The unseasonably warm early spring weather across the Midwest this year has been tempting for growers to get out in the field ahead of schedule. However, if you’re going to plant early, you’re going to need a starter fertilizer, said Verdesian Life Sciences experts.
“Farmers that plant early are doing so into cool soils and sometimes wet conditions, and when that happens there is not as much phosphorus (P) available to the crop,” says Todd Carpenter, Verdesian Life Sciences technical development manager. “If you plant early, it’s important to use a starter fertilizer to get crops off to a fast start.”
Dave Schwartz, Verdesian vice president, uses starter fertilizer religiously on his corn and soybean farm in West Central Iowa. Schwartz has been 100 percent no-till for 27 years, as his conservation plan dictates on his sloping, highly erodible ground. He applies his starter fertilizer in both a 2×2 and in-furrow liquid application. This year he will be applying 2×2 on both sides of the row and an in-furrow application.
“I’ve noticed that placing the P in proximity of the seedling and keeping it there allows the plant to get off to a fast start and gives the crop nutrition for the entire season,” says Schwartz. “We’ve noticed dramatic increases in yields by putting the P down right where the plant needs it.”
Getting that crop off to a good start is critical, and starter fertilizer can help by providing readily available P that is important to early root growth and development, says Carpenter. Having a more robust plant with better root structure, more leaf area, and larger stalks can help corn better withstand environmental stress through the season and can get corn a full growth stage ahead of schedule.
“Starter fertilizer results in better root systems early,” says Carpenter. “These better root systems mean that the plant will use water and nutrients more efficiently, allowing it to grow more rapidly and put more of those resources into grain.”
But applying starter fertilizer is only part of the puzzle of getting crops off to a vigorous start. Phosphorus, the key nutrient in starter fertilizers, is very difficult to manage because it is susceptible to binding with minerals and getting “locked” in the soil. Due to this process, between 75 to 95 percent of applied P can be tied up in the soil and unavailable for plant uptake. There are some steps farmers can take to ensure their applied P remains available to the plant.
“The first thing farmers can do is to follow the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, making sure we apply the right product at the right rate at the right time and in the right place,” says Carpenter. “Following the 4Rs is a critical component, but it’s not enough when P is so reactive and so readily tied up in the soil. One of the key things we can do is to protect that P and keep it from being bound in the soil.”
One way farmers can keep applied P available when the plant needs it and thereby increase plant uptake of this vital nutrient is to treat P with AVAIL Phosphorus Fertilizer Enhancer from Verdesian.
“Our research indicates an average of 30 percent more P is available to the crop when you use AVAIL, compared to controls,” says Carpenter. “Across all sources and soil types, 30 percent is the average. In some cases, the percentage of available P increases much more than 30 percent. By protecting your starter fertilizer with AVAIL, you keep more P available to the plant. When you make applications of MAP, DAP or 10-34-0, you can also use AVAIL to protect the investment in P and ensure it makes its way into this year’s crop.”
He notes AVAIL, on average, adds about 7 to 7.5 Bu./A when used with starter fertilizer, but Schwartz says on his farm he has consistently added 12 to 15 Bu./A by using AVAIL and starter fertilizer, and he is now applying 100 percent of his P as a liquid with the planter. He also notes including micronutrients is important, with zinc being particularly crucial to seeing the benefits of AVAIL. Schwartz has increased his corn yields nearly 100 Bu./A since 2005, which he credits to better understanding soil fertility, using AVAIL and NutriSphere-N Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager, split applications of nitrogen, and improved corn hybrids.
Farmers that are cash-renting their ground will want to apply only the amount of P needed for this year’s crop, rather than building up P in the soil that they may or may not be farming in the future. Applying only removal rates of P protected with AVAIL allows cash-rent farmers to maximize their ROI on the P fertilizer applied for that particular growing season. At the same time, farmers that own ground and want to build P levels up over time can use a dry fertilizer program protected by AVAIL, says Schwartz. And AVAIL can be used on other crops as well.
“I started using starter fertilizer treated with AVAIL on soybeans and saw a 5 Bu./A response right out of the gate, and my soybean yields have increased by 30 Bu./A since 2009,” says Schwartz. “I’ve seen much healthier soybeans that really jump out of the ground and get a good stand establishment, even when no-tilling into corn stalks.”