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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • FEBRUARY 2019


29


Digging into soil nutrition at education day Test soils to find out what they need, ranchers told


by TOM WALKER VERNON – North Okanagan Livestock


Association president Lani French welcomed some 100 members and guests to the annual NOLA education day at Predator Ridge, January 16. “We usually have a focus on marketing,” says


French. “But we decided to change it up with presentations on nutrients – fertilizing your forage and feeding your cows.” The afternoon included a town hall meeting hosted by BC Cattlemen’s Association. “We find out as we travel that the AGM is not


always in the right place for people to attend and they don’t always hear about the issues,” says BCCA president Larry Garrett. “So these town halls are an opportunity for us to get out to the communities … [and] listen.” Professional agrologist Ken Clancy, president and


owner of Okanagan Fertilizer based out of Enderby, led the afternoon with a presentation on sustainable forage agronomy. “The beef sector is the largest commodity group


we serve,” says Clancy. “Since my father started the business in 1976 we have been proud to have customers like NOLA members August Bremer and second-generation families like Werner Stump following his dad.” Clancy talked about maximizing the production


of forage crops by first assessing the chemistry of the soil and adding nutrients and minerals to create a balanced growing environment for each crop. “It starts with a soil test,” stresses Clancy. He analyzes around 1,000 soil samples a year and


develops practical recommendations based on the results. After looking at what’s available in the soil and


taking into account what manure applications contribute, Clancy says ranchers can then address any nutrient shortfalls with a fertilizer program.


The four Rs The four Rs of nutrient stewardship help achieve


cropping system goals while minimizing field nutrient loss and maximizing crop uptake. They include the Right source (matching fertilizer type to crop needs), the Right rate (matching the amount of fertilizer to crop needs), the Right time (providing nutrients when the crop needs them) and the Right place (keeping nutrients where crops can use them). Clancy says soil pH “is the foundation of soil health and a strong influence on the availability of nutrients in the soil.”


While a neutral pH of 7 is best for most crops, alfalfa likes a higher pH, or the alkaline soils found from the Okanagan north through the Cariboo to Quesnel. Nitrogen is the most important fertilizer nutrient, continues Clancy. All grasses need it. (Corn is a grass, he adds.) But it’s hard to maintain soil nitrogen levels as


nitrogen is very prone to leaching. “It is nearly always deficient. Don’t rely on a fall


nitrogen tests. The levels that you see in the fall will not be there come spring when you are looking to plant,” says Clancy, adding, “You will need to apply nitrogen to any grass crop,” says Clancy. “It drives yield.” Dry land, one-cut alfalfa will take 20 pounds of


nitrogen per acre, while irrigated hay with a target of three cuts per year will need 150 pounds per acre or more. Corn is even hungrier. “I always joke that with corn you have to grow a


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tree in four months,” says Clancy. “Many of my customers are working with ESN


Smart nitrogen,” says Clancy, noting that the coated pellets reduce leaching and give a controlled release over 60 days. “It may cost a bit more, but it improves efficiency.” Phosphorus is the most difficult soil nutrient to


address, Clancy says. “It’s a difficult mineral to assess and it continually builds in the soil over time.” Phosphorus improves seed germination and


emergence and is best applied at seeding so it is readily available to emerging plants. Soil tests will help producers integrate the


necessary levels of potassium (K), magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca), as well as micronutrients such as boron to add to the soil. Clancy reminded ranchers of the “Law of the Minimum.” “Yields are determined not by the total amount


of resources available to the crop but by the most scarce or limiting factor,” he says. Boron for instance, is only required in small amounts, but it is critical for alfalfa yields. This leads Clancy to recommend a custom


fertilizer blend that can be prescribed for your particular soil and crop needs and help follow the four Rs. “A custom blend will allow you to apply the nutrients that the science is telling you to,” he says. “You will be spending your money wisely, nutrients won’t be over applied so you minimize potential pollution and you can make use of the latest technology. Most of all, he says, don’t just guess what the soil needs or take a fertilizer mix off the shelf. “Use your soil test to get a blend to get it right,”


he says.


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