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To fall fertilize or to not fall fertilize – that is the question many growers in Western Canada are asking themselves these days as temperatures gradually begin to drop.

Even as fertilizer products and application technologies continue to evolve, the primary reason to consider fall fertilization remains the same: it helps to spread out a grower’s workload more evenly throughout the year and can substantially reduce the stress they feel come springtime.

By applying fertilizer in the fall, growers will have more space in their tank for seed and other product in the spring, meaning they have the ability to go longer between fill-ups and wrap up seeding that much quicker.

Another logistical benefit of fall fertilizing is that once you’ve applied the product to your field you no longer have to worry about subsequent industry shortages or plant failures that could result in costly interruptions to spring seeding. It can also result in a cost savings as fertilizer prices tend to be lower in fall than in spring.

An additional advantage of fall fertilizing is that soil is typically drier than in the spring. As a result, fertilizer applicators are much less likely to get stuck in any ruts created by moist soil conditions. Drier fall conditions also mean it is easier to incorporate fertilizer rather than simply forcing it to sit on top.

Risks with Fall Fertilizer Applications

Of course, that’s not to say that fall fertilizing doesn’t come with some risks. Because the product can be on the field for as long as six or seven months before it is used by the plant, that means there is more potential for something to go wrong such as leaching or denitrification.  These two loss mechanisms have been identified as the main reasons why some growers have gone away from fall fertilization. You can also lose some of the product to wind and other environmental conditions, although those losses are considered acceptable by most standards.

So what should growers be aware of it they choose to do fall fertilizing?

Timing is everything

You need to wait until soil has sufficiently cooled before applying any kind of fertilizer in the fall. If you apply it when the soil is still too warm you run the risk of the nitrogen you are apply converting into other forms and are more likely to see leaching or denitrification. A simple rule of thumb is to wait until soil temperatures are consistently around the 5 C mark or lower.

Soil test before you fertilize

It’s also important to consider soil testing prior to applying any post-harvest fertilizer. By testing prior to fertilizing, growers will have a much clearer indication about soil levels and what they need to apply to ensure they are putting the right nutrient in the right place at the right time.

Choose the right fertilizer product

While there are many options to consider with fall fertilization, it’s important to remember to choose the right product at the right time to make sure you realize the most benefit. The best place to start is by speaking to you Agronomist for advice on choosing the right product for the job.