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Between The Rows

Fall fertility and pulse marketability

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Some Prairie growers may be able to get a head start on next year’s seeding — and maybe a somewhat smaller bill for inputs — by putting down fertilizer this fall. Soil fertility specialist John Heard of Manitoba Agriculture discusses the hows, whats, whens and wheres. Also: checking in after last week’s Pulse and Special Crops Convention, Sean Pratt of the Western Producer explains how the market picture may have been redrawn for Prairie pulse growers. Hosted by Dave Bedard.

Read the full transcript of this episode

Dave Bedard: [00:00:05] Hi there and welcome to Between The Rows. I’ll be your host this week, Dave Bedard this week on the show. We’re looking forward to fall and not just because every food and beverage item for retail sales suddenly tastes vaguely like pumpkin pie. We’ll be talking about what to keep in mind if you’re planning to put down fertilizer this fall.

John Heard: [00:00:22] We like to target nitrogen applications to when soils are cooling down

Dave Bedard: [00:00:27] also, just as everyone with millions of dollars to spend on pulse processing is getting ramped up. Pulse crops in North America are going to be a lot harder to find this fall.

Sean Pratt: [00:00:36] The Canadian peas may all be gone by the time India changes its import duties and import quotas.

Dave Bedard: [00:00:43] Also, I’d like to mention another way you can find us. Namely, we’re now also on YouTube. Just search Between The Rows podcast. Again, make sure to punch in Between The Rows podcast. You’ll find our latest episodes there, and we really hope to use that YouTube space to post additional resources on our coverage. You know something else worth hitting that red subscribe button for? Hmm. And we’re also hoping it’s going to be another space where you can drop us a line. Let us know what you think about BTR, or maybe tell us about a story we should be taking a look at. Or maybe you’re already there and you’re waiting for this week’s episode, which begins right after this.

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Dave Bedard: [00:01:55] So it’s well known that putting in fall fertilizer can be a real time saver the following spring shaving a few days off the start of seeding next year and more likely than not to be cheaper than buying the same products in the springtime. But coming off a dry year like the one we just saw across much of western Canada can still complicate matters even after harvest. And to talk about that, we have John Heard here. He Soil Fertility Extension Specialist with Manitoba’s Agriculture Department. Mr. Heard, hi and welcome to Between The Rows.

John Heard: [00:02:22] Oh, thank you.

Dave Bedard: [00:02:23] Thank you. Now, which probably we should start with the basics here, you know, putting on fall fertilizer seems to be more of a Manitoba thing than in other parts of the West. Who’s who? What farmers on the prairies are more likely to put on full fertilizer in a normal year. And why?

John Heard: [00:02:39] Well, we still tend to do this in Manitoba, and it’s largely because zero till has been much more widely adopted in Saskatchewan and Alberta. And one of the things we’re zero till is that it works well with one pass seeding in the spring, where they’re more likely to either side band or mid roll band their nitrogen at seeding in Manitoba. We still tend to do more tillage or more residue management in the fall. And if we do that with an implement that also puts down nitrogen, we can kind of kill two birds with one stone. And it may say, why do we do more tillage here? Traditionally, we’re a better environment. High levels of crop residue produced and people want to do some sort of incorporation of that or handle that so that they can seed in the spring. So that’s just left us with about thirty five to forty five percent of our farmers here choose to put down nitrogen, largely nitrogen, in the fall.

Dave Bedard: [00:03:44] Mm hmm. Now what’s the usual window for fall application? It doesn’t close before Thursday this week, does it?

John Heard: [00:03:50] I know, and I hopefully it doesn’t start before Thursday of this week because what we do, we like to target nitrogen applications to when soils are cooling down, when we put nitrogen on in the fall. We want it to go into winter, ideally in the ammonium form. We don’t wish it to convert to nitrate. Once it converts to nitrate, then it’s subject to losses to leaching into nitrification. But that’s that process. That conversion is microbial. And if so, we apply our anhydrous ammonia or urea under cold conditions. That process proceeds very slowly, and that means most of our nitrogen over winters as ammonium or a form that’s resistant or unable to be leached or denitrified.

Dave Bedard: [00:04:45] Mm hmm. Now are there some

John Heard: [00:04:47] You to get back to the question? You know, what’s very common is to wait till after Thanksgiving and then go out by then soils often or ten degrees C or less in tending to cool, and that’s always tended to be a traditional target. And it kind of fits with, you know, our five to 10 degree target.

Dave Bedard: [00:05:07] Mm hmm. Now are there some products that are fertilizer products rather that are better suited to fall application than others?

John Heard: [00:05:14] Well, historically, anhydrous ammonia has been a common product to go down in the fall and again for Manitoba farmers, if they’re tending to do a bit of tillage anyways. This application will, so to speak, killed two birds with one stone, but urea can also go down. Something that we do like to see is if people are struggling to get enough phosphorus down at seeding dual banded nitrogen and phosphorus in the fall can be a very effective way to help meet those maintenance amounts of phosphorus. So generally, though, it tends to be urea and anhydrous ammonia are the nitrogen products of choice in the fall. But in recent years, we’ve seen the development of some of the enhanced efficiency fertilizers that have a controlled release aspect such as ESN and something like that could go down earlier. Likewise, inhibited nitrification inhibited products do also open that window a bit means we could put them down a little earlier without risk of loss. And that would be, for example, using Super U instead of urea or treating anhydrous ammonia with N-Serve or Centero or an increasing number of inhibitors are tending to be tested and coming to the market.

Dave Bedard: [00:06:47] Mm-hmm. Now let’s talk specifically about this year. Now how much of what we’ve just talked about is doable when the soils and traditionally wetter soils as well are abnormally dry?

John Heard: [00:07:00] Well, if we were talking a month ago, that would be our exact conversation. But actually, we received moisture. And if anything, our soils are in better shape now to receive, you know, in hydrous ammonia or urea. Then perhaps we’ve seen the last several years two falls ago was too wet. We were struggling through. Last year was very dry. Folks were actually, you know, breaking equipment, trying to bending shanks, trying to get into the very dry soil. But we’ve actually, in much of Manitoba now had rainfall that’s helped to soften the soil and in may allow us to get on there. There are also some parts of the province that have been soaked, and some of those guys are still hoping that they can get the crop off without muddying it up much.

Dave Bedard: [00:07:57] Mm hmm. Now, if the soil had stayed dry, I mean, what would we be looking at? What will we be looking at this fall and trying to get fall fertilizer in?

John Heard: [00:08:05] Well, in that case, we’ve got a couple options. The problem with dry is that the soil generally always has enough moisture to hold the ammonia. But what happens is that we tend to end up with big clods that don’t seal very well and so we can get free ammonia loss from this cloddy soil. When the soil is at a better moisture, content will tend to get better firming and sealing behind and that’s good. But if we have cloddy soils, our options are or this band the ammonia deeper, which is sometimes hard to do, do some pre-tillage so that it breaks up the clods a little smaller with the pre-tillage pass. Right now, when the dry cycle, people are really not wanting to do any more tillage than possible. But the third option was always wait and let’s see, maybe we’ll get some moisture and then we’ll have suitable soil conditions for banding.

Dave Bedard: [00:09:13] Now, are there any other cautions that people might want to or any other precautions that people might want to keep in mind before they set out to do this this fall?

John Heard: [00:09:23] Well, good question, because one of the things coming out of a drought, we’re always suspicious if there is more than normal leftover nitrogen remaining, if crop yields are lower diminished and that appears to be the case here in some of the drier parts of Manitoba we’re hearing I heard today of levels as high as one hundred and ten, a hundred and forty up to two hundred pounds residual nitrogen following some of these failed or droughted out crops. Now that nitrogen that’s there now and and it is what’s available for next year’s crop to grow. So, the before any equipment goes to the field to apply fertilizer, I really hope that growers assess, do an inventory and see what’s there. With some of the very high carryover they may well wish to adjust their fertility program may decide that they can get on in the spring with their planter sufficient that they don’t need to do fall operations. There are also parts of the province that have had some fortuitous rainfall amounts of rainfall and timing, with some very good yields and expect in those areas, nitrogen levels will be depleted in the soil. Surveys have shown, farmers tell us that about forty to forty five percent of Manitoba farmers will test for nitrogen every year, and I would only hope and expect that that will go up this year as they try to tap into and see what’s left in the soil.

Dave Bedard: [00:11:00] Mm hmm. And, well, obviously, you know, if it’s more ideal now that’s great. I mean, is it possible that we could see even better application conditions, you know, sort of heading into heading closer to that, that ideal sort of that sweet spot for application errr.

John Heard: [00:11:17] Well, yes, I expect that. I don’t control the weather, but I expect maybe we’ll have some moisture between now and mid-October. And those are probably the that’s probably the area that people are targeting now and where, oh, your broadcast goes to. But of course, folks in Manitoba know that we have environmental laws to protect the environment that close the door on nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application around November 10th. So that’s the end date we target. So farmers will look at what’s the acreage that they have, what’s their capability, their equipment and when do I start in order to have reasonable expectation of having my nitrogen on in time?

Dave Bedard: [00:12:04] Mm hmm. So farmers have farmers who’ve got their crops in off the field might still have reason to watch the skies for a little while yet. Mr Heard, thanks very much for your time today.

John Heard: [00:12:14] Oh, I hope that works for you. Have a good fall.

Dave Bedard: [00:12:18] Thank you. You, too. John Heard is a soil fertility specialist with the provincial Department of Agriculture and Resource Development at Carman, Manitoba. You’re listening to Between The Rows. I’m your host this week, Dave Bedard. 

Last week, the Canadian Special Crops Association held its Pulse and Special Crops Convention online, and one would think it’s a fortuitous time to be in the Canadian pulse crop business, with processors such as Roquette and Merritt Foods bringing their plants online here on the prairies. So finding demand for pulse proteins is obviously not going to be a problem which in 2021 leaves us with the rather thorny question of supply. For that, we’ve got Sean Pratt on the phone. He’s a reporter for the Western Producer who sat in on the conference and has been reporting on it this week. Sean, hi and welcome back to Between The Rows.

Sean Pratt: [00:13:14] Hi, Dave. Thanks for having me.

Dave Bedard: [00:13:16] So let’s start with the numbers for those who haven’t been keeping score at home. If we look at the pulse crops grown here on the prairies, you know, peas, lentils, dry beans, chickpeas, what do we know so far about how these crops survive the summer, you know, relative to, you know, canola wheat? The other major field crops?

Sean Pratt: [00:13:33] Well, if you go off, the stats can yield estimates, the lentils, chickpeas, beans are sort of in the 20 to 30 percent below last year’s levels, so they fared a little bit better than some of the cereal crops, which are in the 30 to 40 percent drop range. But peas are kind of lumped in with those cereals. They were hit pretty hard.

Dave Bedard: [00:14:00] Mm hmm. And as far as the stats can, estimates are concerned. How optimistic are pulse crop traders that were the were actually going to see crops like the official estimates predict?

Sean Pratt: [00:14:11] Well, I guess it depends on the crop. I sense some skepticism about the lentil number. Stats Canada is forecasting a 29 percent drop in lentil yields, and I think it was about a 34 percent drop in lentil production. But there is one analyst, Marlena Bearish, with Mercantile Consulting Venture. She said the Stats Canada number is 1030 pounds per acre for yield. But she said based on some of the early crop yields by district in Saskatchewan, that number could fall as low as 855 pounds per acre. Yeah, she’s not ready to drop her estimate to that level just yet, but she said it’s kind of a signal that maybe yields are going to drop a little further in future reports out of Stats Canada. And I got that sense from other panelists on the lentil panel so that that one may be one to watch out for.

Dave Bedard: [00:15:18] Mm hmm. And peas is also an interesting one. I gather from your reports that our neighbors to the immediate south haven’t fared much better than Canada has in in growing peas this year, either.

Sean Pratt: [00:15:32] Oh, yeah, you’re right. And in fact, I would suggest that they fared worse in key states like North Dakota, Minnesota, Washington, that was pretty, the drought was pretty grim. Colorado, Michigan, it was it was kind of a little bit better. But all in all, analysts thought, you know, maybe the pea production there will be about half of the normal crop, which is obviously not very good. So there’s that sort of sets up for an interesting dynamic in terms of the demand side of the equation.

Dave Bedard: [00:16:15] Mm hmm. And you know, obviously like in theory, they’d be turning to Canada to meet some of that supply. But our supply is not going to be that great either. You know, so and here we’ve got a major potential customer who doesn’t need to put peas on a boat to bring them in from Canada? You know, how is that going to affect Canada’s, you know, markets this year for for peas?

Sean Pratt: [00:16:35] Well, Chuck Penner, analyst with Leftfield Commodity Research, thinks that the U.S. is going to be the driver of the pea market this year because they’ve got a huge fractionation industry there, and they’ve also got a huge pet food industry in the states that are using a lot of peas these days. So while production in the U.S. is estimated at 500000 tons, the domestic demand is up around 850000 tonnes. And there’s also going to be more peas needed so that the U.S. can fulfill at least some of its export obligations. So they’re going to be a big buyer of peas this year. In fact, Penner was forecasting 450000 tons of imports from the U.S., up from about 100000 tons last year. Wow. And they are already bidding up T prices well above Canadian price levels. So he thinks they’re going to be a very big player in the market, and Canada is going to supply the lion’s share of that 450000 tons. So that means that some overseas markets are going to have to be working to curtail exports to some markets like Bangladesh and China. Penner was saying China was already starting to cut back on its pea imports because they’re not going into the feed channels like they were last year to the same extent. So on the China front, it may be kind of a timing might be right. I guess the Chinese can be looking for less peas and they’re going to get less peas from Canada. Mm hmm. So yeah, it it sets up an interesting dynamic. And the real potential question mark, I guess, is India.  Right now, they’re just a nonentity in the pea market and have been for a few years. But there are some there’s some talk that that that they may be in the market again. And that would really could really spark a price run if India’s desperate for peas, but they may be in the market too late. The Canadian peas may all be gone by the time India changes its import duties and import quotas.

Dave Bedard: [00:19:09] Mm hmm. And we don’t have much shortage of domestic demand here, either. I mean, with new processors coming online, that’s there’s going to be no shortage of demand in here in Canada alone for peas.

Sean Pratt: [00:19:21] Yeah, that’s right. We’re kind of mimicking the U.S. and starting to get fractionation industry of our own going here. Mm hmm. So the there’s going to be, you know, good demand domestically and also from on the feed peas side of things. If depending on where competing ingredients like corn and barley end up, there could be some decent feed demand for peas as well in Canada. So yeah, you’re right, there’s demand from all corners of the world, it seems. And but the supply is the question mark. Mm hmm.

Dave Bedard: [00:19:58] Now I gather that it’s pretty much the same scenario that’s expected to play out for chickpeas right now as well. You know that basically that there’s a there’s a that supply has fallen short overseas and that players may be looking to Canada for to supply chickpeas as well.

Sean Pratt: [00:20:17] Yeah, the U.S. is our is our main chickpea market. And so they’re going to be gobbling up, you know, basically everything that we have to sell. They buy like, I don’t know, somewhere around 90 percent of what Canada sells. So it’s it’s a big market for chickpeas, but it’s a small, small crop. And you know, it’s they’re talking about Stats Canada saying 63000 tons of chickpea production. Penner thinks it’ll be more likely 60 to 80000 tons. But either way, we don’t have a lot of chickpeas to sell. So the U.S. is going to have to be sourcing chickpeas from alternate suppliers like Mexico and maybe even as far afield as Russia. So, yeah, it’s a different scenario than the P one because we can largely supply all the peas that that the U.S. is going to need. But we don’t have the ability to do that with chickpeas.

Dave Bedard: [00:21:19] And I was interested also in your reports about the dry bean market. So like black beans, navy, pinto bean and so on. You know, obviously the new crop is going to be smaller, but if the if the stats are accurate, you know, someone in Canada seems to have old crop beans still in the bin and hasn’t Sold them yet.

Sean Pratt: [00:21:36] Yeah, well, apparently Stats Canada believes there’s a little over 100000 tons of carry over coming into this new crop year. Now the analysts Penner is quite skeptical of that number, and the reason he’s skeptical is that the prices are high for beans, and he just it doesn’t seem to reflect that there’s this big carryout out there, and I know some of the exporters and processors that were on bean panel or were in agreement with Penner that, you know, they tried to source beans this summer and just were unable to. So they’re also skeptical that there’s that much carryout coming in. I mean, if Stats Canada’s right, we’ll have about 500000 tons of bean supply, which would be well above the typical crop of around 400000 tons of supply. So that was sort of suggests that, you know, maybe these really strong prices might not, you know, that there might be a cap on those. But you know, if Penner and the other panelists are right and the carry out number is smaller than that are much smaller than that, you know, we could see beans taking out the previous highs that were set. I think it was back in 2011 of about 50 cents a pound. So, you know, the bean market really is going to pivot on that, that carry out number and how accurate that is.

Dave Bedard: [00:23:22] And on top of all this, potential buyers, I gather, have they have. Of course, they have another problem to contend with, at least overseas buyers in terms of actually getting product into their country. What can you tell us about that?

Sean Pratt: [00:23:35] Yeah. Well, there was a separate panel all about the container shipping problems that have plagued the industry for, you know, a couple of years now. And there I was kind of surprised and shocked to hear Stephen Paul, Vice President of Supply Chain Logistics for Ray-Mont Logistics. He says that they’re anticipating probably a quarter of the volume of pulses to move through Vancouver. That’s containerized pulses in the coming year. So, you know, I knew things are bad, but boy, that sounds pretty grim a quarter. Now some of that will be that there’s just less crop to export. But, you know, he just he sure painted a fairly grim, grim picture about what’s happening out in Vancouver. So the alternative is shipping pulses in containers through the Port of Montreal. That would be sort of the main alternative way to get those containerized pulses to market. But they really aren’t set up to handle a significant increase in containerized pulses. They’re, you know, the that container business really shifted to Vancouver many years ago, about 10 years ago. And so now it’s kind of swinging back a bit towards Montreal, but they just don’t have the infrastructure and the containers, frankly, to move all that extra business. So. Yeah, that’s a real problem for overseas buyers. And there’s other problems facing them as well, like higher labor costs. Someone in the Bean panel mentioned that the Tanners are facing higher steel prices. So for making their cans that they ship their beans out in. And so there’s a myriad of problems facing buyers, not to mention, you know, sky-high pulse prices and freight rates.

Dave Bedard: [00:25:40] Good grief. So if we if we follow all these reports to the to the bitter end, I mean, what are what are market watchers saying? I mean, is this sort of a time for pulse growers to cash in or to or to continue or to continue to hold if they have anything?

Sean Pratt: [00:25:54] Well, I can tell you, I didn’t hear one person say anything about now’s the time to sell, and now they certainly seem to be suggesting that there’s further price appreciation on the horizon for most of these crops. And you know, obviously there will be a point at which the demand starts to be rationed off, but they seem to suggest we haven’t hit that point yet. There’s still voracious demand. And you know, the sense I got from listening to the panelists is that farmers are really in the driver’s seat this year, and if they hold out a little longer, prices are going to rise a little further. So, you know, but markets are fickle and when the downturn happens, it can, you know, it can turn in a hurry. So. But they sure seem to indicate that we’re not at that point yet.

Dave Bedard: [00:26:59] Mm-hmm. And now suddenly, I am totally craving curry for lunch, and I get the feeling that I better get my chickpea fix in while the getting’s good. Sean Pratt, thank you very much for your time today.

Sean Pratt: [00:27:10] You bet. Thanks, Dave.

Dave Bedard: [00:27:11] Sean Pratt is a reporter with the Western Producer in Saskatoon. You can check out his reports from the Pulse and Special Crops Convention at You’re listening to Between The Rows. I’m your host this week, Dave Bedard. 

And that’s us for this week, but we’ll be back next week with more from the Glacier Farm Media family of publications and unless you’re there already. Don’t forget, you can also now find us on YouTube. Search up Between The Rows podcast. Make sure you have all those words in there and look for the BTR logo when you’re scrolling down. Also, while I’m out here with the shameless self-promotion, I’d like to call attention to another basket of useful stuff we’ve been compiling for you. This one’s called the dry times. It’s a Glacier Farm Media Resource guide for drought management, with not only drought related stories from across our publications these past weeks, but some external links to related resources you can check out. You can find this at you’ve been listening to Between The Rows and I’ve been your host this week. Dave Bedard. Thanks for listening.

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Commercial: [00:28:49] Get less guessing and more data. Expert research advice and soil management tools are available for free at nutrient economics. That’s

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