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In the April edition of the Guelph Service Bulletin, we will discuss the value of water and manure testing. We will also touch on forage crop fertility testing and give examples of organic matter decline in area soil over the past few years.

WATER ANALYSIS ALONG THE SUPPLY CHAIN

SGS provides water testing analysis for many operations, such as greenhouses, nurseries and garden centres. For these businesses, seasonal testing of raw water enables the balancing of nutrients, pH levels and electrical conductivity (EC).

Crop producers can also benefit from water analysis testing by ensuring that pH and bicarbonate levels are adequately adjusted to optimize mixing of sprayed products and soluble nutrients.

For livestock producers, monitoring and balancing mineral levels of drinking water can contribute to overall animal health. Vegetable production requires the testing of irrigation water and wash water for microbiologicals, for food safety purposes.

The SGS Irrigation Water Report also converts tested values to pounds of nutrient per acre-inch applied. Contact us if you need a new supply of water testing bottles.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MANURE TESTING

Testing manure is the most accurate way of accounting for the amount of nutrients in your products. Average values for each type of manure are available, but the actual test values within each individual livestock type vary widely. Taking the time to collect a representative sample of manure can save thousands of dollars in applied nutrients.

The SGS Manure Report displays nutrients as a percent, as well as pounds per ton (or 1,000 gallons) and kg per tonne (or 1,000 litres) applied. The available N is calculated for various rates of incorporation, amount not incorporated, and injected. An approximate dollar value is also shown for those buying, selling and/or trading manure, or to assist in calculating break-even hauling distances.

FORAGE CROP FERTILITY ANALYSIS

Even though March did not seen 5 consecutive days of 5 degree Celsius highs, meaning dormancy break will like occur in April, it is not too early to consider forage crop fertility testing. Whole plant harvest leads to large nutrient removal – as much as 700 lbs per acre of potash over a three year alfalfa crop.

Routine soil and manure testing to adequately balance the agronomic nutrient needs will pay dividends not only in yields, but also in crop quality. A crop that is not stressed is better equipped to resist insect and disease. Contact us for your crop testing needs or for any questions you may have on the topic.

ORGANIC MATTER DECLINE IN SOIL

With 2015 being known as the International Year of Soils, there has been increased emphasis of soil health during recent winter meetings and conferences. If there is a single greatest contributor to overall soil health, it is organic matter. Soil organics improve all three soil properties: chemical, physical, and biological.

Improving organic matter content also improves nutrient cycling, biological (animal, fungal, bacterial, microbial) populations, porosity, aeration, infiltration, drainage, water holding capacity, aggregate stability, and compaction recovery. In turn, these improvements enhance germination, emergence, root penetration, nutrient uptake, drought tolerance, and other plant growth characteristics.

The disturbing trend is that organic matter levels in Ontario soils seem to be declining despite recent emphasis and effort that acknowledge its importance. In 2002, the average of all Ontario soil samples received by SGS Guelph was 4.6% organic matter (OM). In 2014, the average was 3.8% OM. Although a 0.8% reduction does not seem large, consider that it is a measurement by weight, which on a per-acre basis represents a 16,000 pound loss over 12 years. Click here to see a graph of 15 selected Ontario counties.

Monitor levels with routine soil testing, and if organic inputs of manure and compost are unavailable, consider the use of cover crops, either single or multi-species, and reduced tillage.

For further information, please contact:
Jack Legg, CCA-ON
Branch Manager, Agronomist
503 Imperial Rd. N., Unit 1
Guelph, Ontario N1H 6T9
t: +1 519 837 1600