Thunder Bay

Lakehead's Agricultural Research Station experiments with new fertilizers after late planting

It was a colder than usual spring in northwestern Ontario, according to the director of Lakehead University's Agricultural Research Station (LUARS), which caused researchers to delay planting crops like canola and experiment on new fertilizers.

Planting of canola started about 18 days later than previous years, said director of LUARS

Lakehead's Agricultural Research Station hosted its annual summer tour on Wednesday. Director Tarlok Sahota said planting season started 18 days later than previous years due to the cold spring. (Christina Jung /CBC)

It was a colder than usual spring in northwestern Ontario, according to the director of Lakehead University's Agricultural Research Station (LUARS), which caused researchers to delay planting crops like canola.

"The canola growing there ... the first time we started seeding was the 18th of May, where as the ideal time of seeding in this region is the first week of May," Director Tarlok Sahota told CBC News, adding that the delay in planting could negatively affect the crops growth as well.

He said although the heat wave this summer has helped plants grow, the lack of rain in the area could also result in a lower yield this September.

"It has been a dry year ... if there was more rain, the grow crop would be better," he said.

The research station has also been conducting experiments on a few new fertilizers this year, two of them are called the Urea Super U and the ESN (Environmentally Smart Nitrogen).

Sahota said Urea Super U helps protect crops from nitrogen loss and farmers have already been using it, but it's the first time the research station is seeing what happens when you combine the two fertilizers.

"[ESN] is biodegradable ... and so far the growth seems to be good but we can't really tell ... until the end of the season," Sahota said.

'Still learning' but surprised about what can grow in northern Ontario

Rouxi Xia, who is a student from the University of Guelph, has been with the research station for the past month, studying the variation of crops and fertilizers that can be applied to plants growing in colder temperatures.

Xia said she was surprised to see how many different crops can still be grown in northwestern Ontario, despite the cold temperature and longer winters.

"I'm still learning a lot of new stuff here, but it's nice to see that soy beans can still be grown in a degree that's less than southern Ontario and also canola and the winter crops are doing pretty good, so I'm surprised by that," Xia said.

Sahota said this will also be the last year the research station will be experimenting on quinoa as the crop does not seem to growing or yielding well in northwestern Ontario. (Christina Jung / CBC)

She added that what was most surprising to her was the "wide variety of crops" you can grow in the north.

"Back in the south, they were telling me that you can't grow a lot of things up in Thunder Bay because it's much colder and the soil type is different," Xia explained, "but it's nice to see that you can grow cereals, canola, and flax and also different varieties of forage crops for the beef farmers."

While some type of crops adapt better to colder weather, she said the type of equipment and the method of planting also makes a difference.

"As far as I know, for example the seeding depth would be important because some of the crops will require less seeding depth ... so that it can germinate and emerge from the soil fast and get photosynthesis going on," she added, "and also for this year, it's been extremely wet here ... so the machinery you use to plant will be important when the soil conditions are challenging."

Xia added that it's hard to determine which crops and types of fertilizers are successful just yet, however researchers will know for sure once yielding season comes at the end of August or beginning of September.