Diagnosing Crop Nutrient Deficiencies

One of the funny things about speaking with an accent is that you can sometimes be misunderstood. For example, my Google Nest Mini may try to order pizza when I’m asking to call my friend Peter. That is not as bad as the guy who I heard was praying to be bold and suddenly lost his hair and went completely bald!

Plants can be misunderstood too. When a plant is deficient of any essential nutrient, it communicates through symptoms. But deficiency symptoms can be misdiagnosed leading to poor recommendations. For example, nitrogen and sulfur deficiencies can look alike in certain crops. Moreover, multiple deficiencies may occur at the same time on the same crop. Also, some environmental stresses can look like nutrient deficiencies. As crops begin to emerge across fields in Western Canada, you might notice growth differences in patches across the field. What do you do about it?

Mobile and immobile nutrients

A first step in identifying a nutrient deficiency visually is noting where the symptom is showing up on the plant. Mobile nutrients (N, P, K, Cl, Mg, Mo) can move out of older leaves to younger leaves when the nutrient is in short supply. Therefore, visual symptoms of a mobile nutrient deficiency will first occur in the older or lower leaves. Immobile nutrients (B, Ca, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, S) do not generally move within the plant parts so deficiency symptoms will initially be seen in the younger or upper leaves. After this first diagnostic step, other characteristics (such as pattern and color) of the symptom can be used to identify the specific nutrient that is deficient, following some available guidelines. Visual diagnosis of plant nutrient deficiencies requires experience and is aided by knowledge of the field history.

A better way

But diagnosing nutrient deficiencies by visual observation alone is risky. That is because by the time visual symptoms appear, crop yield may have already been compromised. Plant tissue testing is a great way to identify plant nutrient deficiencies and determine appropriate corrective measures. A good tissue test can detect ‘hidden hunger’ before symptoms appear. Tissue testing and soil testing complement each other. While a soil test tells you how much of a nutrient is potentially available to your crop, plant tissue testing tells you how much of that potentially available nutrient is actually being taken up by the plant. Tissue testing is a useful activity to incorporate into your cropping program early in the season to ensure that deficiencies are caught in time, and yield is protected.

– Ikenna Mbakwe, PhD, PAg

  Head of Research

How plants respond to stress and how you can help them!

Like other living things, plants can be stressed too. But unlike animals that can move away from adverse environmental conditions, plants must stay where they are, rooted to the spot. As a result, plants have had to develop mechanisms to cope with stress as much as possible. Unfortunately, this adaptation to stress usually means that something else must be sacrificed.

How plants respond to stress

Generally, plants are considered to be under stress when the environmental conditions around them are not ideal for growth. It is estimated that key agricultural crops may only be producing about 30% of their genetic yield potential due to environmental stress.

Environmental stress can reduce crop productivity directly such as when poor growing conditions like drought and salinity limit water uptake and inhibit cell expansion; or when cold conditions lower the activity of important enzymes that control growth.

But plants that are experiencing stress can also intentionally slow their growth through stress-triggered cell signaling. In this way, plants divert energy and resources away from normal growth processes and towards mitigating the stress. For example, in response to lack of water, plants can reduce stomatal opening in order to conserve water. This in turn, decreases the rate of photosynthesis and slows growth. Plants may also increase the size of certain organs to adapt to stress. For example, under dry conditions, plants can increase root length to search for moisture. In doing this however, they may sacrifice the growth of other important organs linked to yield and quality.

What you can do

Good nutrition is important for overall plant health, but current scientific research is also discovering the usefulness of biostimulants in mitigating plant stress. The European Biostimulant Industry Council describes a plant biostimulant as “a material which contains substance(s) and/or microorganisms whose function when applied to plants or the rhizosphere is to stimulate natural processes to benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, and/or crop quality, independently of its nutrient content.” Last year, our team conducted trials with several biostimulants including plant hormones, fulvic acids and seaweed and generally saw positive results on yield and ROI. With high fertilizer and crop prices along with challenging climatic conditions, biostimulants can be a great addition to a cropping program. Your SynergyAG rep can discuss suitable options for your farming operation.

– Ikenna Mbakwe, PhD, PAg

  Head of Research

Improving Crop Productivity in Saline Soils

Dealing with saline soils is one of the most challenging problems in crop production both locally and globally. A recent report by the FAO with information from 118 countries shows that more than 424 million hectares (more than 1 billion acres) of topsoil and 833 million hectares (more than 2 billion acres) of subsoil are salt-affected. It is estimated that more than 5 million acres in the Canadian Prairies are impacted by some degree of salinity. With the current challenge of feeding a growing population with limited agricultural land, finding solutions that can improve crop productivity in saline soils is critical.

What causes soil salinity?

Soil salinization occurs when water-soluble salts accumulate in the soil. This usually happens due to a combination of several factors:  the parent rock from which the soil is formed is rich in soluble salts, there is a high water table, a high evaporation rate and a low annual rainfall. Generally, if the water table is within two meters (six ft.) of the soil surface, capillary movement will carry water and dissolved salts to the surface. And if evaporation exceeds infiltration, the salts will remain in the upper layers of the soil where they can negatively affect plants.

How saline soils affect crops

Excess salts make it difficult for plants to take up water. This is because water moves into plant roots through the process of osmosis which is influenced by the difference in the salt levels of the soil water and the water contained in the plant. If the salt level of the soil water is high, water will move from plant roots to the soil instead of from soil to plant. With time, the plant will become dehydrated, growth is limited, and the plant might die. In salt-affected soils, seed germination will be poor because of low imbibition of water and salt toxicity.

Lab experiment on the effect of salinity on canola growth. Soils in the red pots were made saline by adding sodium chloride (table salt) which affected germination and growth

How to detect salt-affected soil

Saline patches in a field are often characterized by poor crop growth. For very salty soils, a whitish precipitate of salt may appear on the soil surface, especially after a long dry period. Some salt-loving weeds such as Russian thistle, Kochia and foxtail barley may also colonize the area. A routine soil test can more accurately identify the level of salinity and what kinds of salts are present.

What are some solutions to improve crop productivity in a saline soil?

Reclaiming saline soils can be difficult and expensive. Reclamation methods usually involve installing drainage and then leaching the excess salts out of the soil using sufficient rainfall or irrigation. In dryland farming, this may not be practical or economically viable.

Therefore, efforts are being directed towards more feasible alternatives. Breeding salt-tolerant varieties and developing seed treatments that help plants overcome stressful conditions are two options that are available to improve crop productivity in saline soils. A good seed treatment can complement breeding efforts and boost plant health in the early stages. Moreover, several microorganisms, phytohormones and biostimulants have been shown to enhance plant defense mechanisms and help crops thrive under abiotic stresses such as salinity. These can be incorporated into a cropping program either at seeding or as foliar applications during the season. Variable rate application of fertilizer is also useful to ensure that input is allocated to more productive areas and that saline areas are not further salinized by too much fertilizer. Long-term management of saline areas may also involve seeding them to salt-tolerant perennials that root deeply to use up a lot of the excess water thereby reducing the upward movement of dissolved salts to the soil surface.

– Ikenna Mbakwe, PhD, PAg

  Head of Research

More Than A Crystal Ball!

How digital agriculture can improve efficiency on your farm

My heart sank when I scrolled through some Facebook photos and discovered a classmate had aged rather too quickly. But on reading his update, I was relieved to notice that the photo was of his “future self”. My friend had used the photo editing app that predicts what a person might look like when they are old. The idea of seeing my wrinkled face at 92 doesn’t particularly excite me (hopefully before then somebody would have invented a better anti-aging cream)! However, I am excited about using digital technology to predict and manage important aspects of a cropping season. Now, that would be useful!

What is digital agriculture?

In general, digital agriculture includes tools that are used to collect, store, analyze, and share data and information in agriculture.  These technologies aim to provide information to make better decisions and improve productivity. The rise of digital platforms in agriculture has been called the “Digital Revolution”, the latest of the major revolutions in agriculture.

How digital agriculture can enhance efficiency on your farm

There are several examples of how digital agriculture can improve farm efficiency and resource management. Digital agriculture includes precision agriculture techniques that use sensors, GPS guidance, satellite imagery, and soil sampling to identify unique characteristics of different areas of a farmer’s field so that the farmer can allocate the right amount of resources to the right place at the right time. This is particularly useful under the present situation of high input costs. Digital agriculture also includes tools that use mathematical models developed from the relationships between complex variables, to guide farming decisions. For example, crop yield potential throughout a growing season can be predicted from variables such as available soil moisture, accumulative rainfall, and expected precipitation, giving farmers the information they need to decide whether adding more input during a growing season is justified. Furthermore, software that help record, store and manage farm and field activities are also part of digital agriculture, and can greatly enhance the efficiency of farm and field operations.

In conclusion…

There seems to be an app for everything these days, and the choices can be dizzying. Our world is suddenly looking like the Planet of the Apps! But changes in weather patterns, new and emerging pest and diseases, as well as market uncertainties mean that we can no longer rely on past and personal experiences alone. To remain profitable, farm management decisions must be data-driven using the right technologies. At SynergyAG, we evaluate various digital agriculture platforms and work with those that can bring value to our customers. Our approach is to combine eyes in the sky with boots on the ground. Please, talk with your SynergyAG rep to understand how our digital/precision agriculture platforms can help improve efficiency on your farm.

– Ikenna Mbakwe, PhD, PAg

  Head of Research


Dealing with Possible Herbicide Carryover in 2022

None of us need reminding how difficult 2021 was for farming in Western Canada because of the severe drought experienced in most places, along with the disruptions of a global pandemic. If it were possible, I would have asked my high school bully if that offer to slap me into next year was still on the table! But at last, here we are in 2022, looking forward to a much better year. However, like a boxer ready to step back into the ring, we may still be carrying a few scars from our last fight. One of those scars could be herbicide carryover.

What is herbicide carryover?

Herbicide carryover happens when a soil residual herbicide does not break down completely over the summer and leaves residues that may harm the next crop. Herbicides break down more quickly in warm, moist soils due to increased microbial and chemical degradation under those conditions. Therefore, the extremely dry conditions experienced in many areas during last year’s growing season have increased the potential for crop damage from herbicide carryover in 2022. In general, areas that received less than 125 millimeters (about 5 inches) of accumulated rainfall between June 1 and August 30 may be at risk, especially if the soils are sandy, have low organic matter, and soil pH is lower than 6.5 or higher than 7.5.

How to detect herbicide carryover before the start of the cropping season

A simple way to assess suspected herbicide carryover is to do a bioassay. This involves growing the intended crop or a sensitive crop in pots containing soil from a treated field and a ‘’check” soil from an untreated area close to the field. Seeds should be planted not later than a day or two after the soils are collected to minimize herbicide degradation of the soil samples under favourable conditions, which will skew the results. Place the pots in direct sunlight or under a suitable light source, at about room temperature. Water as needed but avoid waterlogging. Observe the plants 2 – 3 weeks after emergence and note any visual differences in plant height, root density, and overall plant health.  Plants experiencing herbicide injury will show symptoms of poor health when compared to the check.

How to manage herbicide carryover

Accurate record-keeping that indicates the type of herbicides and amount of rainfall a field received is important to assess potential herbicide carryover risks. Pay attention to rotational restrictions by the herbicide manufacturer and consult with the manufacturer for additional guidance in abnormal situations such as after the drought of 2021. If herbicide carryover is confirmed, the safe thing to do would be to seed the field to a crop with tolerance to the herbicide group that has been carried over, taking other essential farm management plans into consideration. Your SynergyAG team will be happy to provide the necessary agronomic guidance for a successful 2022 season.

– Ikenna Mbakwe, PhD, PAg

  Head of Research


The Herbicide Resistance Battle Is On!

Herbicide resistance in the prairies has been rapidly increasing overtime. Currently in Saskatchewan 57% of the fields have herbicide resistant weeds, and Alberta is sitting at 59%. This means that it is more likely for a field to have herbicide resistance than not. There are many causes to consider when assessing possible herbicide resistance, some of which are associated with the genetics of a particular weed species while others are more correlated with weed control practices. Given the facts, spreading awareness of this important topic is critical in the agriculture industry going forwards. Educating and reminding producers about the issue will inspire farmers to seek advice. 

There are many points to consider when forming your 2022 weed management plans. Farmers have a wide spectrum of pre- emergent and post- emergent chemicals to look at when making these plans. Repeating the use of similar herbicides year after year will trigger resistance. Below is a list of best practises and guidelines to help prevent resistance while still upholding weed control:

  1. Use crop rotation to your advantage. Rotating through a wide range of crops allows for different herbicides to be used year after year. The more years you can offer a break from the use of a specific MOA, the more likely you are to avoid weeds resistant to it. 
  2. Use multiple modes of action through the use of tank mixing. Hitting weeds with numerous modes of action reduces the risk of herbicide resistant weeds escaping and setting seed.
  3. Follow the herbicide labels in order to use the right herbicide, in the right field, at the right rate and apply at the right time to avoid cutting herbicide efficacy and increasing the weed seeds in the soil bank. 
  4. Implement some integrated weed management practices on your operation. This allows for herbicides to not carry such a ‘heavy weight’ on your farm. Management strategies can include cover crops, higher seeding rates, and narrow row spacing. You may also want to consider increasing the competitiveness of the crop itself with proper fertility, seed treatments to protect against stresses, and pre-seed weed control. 
  5. Record-keeping is another essential tool to use on your farm. Keep track of all operations such as seeding and spraying across all acres to ensure herbicides are well managed and aren’t being over-used. 

SynergyAG is taking this opportunity to combat herbicide resistance in the local area. We are proud to introduce “Defy Resistance”, a strategy designed to build awareness and help producers slow down or reduce the negative impact of herbicide-resistant weeds. Through launching the campaign, we are hoping to bring the issue to the forefront, making it a top priority for all growers. The Govan, Lumsden, and Provost locations are deemed the “Defy Resistance Headquarters”, where you will find trusted experts on all-things herbicide resistance. 

The battle against weed resistance is on. Contact your SynergyAG rep for more information.

Protect Your Investment – It is a Big One!

Now that harvest has come and gone for another year, and your grain is in the bin sitting patiently to be delivered, we need not forget about how valuable our bins are now more than ever. Maybe your bins are not as full as they have been before, but they are considerably more valuable than they have ever been.

Sample your Bins

With grain bins seemingly increasing in size, we must keep in mind monitoring these large assets is essential to keeping the quality of grain going in and coming out is consistent. Taking a uniform, representative sample is the first step to knowing how your grain bins may store over winter. One of the best ways to store this sample is to treat it the same way the bins will be treated. Storing the sealed pail/bag in the bin door, or right at the bin is usually the more representative. Storing samples in a warm shop can affect how the sample will test throughout the year.

Bin Monitoring

There are plenty of options nowadays to electronically or manually monitor storage on the farm. OPI cables are an option for many farmers to use in order to affordably and conveniently monitor grain temperature and moisture in grain bins. Make sure they get used!

Monitoring your bins can be as simple as a quick drive by on a frosty or snowy morning to see if the frost is staying on the roof of the bin. If not, it might be time to get the ladder out and do a visual and smell test.

Preparing for Longer Storage

If you’ve positioned yourself to have grain sitting in air bins, you have the option to cool the grain to better prepare it for storage deeper into the summer months. Allowing your fans to run on cool dry days with temperatures dropping to -15 degrees and lower will help freeze dry your grain. In situations when your grain is cool like this, it can give you piece of mind to storing it when the ambient temperatures start to increase in the spring and summer months.

If you do not have the option of having air bins, there are still good options to help keep your mind at ease when trying to store long term. The practice of flipping grain through the winter is an effective way to avoid grain spoiling in your bins. Pulling a load or two out and turning the bin over can allow bins to aerate and move warm spots around, decreasing the temperature in the center of the bin.

For further information please contact the Synergy AG rep in your area!

With Christmas just around the corner, we wanted to remind everyone to enjoy their families and stay safe through the holiday season. With times seemingly getting busier, it is essential to take time for yourselves and your families to rest, recuperate and recover from the stresses throughout the year.  

Plant Re-Growth?

Is your field still looking green after the combine has rolled through?

With the lack of moisture experienced this past year, some combines have fired up earlier then usual, as the lifecycle of plants may have been cut short. A combination of an earlier harvest with late season rains has also led to more plants, both crop and weeds regrowing after they have been swathed and combined.

Have you ever thought about how many nutrients are used when it comes to plant regrowth?

Any actively growing plants in a field are busy taking up soil water and nutrients as they build leaf and root tissue. Although small, young juvenile plants have a high concentration of certain nutrients like Nitrogen and Potassium and can assimilate a large amount in a short period of time. In fact, many crops like Canola and Wheat take up nearly 90% of their total Nitrogen within the first 6-8 weeks of growth.

While it may be tempting to assume that these nutrients will be available for next years crops there are many factors that affect mineralization rates including plant material growth stage, Carbon to Nitrogen ratio, incorporation, temperature, moisture, and many more. The other consideration is the uniformity of regrowth, is it on every acre or patchy? How much N should I apply across the field?

As with many decisions a grower must make, the 2022 fertility plan is full of uncertainty and tough decisions. The widespread reduction in yields caused by prolonged drought, hail, and unrelenting heat this year leave enough question marks as to what to apply in the spring, with the rapid and widespread regrowth only adding to this complication. While there is no crystal ball to know what to apply, soil testing coupled with the experience and knowledge of your Synergy AG team can help you with your decisions for the upcoming year. For further information please contact the Synergy AG rep in your area!

Fertilizer Decisions Following a Year of Drought

When my son was younger, he was so obsessed with anything ‘Lion King’ it was annoying. While I’m busy trying to develop mathematical algorithms to solve the world’s greatest agricultural problems, my son, pretending to be Simba is dragging me off my desk to run around the house with him singing Hakuna Matata! He is a bit older now and we don’t get to play that game anymore, but I wish we could, especially in a year like this. Scouting dry and thirsty crops while my walking boots leave a cloud of dust above the severely parched land, I need someone to remind me – Hakuna Matata (no worries), next year will be better.

It has indeed been a difficult year for agriculture in the Prairies because of the extreme drought conditions during the growing season. With the low precipitation and poor yields, many farmers are asking about what their soil nutrient levels will look like next year, and how they should approach fertilizer decisions.

What happens to soil nutrients during a drought?

Dry conditions decrease downward movement of nutrients and reduce nutrient uptake by drought-stressed plants, so there might be residual nutrients left over for the next season. But for mobile nutrients like nitrogen, whether or not significant amounts of these nutrients are available in spring will depend on how much precipitation is received after harvest. Heavy precipitation can leach nutrients out of crop rooting depths.

Furthermore, dry and hot conditions inhibit soil microbial activity, so the organisms that convert organic matter to plant-available nutrients are impeded, leading to a lower nutrient turnover than would otherwise be expected during a wetter year. In addition, biological nitrogen fixation by legumes can decrease during a drought resulting in a reduction in the usual soil nitrogen credit for the next crop.

Management activities can also affect soil nutrients for the next year. For example, during a drought, crops originally planted for grain may be harvested for forage instead, thereby removing more nutrients from the field.

What should you do?

The importance of soil testing can hardly be overemphasized, especially in a year like this. Soil testing is the best way to analyze a drought’s impact on your field and determine what your fertilization decisions should be next season. Soil sampling may be done in the fall when soil temperature drops below 10° C, or in the Spring before seeding.  A knowledgeable agronomist can help you interpret your soil test results and take appropriate action. Your SynergyAG team will be happy to discuss your soil testing needs. We’ve got your back. Hakuna Matata!

-Ikenna Mbakwe, PhD, PAg
Head of Research


When considering your options for a pre-harvest application there are several tools available. These include swathing, systemic herbicides and contact herbicides. These can be a great harvest management tools to clean up dirty/ weedy fields, accelerating harvest and ensure seed for the following spring.

Systemic Herbicides (Glyphosate)

A pre-harvest Glyphosate application is typically used for controlling the late flush of weeds before they set seed and contribute to the fields seed bed. Where allowed, Glyphosate can be used alone, or tank mixed with Heat to desiccate crops. This application should only be applied once the grain moisture is less than 30% in the least ripe part of the field. Applying Glyphosate too early can contribute to MRL’s (maximum residue limits), which creates marketing risks. Compared to Diquats quick dry down period, Glyphosate can take 10-14 days for the crop to mature. 

Contact Herbicides (Diquat)

The use of Reglone and other diquat products can provide quick dry down and effective harvest management. The active, Diquat shuts the plant down quickly and stops the plant from maturing. For most crops, spraying Diquat can typically have you harvesting within in 4-7 days. However, unfavourable weather conditions such as cool temperatures and rainfall may delay that timeframe. To improve the effectiveness of Reglone and other diquat products apply at high water volumes and on cloudy days/ at darkness. Crop staging is very important, as applying prematurely can result in increased risk of locking in immature seeds.

Desiccation Staging


You want to ensure the field has turned to a yellow brown colour and there are minimal green patches. On the bottom third of the plant the pods should be dry and translucent, seeds are detached and rattle. The middle third of the pea plant the seeds are yellow, full sized, firm, and seeds split when. The top third the peas are still fleshy but starting to turn from green to yellow.

(photo: Syngenta Canada)


The lentil field should have an overall colour change of tan, brown. The bottom third of the plant the seeds should be dry and rattle. Middle third the seeds should be mature, yellow and can be split. The top third can be green but with some colour change starting.


With applying pre-harvest desiccating you want to see at least 70-80% seed colour change. The bottom third of the plant needs to be completely black/ brown. The middle third must be brown, with some speckling. The top third can be green but must be firm when rolled. When scouting the field it is important to step in and open the pods, as pods may appear green but seeds will be dark.

(Photo: Keep It Clean.ca)


The easiest way to determine if a wheat crop is ready for a pre-harvest application is the thumbnail test. Put a reasonable amount of pressure from your thumbnail into the kernel and if it leaves a dent without splitting it is ready. This is better known as the hard dough stage and must be present throughout different areas of the field. After application, harvest is typically 7-14 days away.

It is important to check with grain buyers and KeepItClean.ca to ensure your desiccated seed will be accepted at time of marketing.  Accurate crop staging is essential when it comes to desiccation timing, to ensure herbicide isn’t being applied too early and locking in immature seeds. Please contact your local SynergyAG for any crop staging questions.