GHGMP Project Reports by Region

Disc-type applicator gives producers another fertilizer option

Improving fertilizer efficiency is good for crop production and the environment

A low-disturbance anhydrous ammonia applicator may provide minimum and zero-till farmers another option for applying fertilizer while benefiting the environment, say promoters of soil conservation in British Columbia's Peace River Region.

Demonstrations in the B.C. Peace region with a disc-type anhydrous ammonia applicator have piqued producer interest in the tool, says Sandra Burton, regional co-ordinator of the soils and nutrient management section of the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture (GHGMP). Burton, based in Farmington, B.C., also serves as forage co-ordinator of the Peace River Forage Association of BC (PRFA of BC).

The applicator, manufactured by Dutch Industries of Pilot Butte, Sask., features a low disturbance adjustable disc that creates a narrow opening for placement of the gas fertilizer. Along with specific on-farm demonstrations, the equipment is available for rent through the PRFA, in a joint program supported by the Peace River Soil Conservation Association, Rolla Agricultural Services and the GHGMP.

Producers interested

"We've seen a great deal of interest among producers since we began demonstrating the equipment last year," says Art Funk, of Rolla Agricultural Services. His office in Rolla, B.C., is co-ordinating bookings for the applicator. While the machine will be busy this fall, "we'll do our best to accommodate all producers," says Funk.

The applicator has been demonstrated at several forage and annual cropping sites near Dawson Creek, B.C. The low disturbance applicator benefits the environment in several ways. Minimal disturbance reduces the risk of soil erosion and also helps conserve moisture. As well, the low disturbance reduces the risk of soil carbon being lost to the atmosphere by preserving soil organic matter. And, if more producers adopt fertilizer injection or banding techniques, it reduces the amount of nitrogen lost to the atmosphere through volatilization when fertilizer is broadcast applied.

GHGMP projects are comparing anhydrous ammonia fertilizer applications with broadcast commercial fertilizer treatments and comparing spring versus fall applications.

On-farm demonstrations

At producer Garnet Berg's farm, fall and spring anhydrous ammonia applications in canola and barley are being evaluated. Most of his crop was seeded with his own Flexicoil 6000 air drill equipped with Barton openers. The equipment can apply all granular fertilizer at time of seeding.

"A lot of people like to use anhydrous ammonia but for those involved in no-till systems, they find even the narrow shank type openers cause too much disturbance," says Berg, a long time supporter of zero-till farming practices. "And I think there is often a better crop response to anhydrous ammonia over granular fertilizer."

While there was a slight visual difference in how Berg's barley and canola crops responded to fall and spring treatments of anhydrous ammonia, yield data collected this fall through the use of weigh wagons tell the full story.

In another demonstration project the anhydrous ammonia applicator was used on forage crops, such as fescue, as well as hay land. The low disturbance applicator, which didn't damage the grass or legume stand, was being compared with broadcast application techniques.

Berg noted that while the applicator disc can be angled to work through forage crops, the discs needs to be in a vertical position for annual crops.

Good in forages

"One of the best features of the applicator is that it works very well in established grasslands," says Funk. "It provides another option for producers in addition to broadcast application."

The coulter provides such low disturbance that the applicator needs to be used with foam markers or a global positioning system (GPS) so the operator knows what ground has been covered, says Funk. "It's not the only anhydrous ammonia applicator on the market, but it is one of the best for conservation farming," he adds. As part of the project he's also looking at the economics of using anhydrous ammonia instead of other types of fertilizer and application methods.

To make it simpler for producers and to accommodate as many rental requests as possible, the applicator is rented out as a complete packaged with tractor and operator, says Burton.

Regional reports will be posted as information becomes available. Please check back regularly for updates.