How can you tell a good crop production product from snake oil?
That’s going to be an even more important question now that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency no longer evaluates the efficacy of supplements and fertilizers, said Murray Hartman, an oilseed specialist at Alberta Agriculture’s Lacombe Crop Development Centre.
“This sort of opens the door for all these wonder products to come in without any good data backing them up,” said Hartman. “That’s why we decided to set out these plots and assess some of the more actively promoted products.”
The trials, dubbed Ultimate Canola Challenge, are in their first year and are being conducted at nine Alberta sites, as well as locations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Some sites are doing six treatments, while others are running 13 treatments.
“We’re going to get a few site years of data,” said Hartman. “And it’s important. As a producer, you really want to be seeing as much data as you can, not just the glossy pictures of what a plant looks like in the rows versus not. You want to see the response of all the sites. I personally like to see 15 to 20 site years of data on a product before I make a decision.”
Any product that consistently boosts yield more than 50 per cent of the time will go into Hartman’s “probable” category — which means he will recommend it or spend money on it. A product that boosts yield 25 per cent of the time earns a “maybe,” but Hartman said he wouldn’t bother with products that only boost yield less than 20 per cent of the time.
Test plots at the Lacombe site received about 130 pounds of nitrogen, side banded at the time of seeding. Other plots received 100 pounds of nitrogen for a yield comparison. Another plot received 125 per cent of recommended nitrogen to see if that made more sense.
“If you want to spend extra money, maybe the extra nitrogen is worth it,” Hartman said.
In another treatment, an extra 25 per cent of nitrogen was applied as a foliar application.
“We do know that if you can predict your conditions properly and you know the right nitrogen rate, it’s still the best management practice to put the nitrogen down at the time of seeding as a band, away from the seed,” he said.
Boron is another input being studied. Data on boron trials suggest it rarely boosts yields, but Hartman is running a trial in which a boron product was applied at early flowering and, in another trial, at the four- to six-leaf stage.
“The theory is that if we start to become boron deficient at the rosette to bud stage, this could affect the fertility of the first part of the flowering racine. It’s a theory and it’s possible,” he said.
Researchers are also testing seed primers, such as seed-applied micronutrients that are claimed to produce more robust seedlings.
“This is another one where there’s feasibility, but we need independent data and that’s what we’re hoping to generate,” said Hartman.
Researchers are testing C3, a product that helps canola become more tolerant to herbicide, as well as a bio-stimulant that stimulates different processes in the canola plant.
“Whether they are nutrient or plant responses, it’s not really clear,” said Hartman. “But in some parts of the world, they do get responses from bio-stimulants. Again, we lack data in Western Canada.”
Hartman plans to publish the data this winter and is hoping to continue the trials in the coming years.