Growers in Manitoba have increased their soybean acreage over the last few years, and with good reason.
The 2014 Southwest Agricultural Conference will feature international speakers, expert farmers and researchers to discuss new innovations and ideas.
Flax is grown mainly on Canada’s southern Prairies, so flax varieties and production practices have been developed with that region in mind.
Plant breeding tools, techniques and technologies have changed over time, but the real advancement in plant breeding has been in efficiencies.
With Asian soybean rust on the rise in the southern United States, Ontario experts are watching the situation closely to see if spores find their way to Ontario.
North American Manure Expo comes to Canada...
For the first time ever, the North American Manure Expo is being hosted within a Canadian province. The annual show is being held August 20 and 21, 2013, at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Research Station, located near Guelph, Ontario. So, what's a Manure Expo and why should you attend? This video will provide all the dirt.
Expert Dr. Susan Watkins discusses Water Sanitatio...
Expert Dr. Susan Watkins discusses Water Sanitation
The population explosion...
With the world's population increasing exponentially and farmland staying the same, BASF took to the streets to ask consumers if this trend is sustainable.
Overheard on coffee row was the great response a neighbour received from applying potassium (K) fertilizer to canola. Setting aside the validity of coffee shop rumours, soil fertility specialists say that understanding soil chemistry and soil development will help determine the need for K fertilizer on canola. A soil test and knowledgeable agronomist doesn’t hurt, either.“The majority of western Canadian soils have sufficient potassium to satisfy crop growth,” says Ross McKenzie, a research agronomist (now retired) who spent many years with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development at Lethbridge, Alta. McKenzie recently updated the ARD publication Potassium Fertilizer Application in Crop Production.While the majority of Alberta, if not most Prairie soils, have adequate K for crop production, about 15 per cent of Alberta soils are estimated to have a slight to moderate K deficiency. Other areas of the Prairies, mostly Black and Gray soils with coarser texture, may also have some deficiencies. Clay soils contain large amounts of KOn the Prairies, most soils developed from glacial till, and the most common soil texture is a clay loam soil. Glacial till soils are generally heterogeneous and can be quite variable, with a mixture of clay, silt and sand. However, clay in these types of soils have naturally high levels of K. In addition, Prairie soils are young and only slightly weathered because of our cooler climate and moderate amounts of precipitation. As a result, most Prairie soils have a relatively high cation exchange capacity (CEC), which is an indication of the amount of positively charged ions (cations) that can be held by the soil. Potassium is a positively charged cation and is closely held by soils with high CEC. A high CEC of 20 to 30 cmol/kg means the soil can hold on to nutrients like K very well, and the soil is highly fertile in that nutrient. A very low CEC of 1 to 5 cmol/kg could mean available K is low.“Our relatively unweathered soils on the Prairies can hold a lot of potassium in the soil, but if you look at older soils in more tropical regions, or more highly weathered soils like southeastern U.S., potassium levels are much lower,” says McKenzie.The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) analyzes soil test results across North America every five years. Its most recent analysis in 2010 showed median soil test K levels in Alberta at 173 ppm, Saskatchewan at 236 ppm and Manitoba at 217 ppm. Critical ammonium acetate K equivalent levels for the relatively high cation exchange capacity (CEC) of Prairie soils is about 160 ppm. Critical level is defined as the soil test level below which nutrient inputs are required to meet soil fertility management objectives. For canola, wheat, mustard, flax and pulse crops, ARD guidelines indicate that soils testing greater than 150 ppm (300 lb./ac in 0-6 inch soil test depth) generally have adequate K levels for most crops. To convert ppm to lb./ac in a zero-to-six-inch soil test, multiply by a factor of two.The IPNI report showed that 45 per cent of samples tested were below the critical level in Alberta, 26 per cent in Saskatchewan and 32 per cent in Manitoba. While this seems to run contrary to our highly fertile K soils, part of the answer to the contradiction is found in the IPNI survey itself. The soil test summaries are based on tests performed by 60 private and public laboratories on 4.4 million soil samples in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010. However, there is no way to know if these samples are representative of all areas of the Prairies or if the soil tests were more heavily weighted to deficient areas. Also, most soil testing labs in Western Canada do not use the ammonium acetate method to determine soil test K.The other part of the answer is shown in provincial estimates of where K deficiencies may occur (see map pg 74). Most often, K deficient soils can be found on peat and sandy soils in Western Canada. Coarse soils high in sand do not hold as much K in the soil profile and thus show up as deficient. Medium (loam) soils in the Black, Gray-Black and Gray soil zones also have greater potential to exhibit K deficiencies. In irrigated areas, coarse textured soils with intensive crop rotations that include potatoes, sugar beets and/or alfalfa in the rotation can require potassium.“Potassium fertility is very related to clay content. As a result, peat soils are extremely low in potassium because peat is not a mineral soil,” says John Heard, soil fertility extension specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives at Carman, Man.Heard also has seen elevated large K levels under burn rows where poplar trees were piled during clearing and even under straw windrows that were burned after harvest.K and canolaWhile canola has a high requirement for K, the crop does not remove much from the soil, and does not drain down the large reserves very quickly. A 35-bu/ac yield of canola requires 90 lb./ac of K2O, but only 20 lb./ac is removed with the seed. Similarly, wheat, barley and flax remove only small amounts from the soil, and the majority of the soils in Western Canada can supply adequate amounts of K for many years. However, McKenzie points out that many Prairie soils have been cropped for over 100 years. Even though only small amounts of K are removed each year by most crops, the cumulative effect has been a gradual decline in plant-available soil K. While the majority of Prairie soils still have adequate soil K levels, farmers should keep a close watch on their soil test reports for K, particularly on coarser textured soils.Higher-use crops that remove larger amounts, such as potatoes (300 lb./ac is removed in 20 t/ac yield of tubers) and alfalfa (300 lb./ac removed in a 5 t/ac yield) can draw down K fertility levels, and may require additional K fertilizer to maintain yields and prevent depletion of K in the soil.Research has shown that canola is responsive to K2O fertilizer under low fertility conditions where the nutrient is deficient. Barley is by far the most responsive, followed by wheat and then canola. “From my observations, canola response to K fertilizer is not very spectacular. It takes up a fair bit of K, but removes precious little,” says Heard. “It seems to be able to grow on low K soils fairly well. It is those other crops in the rotation – cereals, corn, soybeans and alfalfa – that will first signal deficiencies and lower yields on low K soils.” (see Fig. 1)Recommended K application rates for canola, flax and mustard in Alberta were developed by McKenzie at ARD. While most soils test well above the 300 lb./ac soil test K and do not require potash fertilizer, the guidelines are useful on soils with marginal or deficient test levels (see Table 1). Fig. 1. Barley, wheat and canola response to K. N and P added to soil test recommendation.*The ppm K/A are the soil test K levels.Source: Henry, J.L. and E. Halstead. 1968. Potassium. Pp. 16-22. In Soil plant nutrition report. Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK. Fig. 2. Frequency distribution of soil K on a 220 x 220 ft. grid at Mundare, AB. Source: Penny, D., T. Goddard and T. Roberts. 1996. High soil variability leads to under-fertilization. Better Crops with Plant Food 80(3): 37-39. High yield on high soil test KBack to that coffee shop talk. Yield increases in various crops have been observed on soils testing high in K, so what gives? Possibilities include a response to the chloride ion found in potash fertilizer, field variability that is not reflected in soil test results and K response on cold soils in the spring where limited root growth prevents early season uptake. For example, research on high K soils in Montana found that barley responded to 20 lb. K2O/ac when planted in early April and early May (7 and 6 bu/ac increase) compared to only a 3 bu/ac increase when seeded in early June.Field variability can also account for most of the responses found on high-soil-testing K fields. McKenzie says that K can be variable across a landscape and that growers should be aware of this when developing fertility plans. Soil K levels are often much lower on upper slope positions and eroded knolls versus the mid and lower slope positions. Therefore, a general field soil sample for an average of the field may show soil K level being adequate, but 20 or 30 per cent of the field may be deficient in soil K.“Potassium can be variable, absolutely. Especially on hilltops that are eroded, potassium is usually lower, as is phosphorus and sulphur,” says McKenzie.Research conducted by Doug Penny with Alberta Agriculture and published in 1996 showed the variability of K fertility on a rolling field at Mundare, Alta. The average soil test K level was 135 ppm, but 30 per cent of the field tested less than 101 ppm. While an average soil test from this field would have been adequate to marginally deficient, 30 per cent was moderately deficient and may have responded to K application (see Fig. 2.). On fields with variable soils, McKenzie says that farmers could look at variable rate K applications and should do this with side-by-side trials. “Yield monitors aren’t always that accurate, so unless you do side-by-side trials, you really aren’t sure if you are getting a response,” he says.
By now, most Canadian farmers are familiar with Tier 4 regulations, the reasons behind them and the technology involved. For us here in North America, it all began in 1996, when the U.S. government passed laws forcing off-road heavy equipment makers to gradually reduce the pollutants and particulates in engine exhaust. These laws – starting with Tier 1 and phasing through stricter and stricter Tier 2, 3 and 4 regulations throughout the years – are aimed at helping to reduce smog and acid rain, as well as associated crop damage and respiratory problems. The U.S was following Europe’s lead, where heavy equipment manufacturers were already developing emissions-reduction technologies to meet legislative changes there.Canada got on the Tier 4 bandwagon in 1999, when the federal government passed the Off-Road Compression-Ignition Engine Emission Regulations, which fall under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. These standards were applicable to 2006-and-later diesel engines such as those found in agriculture and construction machinery.“The standards, which are aligned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, were amended to include the EPA Tier 4 emission standards starting in 2012,” says Danny Kingsberry, a media relations officer at Environment Canada. “The upgrade to Tier 4 emissions standards for off-road diesel engines provides significant benefits in terms of improved air quality and reduced exposure to air pollutants and toxic substances.” At this point, manufacturers already must meet Tier 4 Interim standards for some horsepower ranges, and must meet Tier 4 Final by Jan. 1, 2014, for equipment larger than 175 hp. They have an additional year to make sure equipment between 75 to 175 hp meets the regulations. These are the two emissions-reduction systems being used: With Cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (CEGR), exhaust is fed back into the combustion chamber. This reduces the formation of nitrogen oxides. A Diesel Oxidation Catalyst (DOC) and Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) are used to reduce particulates. With Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), exhaust gases pass over a catalyst in the presence of Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF, an ammonia-and-water-based substance), and nitrogen oxides are broken down into harmless nitrogen and water. Which technology is used generally depends on what is required of the engine and the process that the machine is intended for. CEGR is well suited to steady engine RPMs, where fairly constant exhaust temperatures aid in the reduction of particulate matter. SCR is better for engines that must meet variable demands. It provides ongoing fresh air to the engine, allowing it to run at peak performance through the full RPM range.Tractor engines fall somewhere in between, with steady RPMs needed for jobs like spraying a uniform field but variable power demands required for other tasks. For that reason, and because the Tier 4 Final standards are so much stricter than Tier 3, some tractor manufacturers like John Deere will likely employ both CEGR and SCR for Tier 4 Final.Roger Hoy, director at the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab (the officially designated tractor testing station for the United States), says, “Cummins has confirmed with me that they will use both.” He notes that full power can be achieved with either SCR or CEGR individually, but that CEGR uses a little more fuel.AGCO is another company using both types of technology to meet Tier 4 Final requirements, but it is using its patented SCR with only a small amount of CEGR to ensure nitrogen oxides are reduced in the cylinder. “This combination provides our customers fuel economy benefits, lower fluid consumption (fuel and DEF), longer engine service intervals and longer engine life,” says Conor Bergin, AGCO’s product marketing manager for high-horsepower tractors. Other tractor makers, including New Holland and Case IH, are using only SCR. Leo Bose, commercial product training manager with Case IH, says his company chose SCR over CEGR because carbon in recirculated exhaust can be deposited into engine oil, creating the possibility of wear. “Using our patented SCR system allows our high-horsepower tractors and combines to lengthen service intervals,” he says, adding that it also keeps things simpler in terms of overall design to use only one system. Operation and maintenanceThe development and physical cost of any new add-on technology such as SCR or CEGR is, of course, passed on to the customer. On the positive side, however – besides the benefit of cleaner air – there is good news in that no action is needed to manage Tier 4 technologies by the tractor operator during ongoing operation. During ongoing CEGR operation, the DPF filter is automatically “regenerated” (the particulate matter in the filter is reduced to ash) in three ways. The emissions-reduction interface in the cab lets the operator know what’s occurring. Passive regeneration occurs during ongoing operation, and active regeneration occurs when sensors detect that particulate matter has accumulated to a certain level in the filter. Diesel fuel is injected into the exhaust to increase its temperature. Sensors also indicate when forced regeneration is required. The engine must sit idle while the engine control unit conducts a very high temperature cycle. The ash that remains is not combustible and must be cleaned out. However, regulations require that this situation occur only after at least 4,500 hours of engine use, and some manufacturers claim it need only be done once or twice in the lifetime of the tractor. Low-ash engine oil with a CJ-4 rating is a must. The only maintenance required with SCR systems is checking the DEF filter and refilling the DEF tank when needed. Companies are touting Tier 4 tractors as the most fuel-efficient ever, but that has nothing to do with Tier 4 technologies. As Barry Nelson, John Deere’s media relations manager, agriculture and turf division, points out, Tier 4 emissions technologies consist of after-treatment exhaust systems. He says fuel efficiency gains have been made through things like electronic fuel injection, more efficient transmissions integrated with engine performance, and other cutting-edge electronic systems that adjust fuel usage according to many engine factors on a second-by-second basis.
Turning lower-grade canola into biodiesel presents some challenges, but Prairie researchers are finding innovative ways to overcome those challenges. They’re developing new approaches that are more efficient, produce better biodiesel and valuable byproducts, and help improve the economics of biodiesel production from damaged canola seeds. “In the short term, we’re working with others to generate a market for low-quality canola. So if a grower has a bin that overheats or a canola field that gets caught under a snow bank, we can at least redeem some value for that material for them by having an industry that is receptive to frost-damaged, heated and field-damaged materials,” explains Dr. Martin Reaney, research chair of Lipid Quality and Utilization at the University of Saskatchewan. “In the longer run, we are identifying added value in the crop. In my experience, when somebody discovers an added value opportunity, it doesn’t typically result in a much higher price. But it does tend to stabilize the price. We’re introducing technology that may lead to a more stable price by adding another market to the meal and oil markets for the canola crop.” Reaney has been investigating opportunities for using damaged canola seed for many years, including research when he was at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and now at the University of Saskatchewan. He and his research team have tackled the topic from a number of angles. “When we first went into making canola into biofuels, [Canada] didn’t have the subsidies that were available in the United States and Europe. So we needed to take advantage of low-cost materials. For that purpose, we looked at seed that had been damaged either in the field or in storage,” he says. “First we studied how to get the oil out of the seed. A lot of damaged seed has lost its structure, and it is not efficiently pressed to recover oil. So we developed more efficient pressing and extraction technology.” Another early issue was that sources of damaged canola seed tend to be scattered all over the place, with amounts varying from year to year and place to place. Reaney says, “So we came up with the hub-and-spoke approach, to collect and bring the seed to some common locations for processing.” The researchers also improved the process of converting the oil into biodiesel. “Damaged seed produces quite low-quality oil with lots of different problems. So we had to figure out a very robust way of making biodiesel so that, no matter what, the biofuel would have good quality,” notes Reaney.Although canola biodiesel has advantages over biodiesel made from products like tallow and soybean oil, its properties are still somewhat different from petroleum-based diesel. So Reaney’s research group has developed processing technologies to improve such canola biodiesel properties as oxidative stability and low-temperature performance. He notes, “Low-temperature performance hasn’t turned out to be a big problem with canola mainly because when you blend it with other diesel fuel, like with a Canadian winter diesel fuel, it takes on the performance of that fuel.” One of the overarching themes of Reaney’s research is to develop techniques that are practical on the Prairies. “A lot of researchers will grab the latest technology, a ‘super-’ this or ‘ultra-’ that, and the equipment is very expensive. In my experience, western Canadian biofuel producers usually can’t use that kind of technology,” he explains. “So we look for the best biofuel properties – we can’t ever compromise on the properties of the material – that can be produced with rather conventional, simple, low-cost equipment.” Along with using damaged seed to reduce input costs, the researchers have been exploring other ways to improve the economics of biodiesel production. “[For example,] the catalyst for making biodiesel is actually quite expensive. We came up with a technology to lower the cost of that catalyst to about one-third of its original cost,” he says. They are also developing a novel approach that turns a biodiesel processing waste into a valuable byproduct. “We developed a special lithium-based catalyst for biodiesel production, and we’ve developed a method of converting the leftover catalyst into lithium grease [a heavy-duty, long-lasting grease],” says Reaney. “Lithium grease is broadly used all over the world – in heavy equipment, trains, planes, automobiles.” They are now scaling up the process for use at a commercial scale. Another current project involves making biofuels that are “drop-in” fuels. “Right now, biodiesel still has to be handled somewhat differently than [petroleum-based] diesel,” he explains. “But there are approaches to make it into a drop-in fuel. A drop-in fuel means it would have exactly the properties of diesel. You would be able to use it as is and it would require no special handling.” As well, the researchers are exploring motor oil technology that uses vegetable oils. “We have been working on trying to get the stability of these oils high enough for use in motor oil applications. We think we have some really good technology for this goal as well.”Reaney’s research on industrial uses for lower-grade canola has been supported by many agencies over the years such as Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. His research also has received support from such agencies as GreenCentre Canada and from such companies as Milligan Biofuels Inc. (formerly Milligan Biotech).Opportunities and challengesThe Canadian biodiesel industry has encountered a number of hurdles and has not grown as quickly as some people had hoped it would. For instance, the industry is still working towards meeting the increased demand arising from the Canadian government’s requirement for a minimum of two per cent renewable fuel content in diesel fuel. This requirement came into effect in 2011. According to Reaney, one of several issues hampering the Canadian biofuel industry has been the contentious food-versus-fuel debate, about the issue of using farmland to produce biofuel feedstocks. Reaney’s group was ahead of the curve on this issue by focusing on the use of non-food grade canola to make biodiesel. But beyond that, his opinion is that food production and fuel production are not mutually exclusive. “It isn’t food versus fuel; it is food and fuel,” he says. “All these biofuel industries actually produce more food than would have been produced had they not entered the biofuel industry, because they are always producing a side stream that is edible. So I think that issue has been addressed by the biofuels industry, but I don’t know whether the public has caught up.”Milligan Biofuels, based at Foam Lake, Sask., is one of the companies managing to weather the ups and downs of the Canadian biodiesel industry. Along with making its own improvements to biodiesel production processes, the company has adopted some of the advances made by Reaney’s research group.“Their research proved the ability to produce consistent biodiesel from damaged seed, and that’s our business model,” says Len Anderson, director of sales and marketing for Milligan Biofuels. The company manufactures and sells biodiesel and biodiesel byproducts, and provides canola meal and feed oil to the animal feed sector. All of its products are made from non-food grade canola, including green, wet, heated or spring-threshed canola. “Milligan Biofuels is built in and by the ag community for the ag community,” notes Anderson. “That’s why it is where it’s at and why it’s doing what it’s doing.” He outlines how this type of market for damaged canola helps growers. “It’s giving them an opportunity for a local, reliable, year-round market. It creates a significant value for damaged canola because we aren’t just using it for cattle feed; we’re using the oil to produce biodiesel. So we’re probably on the higher end as far as value created for damaged seed. It creates value for what was once almost a waste product, is what it boils down to.”