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SWEEP Report #78

A Comparison of Cropping, Tillage and Land Management Practices in Southwestern Ontario for 1986 and 1991

Peter Roberts, OMAF, Guelph, Ont.

Executive Summary

View / Download Final Report [1563 KB pdf] (note - some figures missing) 



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Executive Summary (Preliminary Draft)

The two survey years were shown to be representative samples stratified on the basis of township. The 141 townships originally in the 1986 survey were re-visited to produce a statistically reliable sample to bench mark data collected in 1986. Environment Canada's erosion potential maps were utilized to designate each site visited as having a "high", "low", or "random sample" designation. Overall the study area stratification ratio was unchanged for both survey years, namely 83.5 % low or random to 16.4 % high in 1986 and 83.7 % low or random to 16.3 % in 1991.

The goal of this study was to assess whether agricultural management practices have changed since the bench mark study in 1986 and if so, what impact these changes could have on phosphorus delivery to the Lake Erie basin.

In order to achieve this goal, the following agricultural management practices were assessed for change:

  1. Cropping, tillage and planting practices

  2. Nutrient management practices (eg. manure and fertilizer application)

  3. Erosion control practices (eg. field borders, ditch bank stabilization)

  4. Drainage practices

Some agricultural demographic information was collected so that the surveyed farms could be more easily characterized. The interpretation of the results will demonstrate the effectiveness of soil and water conservation measures at the end of the SWEEP Agreement.

Farm Enterprise/Crop Distribution

In 1991 a Cash Crop farming enterprise (48.6 %) was still the principle enterprise. It constituted (41.7%) of the 1986 sample. In decreasing order enterprises of Dairy (18.3 %) and Swine (8.8 %) then Beef (1.0 %) farmers comprised the remaining proportions of acreage of the 1991 sample. In both survey years relatively few farmers had fruit/vegetables (1.2 % - 1986/91) or sheep enterprises (0.01 %,1986 and 0.4 % , 1991).

Overall there was little change in the size of operations between the 2 survey years. The most predominant size of farm operation was still 40 - 99 acres in size (39 %,1991). In 1991 smaller sized operations only constituted approximately 15 % of the sample while larger farms of more than 100-199 acres made up approximately 30 % of the sample. In 1991 there appears to be significant percentage increased changes in the 200-399 acre farms (16 %) and 400-800 acre sized farms, (9 %) with a slight increase in the 800 plus acre size (3%).

Notable % changes in crops grown between 1986 and 1991 occurred with spring (-15%) and fall cereals (-5 %) as well as corn (-1.5 %). However, both beans (+5 %) and forages (+2 %) showed increases. A slight increase in forages is indicative of a small change toward the adoption of conservation practices.

Crop Rotation

A crop rotation of cereals and forages is often essential for maintaining good soil structure and yields. The lengths of rotation asked ranged from none to seven or more years. The most significant degree of percentage change in length of rotation was indicated for the none and five year category at approximately -16 % and - 14 % respectively. This was counterbalanced by positive changes of approximately + 9 % each for the two and six year length of rotation. Both one and seven year categories showed very little incremental change. Cereals & forage in rotation remained at approximately the same proportions for both survey years.

Reasons For Cropping Change

Generally there was very little change in the reasons given for cropping change for both survey years. In 1986 producers changed their cropping practices to reduce erosion(18 %), for economic reasons and better crop rotations(14 %), and because they changed crops/enterprise/land base( %).

The 1991 results indicated that producers changed to reduce erosion (22 %), because of poor soil structure (4 %) and wanting to have better rotations (10 %). Economic reasons were increased by only +5 %. The rest of the reasons were very incremental in nature.

Crops & Tillage

In 1991 most farmers were still using conventional ploughing and planting implements. However more acreage was being tilled using conservation tillage equipment. Overall there were percent change decreases in use of the mouldboard plough (-9 %), modified mouldboard (-1.9 %), and tandem disc and harrows (-2.5 %). Percent change increases were found in the cultivator (+0.9 %), Disc Coulter Chisel plough (+4.0 %), Chisel Plough (4.5 %) and No - till/Ridge Till (4 %).

These overall positive trends with further analysis proved to be limited in scope and not representative of real trends toward the adoption of soil conservation practices by SWEEP area farmers. An examination of tillage practices cross referenced to erosion potential, tillage machines, crops and enterprise types of cash crop, dairy, swine and mixed provided a reasonable check of trends toward the adoption of conservation practices.

For High Erosion potential lands it was found that although the percent change was substantial for conventional tillage, it was accompanied by a slight or modest change in the number of fields conventionally tilled, regardless of erosion category. The above four enterprises represented 78.3 % and 81.5 % of the 1986 and 1991 total survey sample.

Encouraging gains have been made in terms of the adoption of conservation tillage practices. For the same erosion potential reduced tillage and enterprise type the number of fields or percent increase showed a doubling. For no-till, the greatest percent gains on highly erodible land were seen for cash crop farmers. Again, there were only slight or modest gains in the number of fields in a no-till/ridge-till practice. Dairy, Swine and Mixed farms had no producers practising no-till on highly erodible lands in the 1991 survey. Findings were similar to this for the low and random erosion categories and same enterprises.

In 1986 the principle reasons given for a change in tillage were to reduce erosion, more residue (28 %) and a change in crops/equipment (22 %). In 1991 results showed that a change in crops/equipment (33 %) was the principle reason followed by reduce erosion/more residue (26 %).

In 1986 approximately 78 % of farm fields were tilled in the spring while in 1991 it was approximately 82 %. A change in spring after harvest tillage from approximately 15 % (1986), to approximately 12 % (1991) appears insignificant. The amount of summer tillage decreased slightly to 5 % in 1991. Most of the farmland surveyed was still tilled to a depth of 11-15 centimetres. All other depth classes remained virtually unchanged with the exception of the 16-23 cm class which showed a decrease of approximately 5 %.

There was no clear trend towards adoption of conservation seedbed tillage machines but the use of a disc/harrow declined substantially since 1986. However, the use of the disc/harrow declined by -10 % while the cultivator increased by +5 %. This change may only be a reflection of the cropping year as opposed to the adoption of a particular tillage implement.

Most farmers conducted secondary tillage using 2 passes (over 50 % in 1991) A considerable number are tilling with 1 (32 % in 1991) or 3 (19 %) passes. As expected, March-May was the most popular time of the year for tilling the seedbed in both 1986 (85 %) and 1991 (80.5 %).

In 1986, the main reason why farmers repeated their seedbed tillage was that their soil was not fine enough (91.6 %). In 1991, the majority of farmers repeated their seedbed tillage because the seedbed was not level enough (13.4 %) . Other reasons, were they needed to incorporate fertilizer and herbicide (11.1 %).

An examination of planting methods showed that the most significant percent change in use had occurred for a regular seed drill (-7%). Noteworthy was the +2 % increase change in use of the modified seed drill.

As with tillage most farmers tended to plant their fields with little consideration given for the effects of slope (63 %, 1986, and 66 %, 1991). The categories of "On the Contour", "Round and Round the Field", "Across the Major Slope" and "up and Down" the major slope all showed small incremental but positive changes in 1991.

Manure Application

The use of manure as a fertilizer, method of application, timing of application and the timeliness of its incorporation into the soil are all pertinent factors in understanding the potential effects upon water quality. In 1986 (64%) and 1991 (70%) of farmers did not apply manure. Generally there was very little change in the method of application between the 2 years. Most used a spreader and tractor, 65 % in 1991 and 73 % in 1986. Some used a tank, 25 % in 1991 and 21 % in 1986. Injection was not practiced by producers in both survey years. Irrigation was practiced by very few, 2 % in 1991 and 1 % 1986. There appears to be a trend toward longer times to incorporate manure since 1986. However, there has been a -14 % change in manure that was not incorporated. It was interesting to note that the percentage changes in fall applications of manure have declined significantly by - 9.5 % .

Fertilizer Application

Most of the surveyed acreage did receive either nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizer. In 1991 approximately 66 % of the acreage surveyed had nitrogen applied. In 1986, approximately 79 % had nitrogen applications applied to them. There was also a 9% decrease in the use of phosphorus fertilizer in 1991. However, approximately 71 % of the 1991 acreage had phosphorus applied to it. In 1986 80 % received phosphorus. In both survey years approximately equal proportions of producers applied their nitrogen and phosphorus on the basis of a soil test compared to those who did not.

For both survey years over 40 % of the acreage received nitrogen and phosphorus by being broadcast. Nitrogen was put on through the planter on over 33% of the acreage in both years while phosphorus was applied through the planter to over 47% of the acreage in both years. Applications of nitrogen through sprayer or injector were primarily used by those who applied nitrogen fertilizer. Applications of nitrogen through sprayer or injector have appeared to increase for nitrogen between survey years while the same methods for phosphorus have shown a small incremental increase for sprayer (2.7%, 1991) and a decrease for injector (0.7, 1991 %). It can be postulated that these trends reflect the adoption of better management and cropping practices. In 1991 of those who applied nitrogen and phosphorous, over 90 % applied it in the Spring. This is a 7-9 % increase over those applying nitrogen and phosphorus in the Spring in 1986. A significant proportion of farmers, particularly those applying phosphorus have stopped applying it in the fall.

Erosion Control Practices / Sources of Conservation Information

The questionnaire included a number of questions relating to additional land management practices which may occur on the farm. Data showed that between survey years untitled fields decreased incrementally to 22 % of the 1991 sample. Random drainage was used in 25 % of the acres surveyed and systematically tiled fields made up the rest at 49%.

For both survey years most farmers received their information through radio/television, farm publications and meetings.

Twenty-two percent (22 %) of the acreage surveyed had erosion control practices such as: strip cropping, field borders and plough down.

In 1991 plough down was the most frequently used erosion control practice (18.1 %) whereas strip cropping (2.2 % of 1986 acres and 1.5 % of 1991 acres) was much less common.

The total area with field borders was 1120 acres (1.5 % in 1986 and 1788 acres or 2.4 % in 1991. The trend is toward field borders of wider widths. Those in the 3 - 6 metre category occupied 0.81 % of the 1991 acres surveyed.

In general, there was very little change in the proportion of each erosion control structure out of all structures between the 2 years. However, the total number of erosion control structures did increase substantially (eg. from 800 to 1221) between 1986 and 1991. Buffer strips (29.6 %, 1986 and 26.7 %, 1991) and windbreaks (25.1 %, 1986 and 26.5 %, 1991) comprised the majority of acreage surveyed in both years. Water erosion control structures (18.4 %, 1986 and 20.7 %, 1991) were quite frequently installed.




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Created: 05-28-1996
Last Revised: Thursday, May 19, 2011 08:06:19 PM