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Multi-Peril Crop Insurance Scheme

During recent meetings of farm leaders and farmers (Farm Weekly News, 23 September 2010), WAFarmers Corrigin-Lake Grace Zone president said farmers' financial problems were being aggravated by the absence of a MPCI scheme (Multi-Peril Crop Insurance). The current dry conditions and stressed crops has a lot of farmers very scared out there and its very serious he said. WAFarmers president put forward the importance of leadership on this issue. WAFarmers Dry Season Advisory Committee chairman said The State Government is committed to investigating the possibility of a MPCI scheme on a commercial footing (Countryman News, 30 September 2010).

A multi-peril crop insurance scheme would increase security for farmers, however the fundamental reasons which makes crops highly susceptible to dry spells or frosts will not be solved for next season unless crop-management changes are made. Without improvements to crop productivity management, the multi-peril crop insurance premiums are bound to increase. The problems arise from poor water-use efficiency of crops as a result of incomplete nutritional regimes, increasing vulnerability to dehydration during dry spells resulting in lowered yields and quality . Low 'BRIX' levels in stems and leaves correlates with susceptibility of crops to damage as a result of trace elements, potassium and magnesium deficiencies leading to low levels of soluble sugars, minerals, vitamins, amino acids and proteins in plant sap . High BRIX readings around this time means that the crop is doing well, and has an excellent chance of standing up to adverse weather. As immunity to a severe drought or a severe frost event can never be assured however, a MPCI which includes drought and frost damage is definitely needed to protect farmers.

Australian farmers have made great strides in many areas of crop husbandry, but have fallen short in keeping up with the complex nutritional needs of crops and pastures. New technologies introduced by foliar and liquid fertilizers containing a full spectrum of nutrients has been adopted only by few farmers, and generally, crops have been left to fend for themselves using older technology. Crops that perform badly during dry spells have insufficient root growth for accessing nutrients and soil moisture, as well as suffering stress from a whole range of nutrient deficiencies. Deficiencies can be identified by grain analysis before sowing the seed and deficient nutrients added to fertilizers, followed by seed-applied trace elements and foliar fertilizers to boost root growth. The critical connection between the viability of a MPCI scheme underpinned by productive nutrition as a necessary component should be clearly explained to farmers by the Department of Agriculture and Food. Because of decreasing rainfall from climate change, more emphasis on updating dry-land farming techniques to include use of sophisticated foliar fertilizers is urgently needed.

This brings us back to leadership and accountability. Australian farmers, rightly or wrongly, rely on farm industry leaders to show the way by quickly changing and updating technology themselves, i.e. lead by example. Starting from the Minister of Agriculture and Food, leaders are from the various farmer organizations and committees, officers of Department of Agriculture and Food, corporate CEOs and managers of big agribusiness, large-scale farmers, and owners and managers of small agribusiness; all from whom the majority of farmers expect qualities of leadership, innovation and improvements of technology for economic survival. Posted October 10, 2010.

Starter Liquid Fertilizers: Strategies for Growers

Farmers who traditionally use granular fertilizers only for small grain crops are now increasingly interested in starter liquid fertilizers. What constitutes a good starter liquid fertilizer, how do you use them, and how good are they in improving yields, are questions often asked. The Western Australian Department of Agriculture is currently focussing on improving yields for hard- pressed growers (a result of recent droughts and unreliable rainfall) through the Bridge the Yield Gap Project, and would probably be looking closely at the contribution starter liquid fertilizers make to yields and profitability.

Applied early to crops to give them a good start, starter liquid fertilizers have been in use for quite a while, but understanding how they work, and improvements in their chemistry and application methods are exciting developments for technology-savvy farmers. By definition, starter fertilizers include granulated starter NPK fertilizers applied in the traditional 2 x 2 sowing system (2 inches under and 2 inches to the side of the seed); but those who are making rapid gains in yields and profitability are those who use combinations of the granular 2 x 2 system and liquid starter fertilizers 2 x 2 banding. Australian farmers familiar with both systems have shown that the visible, easily monitored, surface applied (see Photo Album this website) and dribble liquid applications are essentially equal in effect to the 2 x 2 soil banding of starter liquids (see also: Fluid Fertilizer Foundation, Newsletter 2011: "Don't forget starter fertilizer - Especially now"; Fertilizer Technology, bulletin sf-021, 2011: "Starter fertilizers - Salvation for cost-squeezed corn growers").

The possibility is there for increasing the use of simpler, quicker and more efficient liquid fertilizer systems, whilst saving on the more expensive and complicated attachments to seeders. Liquid fertilizers are still more expensive compared to granular fertilizers (which have been on the scene for much longer), so can we offset the extra cost with the greater efficiency of soil applied liquid fertilizers and foliar fertilizers? Research on fertilizer responses has shown that foliar fertilizers utilize a high efficiency ratio of 7:1 and are more efficient for uptake than soil-applied or broadcast granulated fertilizers (Source: Michigan State University, USA). As discussed below, the answers all rely on the superior chemistry and agronomy possible by the use of starter liquid fertilizers in both soil-applied and foliar applications targeting favorable biological responses of crops and microbes.

A seed that is sown in the traditional 2 x 2 system can find itself looking for nutrients on germination. For a small seed, the presence of a nutrient band a few inches away is still a long way. This is a critical period for seeds if it germinates during cold or very wet conditions, and its food and nutrient reserves are fast running out. Some seeds with low reserves, harvested from crops grown in nutrient-deficient soils (e.g. low phosphorus, potassium, zinc, molybdenum etc.) find themselves in a precarious position. At this time too, the small seed needs to grow a good root system to access soil moisture, mobilize its food reserves of proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins for energy to open its first leaf (leaves) and start manufacturing new food through photosynthesis. It is during this early period of meristematic growth that the most damage to potential yields from nutrient deficiencies occur. During early cell divisions which determines the number of tillers and health of reproductive tissue which ultimately give rise to seeds for the next generation, all nutrients including phosphorus, potassium, trace and ultra-trace elements are of critical importance. To determine the dose rates of trace elements, grain analysis before sowing is especially important to identify potential deficiencies, which can be prevented with applied fertilizers. Plants deficient in trace elements emerge as spindly, frail plants with a small mass of roots, and do not have the energy to withstand adverse weather (increasingly changeable), plant diseases and insect pests.

During the early growth stage, fast growing root tissues of mycorrhizal- hosting plants (e.g. wheat, barley, oats, corn, rice, sorghum, lupin,soybean, lucerne, chickpeas) are colonized to form plant/arbuscular mycorrhiza relationships which through the extra-radicle mycelia (fine root hairs) enhances the young plant's ability to access nitrogen, mineral nutrients (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur, trace elements) and water. Treatment to the seed coat before seeding, with a seed dressing containing phosphorus and trace elements, attracts and enhances colonization by mycorrhizal fungi, as well as preventing deficiencies occurring during early growth. Seed treatment just before sowing is the earliest applied starter liquid fertilizer and an excellent investment for growers as the low dose rate/ha is highly economical.

As discussed elsewhere on this website, grain analysis helps to guide growers on the amounts of individual nutrients needed to achieve a targeted yield level. It can be seen that the amounts of the major elements needed to achieve, say 4 - 6 tons/ha of grain are quite substantial, and cannot be satisfied with a seed treatment. At seeding, the ideal, easily monitored way to apply the necessary amounts of liquid nutrients is with the use of a manifold distributor to dribble starter fertilizer on the soil surface, about 2 - 3 inches above the seed following the press wheels (if used). Desirable characteristics of starter liquid fertilizers are high analysis, solubility, balanced formulation and chelation of trace elements to prevent fixation on clay minerals, completeness of nutrients with compatibility and stability, and an acidic pH reaction of the liquid fertilizer which prevents urea applied at this time from releasing ammonia which could harm the seed. Phosphorus at early growth stages is particularly important for plants, and is in highly available and soluble forms as mineral ortho-phosphates which provide a constant buffer against pH changes. Organic components such as fish emulsion activates vital microbes.

Starter liquid fertilizers utilizing the economical Blend-Tech System can also be applied at the next highly desirable stage, the early 2-leaf stage when the seedling is just beginning rapid development. The possession of a substantial root system at this stage allows the young plant to make good use of the nutrients applied with a conventional boom sprayer ideal for easy application and even coverage of crops. More and more growers are now opting for this early 2-leaf stage of growth to apply substantial amounts of nutrients to prevent deficiencies and help insure high yield potentials. At this time, healthy growth of the young plant and rapid canopy development competes effectively against weeds through shading. Opportunities for highly efficient foliar application and uptake of nutrients occurs at the 5-leaf stage or at tillering (adjacent rows touching). Increasingly, starter liquid fertilizers are being used by growers to make up time for late starts due to late breaks or excessive rainfall. Posted July 5, 2011.

Grain Analysis: the 4 Rs

How to interpret your grain results: identify deficient nutrients and plan fertilizer inputs for productivity

Grain analysis is a user-friendly means to interpret the nutritional status of soils and to assist in making decisions on the types and amounts of fertilizer to use for the following season, for a particular, desired yield.

Recently, internationally leading organizations, the Fertilizer Institute, Canadian Fertilizer Institute, International Plant Nutrition Institute and International Fertilizer Industry Association has endorsed the use of grain analysis for improved Nutrient Stewardship (see.. "The role of grain nutrient analysis in fertility management"). They are promoting the implementation of the 4 Rs as a framework for nutrient stewardship to achieve cropping system goals such as increased production, increased farmer profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability.

To achieve those goals, the 4R concept involves choosing the:

Right fertilizer source
Right fertilizer rate
Right time to apply
Right place to apply

Grain analysis allows farmers to choose the Right fertilizer rate for a particular targeted yield.

On the Western Fertiliser Technology website, under Publications and Nutrition Management pages, data is available to assess the nutrient status of wheat, barley, canola,and lupin grains.

The nutrient table for wheat gives the low, medium and high ranges for wheat grain samples received from the WA wheat-belt. For example, in 20 years, no sample was received with a copper level lower than 1.1 ppm or a copper level higher than 5.5 ppm: the average copper level over this long period of time, for thousands of wheat grain samples, was 3.9 ppm. So if your grain is showing an analysis level of 2.0 ppm, you could safely assume that you need to increase the copper supply to your crop to increase yields for your next crop.

Grain analysis data for a full range of crops is urgently needed, and would be highly valuable for growers; a way to collate data for other crops, e.g, rice, in a much shorter time frame of one year is discussed on the Technical Questions page of this website, under grain analysis.

As fertilizer decisions are important for your farm, send the grain sample to a reliable, modern laboratory for analysis. If in doubt, send the same sample to two independent laboratories to confirm the analyses on which you will base your fertilizer decisions for the coming season. A major portion of a farmer's budget comprises purchase costs on fertilizer. Any nutrient misinterpreted as being in the sufficiency range, when in fact it is deficient, would lead to serious loss of income and a waste of labor; especially for large areas cropped as in Australia.

Let us say your 2011 yield for wheat was 2.0 tons/ha and you wish to target a higher yield in 2012, firstly by identifying, and then increasing the application of fertilizers containing the deficient nutrients.

Calculate the amount of nutrients that 2 tons of wheat grain removed and was exported. By applying similar amounts of nutrients for the 2012 crop plus extra amounts for the deficient nutrients, you should be able to increase your yield in affordable steps each year.

By multiplying the yield and grain nutrient level, the removal rate of each nutrient in 2 tons/ha of wheat is obtained. For example, let us calculate the N, P, K and Zinc removed in 2 tons/ha.

N = 2.04 kg N/100 kg grain x 2000 kg grain/ha = 41 kg N/ha
P = 0.34 kg P/100 kg grain x 2000 kg grain/ha = 6.8 kg P/ha
K = 0.60 kg K/100 kg grain x 2000 kg grain/ha = 12 kg K/ha
Zn = 3 grams Zn/100 kg grain x 2000 kg grain/ha = 60 grams Zn/ha

Calculating the same way for all nutrients, gives us a table for the removal of nutrients in 2 tons of wheat grain:

N 41 kgs/ha Cu 8 gms/ha Co 0.12 gm/ha
P 6.8 kgs/ha Mn 124 gms/ha
K 12 kgs/ha Zn 60 gms/ha
Ca 1.0 kgs/ha Fe 62 gms/ha
Mg 2.9 kgs/ha B 11 gms/ha
S 2.9 kgs/ha Mo 1.3 gms/ha

Compare the grain analysis results obtained from the laboratory with the table for wheat (under Publications this website).

For example, mark as M (medium) for those nutrient results which fall in the medium range (e.g. 0.27 - 0.34% for Phosphorus).
In the same way, categorize each nutrient as M (medium), H (high) or L (low).

Make a list of those nutrients that show up as L (low), with the analysis result shown next to the low level. For example:

Phosphorus (P) L (0.20%)
Potassium (K) L (0.40%)
Copper (Cu) L (2.0 ppm)
Manganese (Mn) L (30 ppm)

From the above results, a decision is made to increase fertilizer investment in P, K, Cu and Mn fertilizer, above that needed for a 2-ton yield. We then choose the Right fertilizer source to increase yield, by increasing the input of the low nutrients proportionately.

Therefore we need approximately:

P = 0.34%/0.20% x 6.8 kg P/ha = 11.5 kg P/ha
K = 0.60%/0.40% x 12 kg K/ha = 18 kg K/ha
Cu = 3.9 ppm/2.0 ppm x 8 gms Cu/ha = 16 gms Cu/ha
Mn = 62 ppm/30 ppm x 124 gms Mn/ha = 256 gms Mn/ha

Make a decision for 2012 on the Right fertilizer source to choose for the deficient elements, keeping the other nutrients the same amounts as used in 2011 (e.g. nitrogen and sulphur).

For phosphorus, a number of sources can be considered and the total amount needed for each source is calculated. Superphosphate contains 9% P, DAP contains 24.2 % P etc. For example:

Superphosphate = 100 kg SP x 11.5 kg P/9.0 kg P = 125 kg SP/ha
DAP = 100 kg DAP x 11.5 kg P/24.2 kg P = 50 kg DAP/ha
MAP = 100 kg MAP x 11.5 kg P/27.8 kg P = 40 kg MAP/ha

For Potassium:

Muriate of Potash = 100 kg MOP x 18.0 kg K/52.3 kg K = 35 kg MOP/ha
Sulphate of Potash = 100 kg SOP x 18.0 kg K/44.8 kg K = 40 kg SOP/ha
Nitrate of Potash = 100 kg NOP x 18.0 kg K/38.6 kg K = 46.6 kg NOP/ha

For Copper:

Copper Sulphate = 100 g Copper Sulphate x 16 g Cu/25.4 g Cu = 60 grams Copper Sulphate/ha

For Manganese:

Manganese Sulphate = 100 g Manganese Sulphate x 256 g Mn/32.5 g Mn = 780 grams Manganese Sulphate/ha

Part of the deficient major nutrients, phosphate and potash could best be used as granular fertilizers, and partly as the BLEND-Tech products, BLEND- Mag, BLEND-Cal and BLEND-K. The deficient copper and manganese can be added during production of the BLEND-Tech products as their sulphate salts, which are then chelated by the chelating agent in Super Energy, thus improving uptake efficiency. By utilizing Super Energy product and the three foliar BLEND-Tech products, the goals of the Right time to apply for grain (Seed treatment, 2-leaf and early tillering stages respectively) and the Right place to apply (seed, leaf) are achieved.

Send representative samples of wheat grain from your 2012 crop, and compare the 2012 analyses obtained against the analyses of the nutrients in the 2011 crop. For this example, the nutrient elements in the 2011 crop that were deficient (P,K,Cu and Mn) should now be in the medium range and yields considerably improved if satisfactory rainfall was received.

Grain analysis of samples from different areas of WA has shown that different soil types often has shortages of different trace elements. For example, in the southern WA areas of Kojonup and Katanning, manganese is usually a problem; in the southeast around Beverley and Brookton it is usually copper; whilst in the northern areas of Geraldton and Chapman Valley it is often zinc. However, the large numbers of nutrient elements involved in growing a crop - major elements, trace elements and ultra-trace elements, means that farmers will increasingly rely on chemical analysis to prevent production losses from deficiencies and remain sustainable. With unreliable rainfall expected to increase with climate change, improving water-use-efficiency (WUE) of crops by preventing nutrient deficiencies is increasingly important.

The discipline of analytical chemistry is as complex an area as nutrition and is a critical area for maintaining sustainability . Recent introduction of powerful analytical techniques ICP-OES and/or ICP-MS, Zeeman Graphite AAS, etc. means that farmers can now confidently rely on the accuracy of analytical results for interpretation of grain analysis results, and take action to avoid deficiencies; but choosing the right laboratory is important. If in doubt, send your samples to well-equipped laboratories such as the Chemistry Centre or CSBP laboratories.

Identifying deficient elements with grain analysis, and using the Right fertilizer source to avoid deficiencies in the next crop is the Right step for improving productivity and income for the farmer. Posted October 25, 2011.

Analysis: two-directional sowing of cereal and hay crops

In Australian broadacre agriculture, crops are traditionally sown in rows separated anywhere from between 10 inches to 24 inches or more. Observing established crops, there are considerable spaces between the rows where the soil is not being used to support plants. There is an increasing need to increase the area of agricultural land for crops, as well as the need to increase yields per hectare. Sowing crops in two-directions and thus evenly increasing the spatial density of plants per unit area would be profitable for farmers; but this step relies on preventing nutrient deficiencies by grain analysis before sowing.

What is it then that stops farmers from exploiting the considerable areas between the rows which can add up to anything between 30 - 40% of cropping area? In Australian broadacre agriculture, there is understandable concern of insufficient rainfall in any season limiting growth of crops, as well as concern of an early end of rainfall leading to a shortened growing season and resulting low yields. Concerns that densely sown crops (from increased seeding rates along the rows) would result in competition for water and lower yields under these conditions are understandable, given current best-practice of sowing broadacre crops with minimal risks. A close analysis of current cropping practices reveals that there is considerable scope for increasing productivity by two-directional sowing followed by fertilizing with granular and foliar fertilizers.

Crops suffering nutrient deficiencies tend to have shallower roots and reduced photosynthesis. Shallow roots makes the plant more prone to dehydration during dry spells as water present deeper in the soil profile is inaccessible, affecting potential yields. The amount of rain per hectare for each 25 mm (1 inch) of rainfall is however quite considerable, if calculated:

25/1000 metre water x 10,000 sq. metres/hectare = 250 tons water/hectare

If total rainfall during a growing season amounts to around 200 mm or more, 2000 tons water/hectare or more has been available to the crop. To exploit this amount of rainfall by a densely sown crop, there is a need to firstly increase its water-use efficiency, and secondly to increase root growth by preventing nutrient deficiencies.

Current best practices for growing broadacre crops has, unfortunately, ensured that crops growing in a row has little incentive for exploiting the bulk of soil between the rows. Tillage along the row has loosened the soil for easier root growth, as well as the availability of granular fertilizer applied under the seed rows invites root growth along the rows instead of between the rows. Water and N nutrient availability (incubatable soil nitrogen) is also enhanced along the tilled rows, where there is less soil compaction compared to the untilled areas between the rows.

Advantages of two-directional sowing of crops includes:
The disadvantage of growing a more compact, denser crop means a higher investment at sowing time for extra seed, fertilizer, fuel and machinery (wear and tear). However the efficiencies gained by two-directional sowing need not necessarily mean a doubling of investment in seed and fertilizer at sowing; if the total rates of seed and fertilizers used (granular and foliar) are adjusted according to targeted yield.

Increasing water-use efficiency and productivity by two-directional sowing of crops relies heavily on the prevention of nutrient deficiencies (see discussion of Liebig's law of limiting nutrients, etc., under Nutrition Management, this website). Analysis of grains to identify and correct for nutrients deficient in the soil is needed for productivity gains (see above, Grain Analysis: the 4 Rs; also under Publications page: Grain Analysis - a powerful method for predicting fertilizer requirements). Posted December 13, 2011.

Farmers and farmer organizations such as the National Farmers Federation (NFF) and the WA Farmers should ask the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), and the Departments of Agriculture and Food to promote the use of grain analysis for identifying limiting nutrients, thereby increasing grain yields plus quality. Protein production in wheat, for example, relies heavily not only on nitrogen fertilizer but requires a full range of trace elements as well. Several trace elements are missing in most granular fertilizers sold to Australian farmers. Concerns on lower quality of exported wheat were recently raised by customers to the NFF president (source: Farm Weekly, April 5, 2012 page 6). Posted April 17, 2012.

Soil is the capital, and produce is the interest

A few weeks ago I drove through the majestic Karri forests in the southwest of Western Australia, and wondered what made those trees grow so tall and strong. Obviously, it was the soil that nourished them, helped along by our beautiful mediterranean climate. As a chemist and fertiliser nutritionist, I thought about the amount of nitrogen and carbon there would be in each tree and thought that it would be impossible for the soil to supply the tree with so much nitrogen. Of course, it was the legume plants and microbes that live in close association which fixed the atmospheric nitrogen for the trees, as nitrogen fertilisers were not invented hundreds of years ago. Besides a small amount of nitrogen in rain water, the soil receives credit for supplying the legume plants with all the other nutrients comprising P, K, Ca, Mg, Na, Cl, S (partly from the air), and the myriad of trace elements needed for photosynthesis and C & N fixation. The soil is also responsible for feeding the huge diversity of plants and microbes that support the forest ecosystem in many ways.

As soil is our capital responsible for producing our food (the interest or reward), it makes sense to conserve our soils. As most farmers worldwide struggle now to barely make a profit for growing crops, awareness of the importance of maintaining soil fertility and productivity is growing, or should be... So what important parameters has changed in our soil resource that has seriously reduced productivity and quality for farmers? Surely it must be poor soil structure and increased acidity of soils (from plant growth and export of alkaline minerals) which in turn reduces the buffering capacity, followed closely by unrecognized and untreated nutrient deficiencies.

The buffering capacity of a soil is its capacity to resist rapid and significant changes in soil pH, especially important during root growth. Buffering capacity is provided by the activity in soil of the alkaline minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, balanced by the anions phosphate, carbonate, chloride and sulphate (H2PO4-, HPO4--, CO3--, Cl- and SO4-- respectively). Organic matter, through its chelating and charge-buffering properties needed for retaining trace elements and supply to plants, is a critically important component for the buffering property of soils. Ideally, soils providing good nutrient supply and harboring beneficial microbes for fertility are usually buffered in the pH range close to neutral (pH 6 - pH 8); however soils in the lower or higher pH range are still highly productive if the buffering capacity and nutrient supply is maintained.

To go back in time, let us look for some original, virgin soil on a typical farm, and compare it with the soil that has been tilled and cropped for many years. If the soil is turned over with a spade, it can be seen immediately that the original soil has a much better soil structure than the tilled soil which has lost some of its desirable crumb structure, making it prone to water and wind erosion. To compare the two soils chemically, send them to a suitable laboratory for analysis of pH, buffering capacity, and organic carbon. To preserve the crumb structure of soils, dry tillage and sowing in broadacre farming should only be used as a last resort. It often pays to be patient and wait for the rain. Lost time can be easily made up with good liquid fertilisers applied early.

The important question therefore, is how do we maintain good buffering capacity in soils, and also prevent severe nutrient deficiencies in order to conserve our soils as capital. Applying lime on its own is not the answer; as discussed above, other elements are needed to maintain good buffering capacity. The choice of liming materials and fertiliser to use for the amendment of soil structure and soil acidity can be complex. What type of materials should be used? Are the materials to be applied separately or pre-mixed before application? Are they compatible with each other (not form lumps)? What implements should be used to apply them? When should the amendment materials be applied, and how much?

A compatible soil amendment is obtained by mixing crushed limestone, or limesand, with dolomite (or alternatively epsom salts), muriate of potash, gypsum and a small amount of sea salt (for sodium and chloride). If the soil is affected with sodium salt, sea salt can be deleted. The amendment will help counter salinity effects. The ratios of amendment materials used in the mix will depend on the soil pH, and the level of availability of each nutrient in the soil to be amended. For example, if there are potassium and magnesium deficiencies present, more of these (quite expensive) materials should be used in the amendment. The best results are obtained if a spreading and tillage operation (manual or machinery) precedes planting. Whilst supply of pre-mixed amendment materials to large farms, from lime and dolomite suppliers should not be a problem, small farmers would need government technical help and subsidy to increase profitability and income.

The application of suitable fertilisers is another vital aspect of maintaining the capital of soil. Continuous cropping without nutrient replacement would erode the soil capital, and in turn reduce productivity. Crops suffering deficiencies are seen to have substantial spatial variability (patchy growth). As the spatial variability of growth is usually random and in small areas, variability is due to local deficiency and poor water-use efficiency, than due to soil type. Applying NPKS fertilisers through yield maps and VRT (variable rate technology) implements will only help if deficiencies of other elements (e.g. trace elements, calcium, magnesium, chloride) are alleviated at the same time. Trace element deficiencies are a particular cause of spatial variability and poor water-use efficiency in crops from inadequate root growth. Liquid fertilisers containing multi-elements applied early through the foliar route overcomes spatial variability in crops, improving yields and quality to a great extent.

Grain analysis to identify deficient nutrients, especially trace elements, is a much more sensitive and desirable technique than soil analysis. The analysis levels of trace elements in grain are much higher than in soil, making analysis and interpretation more accurate for grain. A grain sample is preferable as it represents soil supply of nutrients to the crop over time, and is also highly homogeneous for analysis. A soil sample is highly variable (can contain stones, sticks, straw, manure, insects, fertiliser residue etc.) which makes sample preparation before analysis very difficult (which fractions to discard and which to grind?). The results can also vary depending on the chemistry of the solution used to extract the nutrient in the soil before analysis. Reproducibility of analysis results between laboratories is often not as good for soil samples straight from the field, compared to grain samples taken at harvest.

The increasing frequency and severity of forest fires as the climate warms is now shaping to be serious problem. How to handle the build-up of organic matter on the forest floor without controlled burning could soon become an important issue. Forest soils, due to organic matter, are quite efficient in recycling of plant nutrients, but efficiency is not 100%, so over time, forest soils can increase in acidity and become deficient in some nutrients. Controlled burning of the organic residue to prevent hot fires reaching the canopy can weaken trees, loses nitrogen and sulphur to the atmosphere; liberates potassium, magnesium, sodium and trace elements usually tied to organic matter, and thus can cause leaching loss of these valuable nutrients needed by forest legumes and microbes for carbon and nitrogen fixation. Occasional fire is needed however for some types of forest seeds to germinate.

Aerial application of calcium hydroxide granulated after boosting with phosphorus, some sea salt (plants need some sodium and chloride too) and a range of trace element nutrients (identified from foliage analysis) should rapidly increase natural microbial composting of forest residues, as well as improving tree growth and plant diversity. I estimate an annual application rate of around 30 - 40 kilograms granules per hectare (or equal in value to the cost of controlled burning) should quite quickly improve the situation. Some long-term trials comparing controlled burning with composting would be extremely valuable for forest management. Posted September 1, 2012.

Versatile Blend-Tech systems

A unique system of liquid fertiliser blending units, the Blend-Tech system was introduced by Western Fertiliser Technology in 1992. It has generated strong interest from farmers keen to use effective and versatile liquid fertilisers which can be produced easily on-site at low cost; an important criteria for remotely situated broad-acre farms.

"The key liquid component of the Blend-Tech systems, the Super Energy trace element liquid concentrate, is produced at our factory in Perth together with the blending units" said managing director and chemist Mr Ron Elton-Bott. "All farmers have to do then is to blend Super Energy and water with bagged products such urea, magnesium sulphate, potassium sulphate or calcium nitrate etc. in the highly versatile blending tanks to produce up to five different multi-purpose formulations, Blend-NS, Blend-K, Blend-Cal, Blend-Mag and Blend- Pop up".

Blend-K foliar product for example contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulphur and trace elements at high density, saving the farmer around $2 a litre; a 4000-litre mix taking a few hours saving $8000 per mix. Up to 2 mixes a day can be easily made, he said. Blend-Cal, an equally high-analysis soil injectable or foliar product suitable for acid- type soils, encourages strong, rapid root growth in the narrow window of time available after sowing; increasing both yields and quality.

The trace elements in Super Energy activates enzymes in the plant to produce sugars and complex carbohydrates closely involved in providing frost-resistance to cereal, canola and lupin crops around the critical September - October period. The Super Energy concentrate itself can also be used as a seed treatment at sowing (5-litre/ton for cereals; 10-litre/ton for lupins), providing a much needed boost for seeds at germination and establishment.

The Blend-Tech system formulations are particularly useful when combined with the Grain Analysis system, also introduced to WA agriculture by Western Fertiliser Technology. If the analysis reveals any major (e.g. potassium, magnesium) or trace element nutrient (e.g. copper, molybdenum) being deficient in the grain, the deficient nutrient can be further increased during a blend, he said.

The fully portable 1000-litre and 4500-litre units combine sturdy corrosion and UV resistant fibre-glass tanks with rapid agitation and suction systems provided by 2 hp centrifugal pumps; the 4500-litre systems have in addition an overhead geared motor with stainless steel impellers for long life and easy serviceability. Included in the systems are easy-to- use camlocks, a 45-mesh stainless steel filtration system for pre-filtration of blended liquids, dust removal fan with quality tubing and delivery system to storage or to boom sprayer.

A 60,000-litre Blend-Tech solar-heated system is also available to produce the popular Blend-NS product (30%N, 6%S plus trace elements from Super Energy). Western Fertiliser Technology can be contacted on 0412 912 793 for prices and availability of its technologically and environmentally advanced Blend-Tech systems, or visit www.wftptyltd.com.au. Posted December 17, 2012.

Grain analysis and the law of the minimum

A close look at trace element nutrition from the perspective of the law of the minimum, made known a long time ago by chemists Carl Philipp Sprengel (1787 - 1859) and Justus von Liebig (1803 - 1873), states that nutrition and growth are first and foremost controlled by the level of the scarcest nutrient element available, and that productivity will be poor even if all the other nutrients are available in abundance. This leads us to the realization of the immense complexity of photosynthesis and nutrition in plants, making grain analysis (discussed under Publications, this website) a critical analytical method to identify deficient elements, and to support decisions on fertilizer investments especially for large-area farmers in Australia, US, Canada etc. Changes from the direct use of oceanic rock phosphate (some sources containing cadmium, fluoride, aluminum and other impurities) to widespread use of purified, high-analysis processed forms of phosphate fertilizers (e.g. DAP, MAP, MKP, TKPP, MAGAMP-K, phosphoric acid) has led to deficiencies of trace elements and ultra trace elements removed during clean-up of phosphoric acid. Trace element deficiencies adversely affect nutrition of plants and animals (including humans), reduces microbial activity in legume nodules together with slow and diminished microbial decomposition of organic matter to stable soil carbon. Storing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as soil carbon is now a safe and natural geo-engineering method of carbon sequestration in agricultural, forests and pastoral soils. With climate change and drought, heat waves, causing tinder-dry conditions in forests leading to widespread, very hot wildfires, promoting microbial composting of forest litter, and CO2 drawdown by forest legumes with lime, phosphate and trace elements may soon be a better, cheaper, and safer option than prescribed burning, which could lead to runaway fires in Australia this summer. Posted September 14, 2013

Limitations to income and productivity improvements for large-area grain and wool growers in Australia

The current problem of lower income, decreasing equity in farms and lower productivities for large-area grain and wool growers in Australia (1000 hectares - 20,000 hectares) is clearly unsustainable for a viable future. Government policy and action that effectively provides business support and information for farmers is urgently needed.

Large-area farms have advantages over small-area farms from the relationship:

(dollars) (hectares) (dollars/ton) (tons/hectare) (dollars)

Farm area is an income multiplier. Income is also increased if the other income multipliers, commodity prices and yields are high, while keeping input costs low from economies of scale. However, price of commodities, set by the market and overseas competition has been highly volatile, whilst at the same time there has been a marked slowdown in yield improvements and increases in the costs of production. Yield is a critical component in farm management for large-area Australian growers as they commit each year to large, borrowed, capital investments with few subsidies. Moreover, most farmers often do not account for their own personal inputs of labour (dollars per hour) in their budgets. If they did, their true income could be lower. Some of the farm-management constraints that are hampering increased yields and incomes, and their solutions, are discussed below and under Nutrition Management (see also: should I "get big or get out").

Adoption of new technology
It has been several years since grain analysis was introduced by Western Fertiliser Technology Pty Ltd, yet relatively few farmers have adopted this technology. As discussed in an above article (law of minimum), a serious deficiency of any of the major elements (e.g. potassium, magnesium) or micronutrients (e.g. boron, cobalt, molybdenum) would ensure that the grower loses most of his investment dollars. Fertilizer is the biggest investment a farmer makes, so deficiency of even a minor element costing hundreds of dollars can lead to a loss of millions of invested dollars for a large-area grower. The primary need for grain analysis is therefore for the crucial identification of deficient elements before seeding commences with expenditure on labour, machinery, fuel, herbicides and fertilizers. Once identified, a simple calculation is made for the amount of the deficient element needed to correct the deficiency. Grain analysis can also be used for the calculation of the precise amounts of other nutrients needed to achieve targeted yields. Information and education of farmers to use this valuable analytical tool is vitally important for productivity improvement.

Deficiencies of major and micronutrient elements in frequently used granular and liquid fertilisers
Before purchasing granular and liquid fertilizers to be used for crops and pastures, growers should closely inspect the labels. Are there any major elements missing in the granular fertilizers to be used (e.g. absence of potassium, calcium, magnesium or sulphur) and are there any secondary and micronutrients missing (e.g. manganese, chloride, sodium, boron, iron, cobalt, molybdenum). Are the elemental levels in the fertilizer, and the amounts to be applied, sufficient to grow a productive crop of wheat, barley, canola or lupin? Ask your fertilizer supplier to provide a fertilizer application program for both granular and foliar fertilizers which includes all the nutrients in sufficient amounts to enable a high yield at harvest. Once an input level (dollars/hectare) is decided, a balance in the levels of applied nutrients is essential for both major (e.g N to P, N to S, P to Mg ratios) and micronutrients (e.g Zn to Cu, Ca to B, Cu to Mo ratios). Increasing the rates of application of unbalanced fertilizers is wasteful as an early plateauing of yields versus application rates makes use of the deficient fertilizer costly and unproductive.

Low application rates of fertilizers due to large areas to be covered
The problem of missing elements in fertilizers is compounded by low and inadequate application rates due to lower productivity in the previous crop. An application rate of 100 kg/ha of DAP for wheat or barley (containing only N & P and missing other vital nutrients) equates to 10 grams DAP per square metre, or a spread of approximately 1 granule every 2 - 3 inches under the seed; a long distance for the roots of a germinated seedling to reach.

Improving productivity by ensuring that there are no nutrient deficiencies through seed treatment, granular under the seed and foliar nutrients at early crop establishment will increase productivity and enable investment of adequate fertilizer rates in the future.

Low quality seed used each year due to missing micronutrients in fertilizers used for the parent plant
This perennial problem can be overcome by using seed treatments of Super Energy, Super Trace, N trace, Tracesol or Super Biological to boost phosphate and micronutrients on the seed. Micronutrients present in seed tissue can be in the deficient range and slow to mineralize, being bound tightly by phytic acid, the principal storage form of phosphorus in most seeds.

It has been estimated from trials that up to 15% of potential yield is due to the quality of seed the farmer uses, reinforcing the importance of grain analysis before sowing. (see also Publications; 'the seed - life raft for the young plant').

Increasing reliance on bagged nitrogen instead of legume-fixed nitrogen
Legume-fixed nitrogen is superior to bagged nitrogen as it is slowly released. Rotation with legumes counters soil pathogens and improves soil structure and water-use efficiency. Lupins and lucerne are deep-rooted, and improves drought tolerance of following crops by improving soil structure and increasing soil carbon. Legumes have a higher demand for micronutrients (e.g. manganese, iron, boron, cobalt) which are supplied by using Super Energy foliar fertilizer; this topic is discussed in detail under Nutrition Management. Lower production volumes of lupins, chick peas, faba beans and field peas reflects lower rewards for farmers (low harvest index) due to more demanding nutritional requirements for micronutrients compared to cereals.

Declining soil structure and soil organic matter
A narrowing window for establishing crops due to climate change and unreliable rainfall has pressed large-area farmers to seed under dry conditions, with injurious effects on soil structure and oxidation of soil organic matter. A reason for the race to put crops in early is probably due to inadequate nutrition, where a longer growing season is needed for plants to try to accumulate needed nutrients before seed-set. However the predominantly sandy and gravelly soil types are becoming increasingly impoverished. It would be less risky overall for farmers to wait for opening rains, than having to re-seed because of late rains or patchy germinations. The key steps to improve this situation are seed treatments with nutrients and split applications of low-cost liquid fertilizers timed with rainfall (Blend-Tech System). Time lost in waiting for opening rains is quickly made up by use of liquid fertilizers containing complete nutrients.

Grain-only operations
Larger and more efficient farm machinery with less labour has resulted in a move to grain- only operations for some large farms, but risks has increased compared to mixed operations. Giving up a needed pasture phase has major drawbacks such as lower soil carbon from legumes and manure, lower soil nitrogen, reduced soil structure, lower water- holding capacity of soils and reduced microbial activities that increase availability of soil nitrogen and micronutrients. Lower soil carbon reduces the natural buffering capacity of a soil and can lead to fertilizer toxicity at sowing if fertilizer granules are placed in close contact with the seed. Applying buffered liquid fertilizers on-furrow (drip or injection) is safer.

Pasture improvement
Needless to say, pasture productivity is highly important for wool growers as well as preparing the land for profitable cropping and for the maintenance of soil structure and health. Continuous cropping without resting the soil in a pasture phase destroys soil structure and pore space which reduces water and oxygen infiltration, increases soil compaction and erosion, as well as reducing microbial mineralization of nutrients.

Legumes are needed to obtain nitrogen (an expensive input) cheaply for protein. The most reliable and cheap option to return neglected pastures to a productive state quickly is to re-seed with a hardy legume and feed it with dolomite (200 kg/ha), superphosphate (150 kg/ha), muriate of potash (50 kg/ha) and Super Energy micronutrients (10 litres/ha). The application rates can be reduced later for routine maintenance of productivity.

Nutrient-stress in weeds leading to higher rates of herbicides
Increasing rates of pre-emergent herbicides have markedly increased input costs. Increased rates has been attributed to the emergence of herbicide resistance in weeds, especially rye grass. Although the mechanism is not yet clear, farmers who use low rates of liquid fertilizers (nitrogen, sulphur and trace elements) together with pre-emergent herbicides have managed to improve herbicide efficiency and lower application rates for outstanding savings. Most farmers agree that weeds under stress, from water or nutrients deficiency, assumes a physiological condition which impedes herbicide uptake and action. Long-term, serious deficiencies of key micronutrients can affect DNA functions and can even cause DNA damage, not only in plants but also in animals. This is an increasing worry for plant and animal physiologists.

Increasing acidity of soils reducing productivity
The use of lime to counter soil acidity has had mixed results in Australia. The reasons include high costs (due to the large areas) from the high rates usually recommended (e.g. 1 ton/hectare). Lower rates (200 kg/ha) of limestone or limesand, applied annually, are effective if blended with a source of magnesium (e.g dolomite), potassium (e.g potassium sulphate or chloride) and a small amount of salt (sodium chloride) for balance. Correction of soil acidity is more than a simple neutralization of acid protons. Growth of plant roots need the buffering action of soil carbon, and microbial activities for chelation and nutrient availability. Regular use of balanced micronutrients in liquid fertilizers (see: Products page) helps to maintain microbial-enhanced fertility of both acid and alkaline type soils. Suppression of soil acids in high aluminum soils is needed for improved NPK availability (including calcium, magnesium and sulphur) in the narrow window after seeding (May - July). Liquid starter fertilizers use more water-soluble, plant-available forms of nutrients for early development of roots, stems and leaves of the seedling. There is an economical, effective and efficient way to use liquid lime for countering soil acidity with the Blend- Tech system and uniquely developed nozzles.

Damage to crops from frosts
This subject has been discussed earlier on this website under Nutrition Management and Technical Questions. The synthesis of soluble sugars in crops eventually leads to the synthesis of starch and complex carbohydrates which are initially stored in roots, stems and leaves; ultimately translocated to grain storage. Because soluble carbohydrate production depends on photosynthesis efficiency, a balanced supply of micronutrients to crops is needed to reduce or prevent frost damage to crops. Frost damage often comes without warning and can cause significant or complete damage to crops depending on its severity and vulnerability of crops. Preventing or minimizing frost damage should be a top priority for large-area growers in Australia.

Access of plant roots to stored soil moisture
This season has witnessed the importance of early root-growth on the ability of crops to access stored soil water from summer rains. Often, root tips of withered seedlings were only a few inches away from a life-giving band of water. The reasons for poor early root- growth has been discussed above and elsewhere on this website. Management systems needed to encourage early root growth and insuring against early moisture deficit include use of quality seeds, suppression of soil acids, seed treatment with nutrients, exploring optimum seeding depth, variety of crop, and use of quality granular and liquid fertilizers containing micronutrients.

Timing fertilizer applications to rainfall
Climate change has resulted in erratic rainfall which has affected productivity. Each inch of rainfall (25 mm) equates to 250 tons water/ha of water which makes growing season total rainfall adequate for most farms (a large 10,000 hectare farm receives 20 million tons of water/year from 8 inches of rain). Productivity of crops and pastures is now more reliant on timed applications of liquid fertilizers to rainfall with the Blend-Tech system. The old system of applying granular fertilizer once only at seeding is now totally inadequate due to unreliable rainfall. Timed applications of liquid fertilizers with rainfall improves water-use efficiency of crops and pastures.

Two-direction seeding
Two-direction seeding aims to grow a denser crop with a higher harvest index in a smaller area, and is therefore highly appropriate for farmers to consider net returns/hectare by running trials this season. Returning to the above relationship of income to area, price (quality), yields, and input costs, two-direction seeding has the potential to increase incomes by effectively increasing cropping area for smaller farms, increasing yields/ hectare, and reducing input costs (less herbicide, and less fuel at harvesting) . This subject has been discussed above in an earlier article in Current Topics. Posted October 28, 2013

Fertilizer Technology

Technology can be defined as the practical application of knowledge in a particular area to increase efficiency. In the context of fertilizer technology, efficiency is therefore the key word.

The production of fertilizers globally makes huge demands on high-quality energy produced from fossil fuels. There is vast infrastructure and manufacturing capacity invested globally for each fertilizer nutrient element, needing prodigious amounts of energy (e.g. in production of ammonia, nitric acid, urea, phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, DAP, MAP, potassium phosphates, potassium chloride, calcium nitrate, trace elements etc.). According to the IEA, global energy demand for the two decades from 2015 to 2035 will require investments of $48 trillion which will require application of credible policy frameworks. The goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees C is becoming more difficult and costly each year, and if credible policy actions are not taken before 2017, CO2 emissions would be locked-in by 2017 (IEA).

Food production accounts for 15% of total world energy consumption and increasing each year; Nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions originate from agricultural food production; significantly higher than energy demands for transportation globally. Energy efficiency is now a central issue for agriculture (source: European Fertilizer Manufacturers Association).

Solar energy, carbon dioxide and water are used in agriculture to convert the considerable amounts of energy and nutrients invested in fertilizers into food and biomass. Nitrogen is the main element, assisted by the other nutrients, to form proteins and carbohydrates through the photosynthesis process; providing energy as food for human beings and animals. Increasing fertilizer efficiency and preventing waste of large amounts of energy is therefore reliant on improving nitrogen use efficiency, solar energy use efficiency, carbon dioxide use efficiency and water use efficiency of crops. An increasing global focus on the use of biomass to capture and sequester excess CO2 has also focussed attention on fertilizer technologies.

Very low recoveries of energy invested in manufacturing fertilizers, from use of poorly formulated fertilizers could be seriously affecting global economies, causing considerable global losses in investments of energy and affecting investments in other parts of economies. Countries which rely largely on income from agriculture would be most affected. With lower prices for iron ore and oil, Australia is now more reliant on increased agricultural production and exports. Prevention of deficiencies and provision of complete nutrients, whenever feasible, leads to quality and yield improvements of crops. Quality of fertilizers used should always precede quantity used to improve net profitability.

Components of granulated and liquid fertilizers

N only (e.g. Urea).
N P (e.g. MAP, DAP).
N P S (e.g. MAP + Ammonium Sulphate).
N P K S (e.g. MAP + Potassium Sulphate).
N P K S Mg (e.g. MAP + Potassium Sulphate + Magnesium Sulphate).
N P K S Mg Ca Na Cl (e.g. MAP+ Potassium Sulphate + Magnesium Sulphate + Calcium Sulphate + Sodium Chloride).
N P K S Mg Ca Na Cl + trace elements Cu Mn Zn.
N P K S Mg Ca Na Cl + all chelated and non-chelated trace elements.
N P K S Mg Ca Na Cl + all chelated and non-chelated trace elements + biostimulants + humic and fulvic acids.

Fertilizer use efficiency is lowest if nitrogen alone is applied to crops. Fertilizer efficiency increases as nitrogen is accompanied by other compounds and trace elements. Chelation of trace elements is very important for fertilizer efficiency, and have been discussed under Nutrition Management and Technical Questions on this website, Chelating agents and chelated trace elements are used less often in granulated fertilizers than in liquid fertilizers, where they are more effective in solution. The solubility and buffering properties of phosphorus compounds of potassium, calcium and magnesium, and the heat generated during production is useful for the manufacture of liquid fertilizers. Vital components such as magnesium sulphate (magnesium is the central coordinating element in chlorophyll for photosynthesis), trace elements (enzymes), biostimulants, surfactants for non-wetting soils, humic and fulvic acids and minuscule amounts of the ultra trace elements are easily added to liquid fertilizers to improve efficient use of nitrogen.

Improving fertilizer efficiency will:

Posted March 6, 2015.

Nitrogen-use efficiency

"We have a 5000-acre farm in the wheatbelt of Western Australia. For the past 13 years we have produced our own urea-ammonium nitrate solution in a 10,000-litre mixing tank for foliar application to wheat and canola. Results were good at first but protein levels and yields have now tapered off. After reading your Current Topics article on Fertilizer Technology, we think we need other elements with the nitrogen. Could you advise us on the product we need with nitrogen?"

Nitrogen is the key element for both quality and yield improvement for crops, as it is a key component of proteins and for carbohydrates to fill grains. Nitrogen-use efficiency is what you have to aim for. Continuous use of nitrogen can cause loss of trace elements as soluble nitrates from your soils, which need replacing.

Elements important to improve nitrogen assimilation are phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulphur, calcium and trace elements. Together these elements work with nitrogen in the process of photosynthesis to improve solar energy use efficiency, carbon dioxide use efficiency and water use efficiency to improve quality and yields.

We sell a product called Super Energy liquid fertiliser which can supply these elements with nitrogen to improve nitrogen-use efficiency. By replacing ammonium nitrate with ammonium sulphate, you can provide extra sulphur which would be very useful for canola. Here is what you need to do:

To 4000-litres of water in your mixing tank, add 2000-litres of Super Energy liquid fertiliser through a suction pump and mix.

Add 2000-kg of spray-grade ammonium sulphate and mix until dissolved (1 - 2 hours depending on ambient temperature).

Add 2500-kg of spray-grade urea and mix until dissolved (1 - 2 hours).

Volume produced is approximately 8500-litres of urea-ammonium sulphate solution with analysis of N (20%), S (6.5%), P2O5 (6.5%), K2O (0.8%), Ca (0.05%) MgO (0.8%), Cl (0.20%), Na (0.30%), Fe (0.16%), Cu (0.14%), Mn (0.20%), Zn (0.22%), B (0.06%), Mo (0.01%) and Co (0.007%).

Apply 20 - 30 litres per hectare at tillering to wheat and canola with 100-litres per hectare of water, using a 50-mesh stainless steel filter. Posted April 23, 2015.

"Thank you for the guide to increase nitrogen-use efficiency with urea-ammonium sulphate and trace elements. Grain analysis on our wheat and canola grains has shown very low levels of calcium and magnesium, confirmed by pH analysis of our soils which were at acidic levels of pH 4.6 to 5.2. Can we produce calcium and magnesium liquid fertilizers in the 10,000-litre mixing tank with Super Energy?"

pH levels around 4.6 to 5.2 for your soils and very low levels of calcium and magnesium in grains shows that you need lime for your soils by spreading agricultural lime (CaCO3) blended with some dolomite (CaCO3.MgCO3). Acid soils have low levels of soluble calcium and magnesium in the soil solution for crops, as well as being low in other major elements and trace elements. Crops therefore respond quickly to NPK liquid fertilizers containing soluble calcium and magnesium with Super Energy trace elements by increasing root growth, allowing plants to access water at deeper levels during periods of low rainfall.

Below are the procedures for calcium and magnesium liquid fertilizers with NPK and Super Energy trace elements, for your 10,000-litre mixing tank. For smaller batches we produce the 1000-litre Blend-Tech System which can produce 4000-litres a day, storing the liquid fertilizers in 1000-litre IBC shuttles (can be stored for up to 10 years).

Liquid Calcium with NPK & Super Energy trace elements:

To the 10,000-litre mixing tank containing 4000-litres water, add, while mixing, 2000-kg technical-grade Calcium Chloride dihydrate, 2000-litres Super Energy through a suction pump, and 2000-kg Mono Potassium Phosphate (MKP). Total mixing time is 2 - 4 hours.

Volume produced is 8500-litres, with analysis of N(2.0%), P2O5(18.2%), K2O(8.8%), Ca(6.4%), MgO (0.7%), S(0.7%), Cl(11.2%), Na(0.3%), Fe(0.16%), Cu(0.14%), Mn(0.20%), Zn(0.22%), B(0.06%). Mo(0.01%), Co(0.007%)

Liquid Magnesium with NPK & Super Energy trace elements:

To the 10,000-litre mixing tank containing 4000-litres water, add, while mixing, 2000-litres Super Energy through a suction pump, 2000-kg Magnesium Sulphate heptahydrate (Epsom salt) and 2000-kg spray-grade Urea. Total mixing time is 2 - 4 hours.

Volume produced is 8500-litres, with analysis of N(14%), P2O5(5.5%), K2O(3.6%), Ca (0.05%), MgO(5.0%), S(4.5%), Cl(0.20%), Na(0.30%), Fe(0.16%), Cu(0.14%) Mn(0.20%), Zn(0.22%), B(0.06%), Mo(0.01%), Co(0.007%)

Application rates are 20 - 30 litres per hectare of liquid calcium or liquid magnesium at tillering to wheat, canola and lupins with 100 litres per hectare of water, using a 50-mesh stainless steel filter. For best results apply liquid calcium and liquid magnesium 2 weeks apart. Posted April 27, 2015.

Trace elements for sustainability

"Reading that trace element deficiencies are a leading cause for farm sustainability problems, I sent my wheat grain for grain analysis. Several trace elements were identified to be deficient, especially boron and manganese. Phosphorus and magnesium were also in the low range. My agronomist has recommended the amounts and types of trace elements, phosphorus and magnesium to apply for each hectare. Can I add trace elements to the urea-ammonium sulphate solution?"

Agricultural chemists have discovered that plants employ carboxylic acids such as citric acid and acetic acid at the root-soil interface to chelate and absorb trace elements and other elements from soils. Oxygen from water (hydrogen bonding), phosphates, sulphates, nitrogen from amino-acids and urea-type compounds, chloride, are also used by plants to absorb trace elements. Citric acid can be added to UAS solution as a chelating agent, at approximately 1% w/v. Citric acid also imparts a useful acidic reaction to the UAS solution, helping to prevent loss of ammonia to the atmosphere after application to soils, thus conserving applied nitrogen.

Adding more than one trace element to the citric acid treated UAS solution can cause compatibility problems leading to formation of precipitates. Check the best order of addition of trace elements to the citric acid treated UAS solution, as this is important to prevent precipitates forming in time. Use some sea salt (approximately 0.5% w/v) to provide chloride and sodium to the UAS. Before using trace elements, read the labels on the bags for safety instructions. Posted May 31, 2015.

Green Manuring of crops

The advent of modern organic-based mineral liquid fertilisers containing chelated trace elements has ushered in a rejuvenated era of green manuring crops for soil fertility. The key to increasing organic matter in soils and increasing fertility is bio-stimulation and growth of microbes, both heterotrophic bacteria, yeasts and moulds (decomposers), and free-living microbes such as Azotobacter. Microbes can fix atmospheric nitrogen and carbon efficiently if supplied with the ideal soil conditions, green manures and trace elements.

Microbes utilize trace elements in their metabolism as enzymes (e.g. protease, nitrogenase), which are large molecule protein catalysts able to decompose organic matter efficiently or fix atmospheric nitrogen. Different types of trace elements are needed at the active sites of enzymes to bind and orient molecules for reaction, as well as reduce thermodynamic activation energy thereby accelerating reactions. In soils deficient in trace elements and/or too acidic, aerobic decomposition of organic matter is slow and carbon and nitrogen can be lost as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. Therefore green manures provided with trace elements forms stable carbon in the soil from atmospheric CO2, mitigating climate change.

Revitalizing nutrient-exhausted soils and correcting degraded soils is now an issue for most farmers; green manuring with trace elements and minerals are now vital for sustainability. Important parameters for soil fertility, besides organic matter maintenance in soil at 4% to 5%, are optimum pH, EC and trace elements (see Fertiblend liquid lime-N-potash, home page). Acid soils with pH less than 5.0 can be amended quickly and economically with the corrosion-resistant Fertiblend liquid lime applicator which also helps to lower excessively high EC. The efficiency of liquid lime (MgO + Ca(OH)2 in water) is improved markedly in company of urea nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and trace elements.

Advantages of green manure crops

Green manuring increases soluble, available phosphorus, important as an energy compound (ATP) for plants and microbes, as well as soluble potassium, magnesium and trace elements important for their metabolism. Fertilisers are seldom used for green manure crops, but using mineral and chelated trace elements fertilisers with green manures assists fast rate of microbial decomposition, improving soil tilth, aeration, fertility, and increasing yield and quality.

Green manuring is highly advantageous for large-acre farms which have switched to crop-only operations (wall-to-wall) without a vital pasture phase. Organic matter improves the buffering capacity of soil, allowing higher rates of mineral fertilisers to be used in the cash crop. Microbial activity is maintained by green manures for good soil structure and fertility, replacing sheep manure.

Use of legume crops such as lupins, lucerne, clover, vetch, beans, and peas adds nitrogen and carbon, lowering costs of nitrogen for the cash crop as well as helping to recycle nutrients from depth for the next crop. Non- legumes such as oats, barley, sorghum, canola adds more carbon than nitrogen to the soil.

Liquid fertilisers are ideal for green manure crops as they can be timed with rainfall for optimum effect. Useful time away from busy times of year is used more efficiently by utilizing green manures and fertilising with liquid fertilisers. Elements shown to be deficient from grain analysis data (see Publications) can be boosted during this stage, improving fertility ahead of sowing the following crop.

Quality of green manure crops is improved by combinations of oats and lupins, oats and vetch, canola and red clover (Trifolium pratense), canola and faba beans etc.

Organic matter from green manures increases water-holding capacity of soils and improves percolation of water to depth.

By providing a rotational break with a green manure crop, life cycles of diseases are disrupted, reducing disease in following crops.

Ploughing in of green manure crops with liquid lime and potash improves cation exchange capacity of soils, lowering water-repellency.

Through tillage, green manuring assists in controlling weeds in the next crop.

If a legume crop (lupins, faba beans or peas) is to follow a green manure crop of oats/vetch, an ideal opportunity is to use a mixed inoculant during the green manure crop.

Timing of tillage is important. Green manure crops should be incorporated into the soil while still green with maximum biomass and soil moisture available for microbial activity. Incorporation should be done before seed- set otherwise seeds could become weeds in the cash crop. A single pass with discs is all that is needed. A minimum of 4 months should be given for decomposition and mineralization before the cash crop is grown. Replenish organic matter in soils with green manures once every 3 to 4 years.

Green Manuring and Cash Crop Program
1st week in August
# To stubble of previous crop spread 250 Kg/ha fine quality dolomite CaCO3.MgCO3 (min. 80% purity).
# Seed a mixture of 80 kg/ha oats/lupins/vetch.
# At germination apply 15 litres/ha of Super Energy liquid fertiliser with 30 litres water.
# Incorporation into soil - 1st week in November (before seed-set).

Following crop (e.g Wheat) - next April/May/or June
# Seed with 100 kg/ha Super Potash 2:1
# At 3-leaf apply 5 litres/ha Super Energy with 40 litres water.
# At heavy tillering apply 30 litres/ha DIY Fertiblend N-P-K-Cal (see home page, micro ad for Fertiblend System). Posted June 29, 2016.

How can I apply liquid fertilizers intensively for high yields and quality?

Liquid fertilizers are usually applied through the foliar method in orchards, and often by injection into irrigation water (fertigation). Intensive application of liquid fertilizers can be achieved by direct application of undiluted liquid fertiliser to the soil in orchards, and in forests for increasing photosynthesis and CO2 sequestration, a concept introduced here by Western Fertiliser Technology Pty Ltd for economical use of liquid fertilizers.

Foliar and irrigated applications of liquid fertilizers, whilst improving plant response from applications of balanced liquid fertilizers, seldom achieve the kilograms/ha of nutrients needed by crops, resulting in lower yields and quality. This is due to concerns of leaf-burn or soil nutrient-overload. Application of highly diluted liquid fertilizers then demand several applications, while still not achieving sufficiently high application of NPK, secondary nutrients (calcium, magnesium and sulphur) and trace elements for high yields with quality.

In a modern orchard developed for high-yielding, economical-to-maintain dwarfing rootstocks planted closely, and trellis-trained for ensuring high light interception (4m between rows, 1.2 m - 1.5m between trees in the rows). In a 4 ha orchard (10 acres), there are approximately 10,000 trees that can be fed adequately with liquid fertilizers for high yields and quality. Assuming liquid fertilizer at 20 litres/ha is applied 6 times to a 4 hectare orchard , a total of 480 litres of liquid fertilizer, only 48 ml/tree is applied. Calculations show that this amount of applied nutrients as liquid fertilizer is inadequate for achieving high yields unless granular fertilisers are applied additionally. For achieving high yields together with quality from applications of NPK, secondary elements and trace element liquid fertilizers, approximately 500 ml/tree or more of a complete liquid fertiliser is needed; an increase of a factor of ten. Tests have shown that undiluted liquid fertilizer followed by irrigation, or rain, can be safely applied at an approximate dose of 50 ml/tree if applied to the root absorption zone 600 mm from the trunk of the tree along the rows as shown in the diagram above (a total of 10 applications/tree applied at intervals of 2 weeks).

The applied undiluted liquid fertiliser is quickly adsorbed by soil colloids, acting as a slow- release fertilizer feeding directly to feeder roots with little or no waste of liquid fertilizer. Applications at radial distances of 600 mm from the tree will ensure even development of feeder roots around the tree. Manual applications can use a squeeze-type dishwater detergent bottle (with a pop-up cap) for small orchards, but could be difficult for large orchards unless a new type of mechanised liquid fertilizer applicator is used.

For broad-acre cereal farmers, liquid fertilizer injectors are already being used widely, so undiluted liquid fertilizer can be applied at high dosage/ha if applied at seeding time, ensuring adequate separation of the seed from the band of liquid fertilizer applied under the seed or between rows. Direct application of undiluted liquid fertilizer for large broad- acre farms will save on carried water, fuel, and reduce soil compaction. Approximately 100 litres/ha of liquid fertilizer (see Products) can be applied to the soil at seeding, followed by 25 litres/ha applied foliar at tillering for high yields and quality. Posted November 2, 2016.

Magnesium and Boron:

Grain analysis of my wheat grain is showing deficiencies of magnesium and boron with low protein level although I used recommended amounts of granular fertiliser. Can using magnesium and boron nutrients improve my wheat yields and protein levels for the next crop?

A recent review by Cakmak, I and Yazici, A.M (International Plant Nutrition Institute publication; Magnesium: A Forgotten Element in Crop Production) summarised some of the essential roles of magnesium for plants. Seven key functions of magnesium were listed and one of them is for protein synthesis. Both magnesium and boron's metabolic functions in plants are closely linked to calcium; all important for nitrogen metabolism in plants (see also this website: Publications: Magnesium's mysteries unravel; and Products List: Soil and Foliar Boron).

Multiple deficiencies of nutrients are often responsible for poor performance by plants, and departures of several nutrients simultaneously from optimum levels are serious barriers to obtaining yield maximums (Wallace, A.J; Plant Nutrition, 1986; Nutrition Management, this website). In Western Australia, the major suppliers of granular NPKS fertilisers to farmers are now considering adding both magnesium and boron to their granular fertilisers.

Our DIY Fertiblend System (see home page, micro ad) can be ideally coupled to our Grain Analysis System for flexibly applying deficient nutrients after identification by grain analysis. Grain analyses of wheat, other cereals, lupin and canola from WA has shown multiple deficiencies of nutrients often including magnesium and boron deficiencies.

One of the 6 liquid fertiliser products of the DIY Fertiblend System (home page, micro ad), Fertiblend N-Mag-S with the analyses 15%N - 3.0%Mg - 4.0%S is ideally suited to supply nitrogen (as urea), magnesium (as magnesium sulphate) and can include boron as borax or boric acid. Posted December 3, 2016.


"Crystal of Life"

The Six Environmental Forces (Publications page, this website: Letter to the Editor, "LOOK at the big picture"; Farm Weekly, July 22, 1999, page 6).

There are six major forces controlling the environment and life on Earth, namely Heat - Light, Air - Water, Nutrients - Microbes.

The spatial relationship of these six forces to the central, living cell forms an energetically, octahedrally coordinated "Crystal of Life" complex of interactions which sustains the cell.

The forces themselves are in complimentary pairs of Heat & Light, Air & Water, and Nutrients & Microbes, each directly affecting the other. An effect on any one of the forces will also influentially affect the others.

The environmental forces are in harmony with each other and with the central cell when each force has an optimal magnitude. The immunity of the cell at that point is then at a maximum (though never 100%) and disease is at a minimum (though never zero).

Thorough explanations on ecology of each environmental force is available on Internet search engines, as well as explanations of the physiology of the cell, immunity, and disease. For example, Air as an environmental force means the individual and combined effects of all its components on the environment and life processes, such as CO2, Ozone (O3), Oxygen (O2), Nitrogen (N2) etc. The magnitude (concentration), physics and chemistry of these gases, which controls global temperature by affecting infrared radiation (carbon dioxide); ultraviolet radiation (ozone); breathable air (oxygen); and cell structure, food protein (nitrogen), etc. should be maintained at close to optimal for sustainability of life. All life depends on the six forces acting together in harmony, clearly shown by plants for the most important thermodynamic, biochemical process on Earth - photosynthesis. Microbes in soil play a crucial role by converting nutrients into more available and useful forms for plants, which produce carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals as food for humans and animals. Posted February 7, 2017.

The four thermodynamic laws which govern the movement and function of energy underpin the harmonious expression of the six forces which nurtures all life forms, be it human, plant, animal, insect or microbe.

A spontaneous and uninterrupted flow of energy (Gibbs Free Energy, G) is needed and must be maintained to support life's complex metabolism. In biological thermodynamics, the total heat content of the system is quantified by enthalpy (H), a measure of energy available for biochemical reactions. Biochemical reactions involve changes in energy levels, in temperature (T) and an increase in entropy (S), a measure of randomness or disorder.

The source of energy and nutrition for the functioning of metabolic systems for life is nutritious food. Photosynthesis by plants and phytoplankton produce the food for terrestrial and marine organisms by complex, thermodynamically controlled reaction of water, CO2, O2, nutrients and solar radiation. Symbiotic microbes utilise these photosynthate compounds as energy to fix atmospheric nitrogen as organic nitrogen compounds in legume nodules.

Food consists of energy-dense biomolecules composed of various elements; carbohydrates (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen), proteins and enzymes (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, trace elements), nucleic acids such as DNA (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen) and minerals in organic forms (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, sulphur, sodium, chloride, trace elements and ultra trace elements).

The most abundant energy-carrier biomolecule in cells is adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP). It stores and transfers energy to other biomolecules to enable metabolic reactions to take place in cells. Photosynthesis by plants and phytoplankton requires ATP which is generated by photo-phosphorylation with solar energy.

Life ceases without a supply of energy from food, or if the harmonious functioning of any of the six forces (heat, light, air, water, nutrients and microbes) is disrupted, exceeded or cease, leading to a permanent loss of metabolic temperature and commencement of cellular degradation (disorder).

Temperature is a measure of the average heat or thermal energy of molecules in a substance or body. Thermodynamic maintenance of a steady temperature is critical for all life forms. Humans are homeotherms and must maintain a constant body temperature within a close range to live, whilst poikilotherms cannot maintain a constant body temperature due to their particular metabolic system. As humans cannot burrow to stay cool or warm, we must depend on Earth maintaining a habitable temperature.

Entropy (randomness) always increases with time, so there is an enormous variety of life forms on Earth as a result of billions of years of evolution; each species connected in some way to the other and living in harmony within the bounds of Earth's different ecosystems. Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem services are provided by bio-diverse natural species which are caretakers of the ecosystems humans depend on for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, environment, etc. Maintaining nature's biodiversity by preventing climate change is now a key strategy of governments.

We cannot afford to ignore the vital importance of any of the six forces if we wish to survive and prosper. Nutrients & Microbes, Air & Water are critical for life, and are currently in need of close attention to turn back the onslaught of climate change. Atmospheric CO2, even in a low concentration range of 400 - 408 ppm (0.040 - 0.041%), plus other greenhouse gases, has the power as a greenhouse gas to warm up the Earth's atmosphere, warm up oceans and melt Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. Governments have acted effectively on eliminating CFCs which deplete vital atmospheric ozone (the Montreal Protocol, 1987). Atmospheric ozone is present in even smaller amounts (0.00001 - 0.0001%) yet it protects us from dangerous UV radiation.

We must act quickly to remove excessive CO2 (Paris Climate Summit, UNFCCC, 2015), utilising photosynthesis with plants, trees and phytoplankton. Understanding thermodynamics and nutrition in relation to the six environmental forces will be crucial for our efforts to succeed in preventing dangerous climate change, a serious threat to humanity.
Posted April 18, 2017.

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