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Tillage, fertility, and potential phosphorus movement

Principal Investigator

Aaron Breimer

Research Institution

Veritas Farm Management

External Funding Partners

Veritas Farm Management (applicant – Growing Forward 2); Middlesex Soil and Crop Improvement Association

This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.

Project Start

September 2016

Project End

October 2017


  • The project aims to investigate interactions of strip tillage by fertilizer management strategies on:
    • Crop productivity
    • Soil test levels both spatially and temporally
    • Potential to reduce phosphorus applications by better placement strategy
    • Plant growth, uptake and yield in the year of application
    • Phosphorus levels in crop residues that may be available for off-target movement (soluble reactive phosphorus); and, also interaction of phosphorus applications with sulphur fertilization.
  • Establish research site, strip installation, and soil sampling
  • Collect and compare nutrient levels between the treatments and the original baseline levels of five-leaf corn


  • The development of management strategies to mitigate phosphorus (P) loss will allow producers to maintaining or increasing yields, productivity and profitability while protecting the environment.

Scientific Summary

Eutrophication of the Great Lakes by phosphorus must be reduced. Algal blooms in Lake Erie have increased dramatically, and agriculture has been implicated as one of the non-point sources of phosphorus (P). Management techniques need to be developed that will reduce any possible environmental impacts that are related to fertilizer usage, especially in regards to P. These systems need to include productivity as well as environmental impact, as both are key elements in sustainability. Tillage, specifically zone or strip-tillage, and fertility management will be evaluated regarding phosphate movement and crop productivity.

The project aims to develop management strategies to mitigate any potential for off-target movement of agricultural phosphorus into the environment. Strategies will be investigated to mitigate off-target movement of agricultural phosphorus, reduce soil erosion potential, yet allow growers to maintain and increase yields. These key elements need to be investigated concurrently to develop best management strategies that can be implemented by Ontario producers. Each site will be divided into three zones of expected yield productivity with randomized treatments being replicated within each zone. Fertility will be variably applied; this will be based on yield potential within each zone. All zones will be monitored individually. This component adds greatly to the knowledge base on interactions of yield with fertility management and potential phosphorus movement. Additionally, it utilizes the latest technology in precision farming, and should allow even further fine-tuning of fertility management for optimum sustainability. Plant tissue samples will be taken to quantify phosphate uptake at key growth stages, with crop residue and grain being tested for total and water extractable phosphate (WEP) in order to measure potential for off-target movement. WEP values in crop residue will give an indication of phosphorus at risk of off-target movement, and evaluations can be made of the impacts of different fertilizer regimes and application strategies on WEP in residues. Yield data and all yield-related parameters will be collected and analyzed. Data will be added to the evaluations of economic and environmental implications of the management techniques evaluated.