Manitoba: ESN on-farm tests yield increased protein in wheat

While new varieties of wheat have provided western Canadian growers with significant boosts in yield, there have been concerns about lower protein levels, says John Heard, a soil fertility specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. Protein quality is a key factor in determining the market value of wheat, something that “hits farmers directly in the pocket book,” he explains.

Heard, who works with the Farm Production Extension branch, coached a series of on-farm tests this past year to determine the ideal nitrogen rate to support protein development during plant growth. Three of the on-farm test locations incorporated ESN Smart Nitrogen into their plans, and the results indicated “a slight but significant protein response” Heard says, adding the controlled-release nitrogen product “did what it said it would do by providing insurance against nitrogen loss” during an especially wet 2015-2016 crop season across most of Manitoba.

ESN’s unique polymer coating allows moisture to diffuse into the granule, creating a nitrogen solution. The solution moves out through the membrane at a rate that is controlled by soil temperature and matches the nitrogen demand of the growing crop.

The protein response was positive, Heard says, adding “there was also a tendency for higher yields with ESN.” He adds it’s important to note that the growers involved in the trials are “already working at a level where nitrogen isn’t limiting yield. The farmers we worked with are all at the top of their game when it comes to fertility management.”

Recipient of the 2015 International Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) of the Year Award, Heard says he gets satisfaction out of working to provide growers with credible information that will help them achieve new levels of success in the field. “I’m happy if the farmer feels he has enough information to make a good decision,” he says.

Ray Dowbenko, a Senior Agronomist with the ESN team, says working with researchers and growers to trial the product in real-life conditions to prove its efficacy has always been important. He says over the past few years he has heard more and more growers asking about solutions to address lower protein values.

“It’s a very complex issue, the relation of nitrogen to protein,” Dowbenko says, “but we know that producers who get higher protein levels get paid for it, so there is considerable incentive to look at some new ways of doing things.”

In addition to the protein response, Heard says ESN also showed some benefits in the area of crop safety due to ease and timing of application.