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Practices Worth Pursuing

Dr. Gurbir Dhillon discussed practices worth pursuing at Farming Smarter’s 2022 Conference & Trade Show.

Farming Smarter has been researching the benefits of deep banding nutrients, as well as precision planting in canola and pulse crops. For the past two years, Dhillon has been one of the researchers leading this endeavour.

A Deep Dive at Deep Banding

For decades, no-tillage practices have been the norm in the Canadian prairies. Due to this, surface residue following a harvest remains above soils instead of getting mixed into the deeper layers. When this residue decomposes, the nutrients are cycled into the layers just beneath the surface.

This leads to an increased concentration of nutrients in the top layers of soil compared to the deeper layers – this is known as nutrient stratification.

Because the nutrients aren’t in the root zone, it can be difficult for the roots to absorb the nutrients they need. Nutrients need moisture to move through the soil, so the impact of nutrient stratification can be amplified in dry weather.

As crop genetics and agronomic practices improve, we are seeing soils requiring consistent applications of fertilizer. We began to wonder if we could fight two birds with one stone.

We wanted to see if we could combat nutrient stratification by deep banding immobile nutrients into the soil.

Dr. Gurbir Dhillon presenting on practices worth pursuing at Farming Smarter’s 2022 Conference & Trade Show

For this study, we looked at the effects of one-time deep banding versus those of annual shallow banding potassium, phosphorus, and copper over three years. We used a crop rotation of pea-wheat-canola throughout the study and ran trails in Falher, Vegreville and Lethbridge, Alberta.

This allowed us to have a consistent rotation of crops while diversifying the types of soil we tested with. For this study, we had access to brown, black, and grey soils.

While we did see improvement in some site years, we did discover it was in response to the addition of nutrients rather than the method of banding.

In general, there wasn’t much difference between one-time deep banding and annual shallow banding. We saw little difference in nutrient uptake and crop production between the two methods.

While most farmers are familiar with shallow banding, those interested in deep banding will be happy to hear that the difference is primarily in logistics. Deep banding requires an extra pass, which can be done in fall and save some time during seeding.

While deep banding does cause soil disturbance, those looking to handle less fertilizers at seeding might want to check it out.

Pursuing Precision Planting

Precision planters are primarily used to seed conventional row crops like corn. Recently, producers have been experimenting with them to plant other crops, like small grains.

Due to the flexibility of these machines, we wanted to see if they were adaptable enough to be used on a variety of crops without much hassle.

We’ve been looking at the effectiveness of precision planters when they’re used to seed canola and pulse crops. For our study, the pulse crops we used were chickpeas, fababeans, lentils, peas, and soybeans.

This four-year study tested three seeding systems; air drill at 12” row spacing, precision planter at 12” row spacing, and precision planter at 20” row spacing. We tested four seeding rates; 20, 40, 60, 80, and 160 seeds/m2.

A plot of field peas that have been seeded through precision planting; part of the Perfectly Placed study.

Our study included irrigated and dryland conditions in Lethbridge, and just dryland conditions in Medicine Hat.

We found that precision planting led to a better emergence rate in canola, as well as all pulses minus lentils. Additionally, seed yield was increased in canola with the narrow planting when there was increased moisture in the soil.

While we did see better yield from precision planters at some site years, it wasn’t a huge response. However, we did see that precision planters led to better stalk health in the crops. In canola, we saw this in our wide & narrow row trials but in pulses this was only evident in our narrow rows.

When it comes to seed yield, we saw that precision planters led to increased yield in canola and performed as good or better than the air drill in our pulses trials.

As for wide row planting versus narrow row planting, we did find that wide row planting canola did lead to a lesser yield while narrow row planting increased yield!

So, if you’re thinking of pursuing this practice remember to keep your rows narrow!

To stay updated with these projects, bookmark the project pages!

Deep Banding Immobile Nutrients

Precision Planting Canola

Dr. Gurbir Dhillon’s presentation on these projects will be available for Agronomy Smarts subscribers on our YouTube channel in the next week.

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