you need to get on it, and how
  • If the fields are that wet…do you really want to be seeding right now, anyways? Something to keep in mind.

CLIP 2: Corn School: Maximizing yield with dry or liquid starter fertilizer

  • A really light shallow tillage is sometimes just as bad as leaving it on the surface
  • Deeper is better, excess tillage is not, but in Ward’s mind — the deep banded nitrogen is the gold standard
  • “It depends…” is something you have to keep in mind. Every soil condition is different.
  • Placement does impact efficiency
  • Given same placement, a pound of nitrogen, is a pound of nitrogen
  • In less than ideal conditions, foliar may be the best way to go
  • Any micronutrient is going to work well as a foliar, because we don’t need much of it
  • Foliar is almost impossible with micronutrients
  • Canola is a high user of boron…however, it is still a micronutrient, so the number is small
  • You can’t expect miracles out of some things… let’s remember that!
  • From a grower perspective, trying to do things quickly – we really need to step back and assess the situation
  • Canola has a good root system, that is good at scavenging potassium out of the soil

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