Lower commodity prices, high land rent costs and the desire to get a running start on the 2014 growing season will combine to make use of starter fertilizers an attractive option for farmers this spring.
"The emphasis this year will be on short-term fertility – providing just the amount of fertilizer the crop needs when it needs it – versus long-term building of soil fertility levels," says Barney Gordon, professor emeritus at Kansas State University and an expert on plant nutrient efficiency. "There is a definite trend among farmers to plant corn early when soil temperatures are still cool in order to get a strong head start on the growing season."
Cool soils can greatly affect plant uptake of key nutrients such as phosphorus. In an effort to combat this situation and ensure that crop fertility needs are met, an increasing number of farmers are relying on use of a liquid starter fertilizer applied in a narrow band on either side of and below the planted seed.
"Use of a starter fertilizer at planting can be critical to getting corn off to a quick, vigorous start," Gordon explains. "The key component in most starter fertilizers is phosphorus, which is a nutrient that can be tricky to manage but which is essential to plant growth and development."
Off to a good start
Getting crops off to a quick, vigorous start pays dividends to the farmer in a number of ways. Healthier plants are less susceptible to environmental stresses such as drought, hot or cold temperatures, weeds, insects and diseases. Faster crop growth early in the season also puts the farmer in the best possible position to achieve high, profitable yields, Gordon adds.
"Even short-term nutrient deficiencies, especially early in the growing season, can result in significant yield reductions," the researcher says. "The challenge with phosphorus is that this nutrient carries a negative charge and quickly gets tied-up by binding with positively-charged elements in the soil, such as calcium, magnesium, aluminum or iron, depending on soil pH. This binding process severely limits the amount of phosphorus that is available to be taken up by plants and put to good use in the growth process."
Gordon recommends that farmers use AVAIL Phosphorus Fertilizer Enhancer, a water-soluble additive for liquid or dry fertilizers that uses the SFP patented polymer technology and acts as a shield to protect from the elements that would normally tie up the fertilizer.
In Kansas State University research trials with liquid 10-34-0 applied as a starter for corn, addition of AVAIL to the fertilizer resulted in a yield increase of 18 bushels to the acre over the non-treated starter when averaged over three years and different P rates. A similar three-year soybean trial also resulted in a 9 bushel per acre yield advantage when AVAIL was added to MAP. In both experiments, the fertilizer was placed two inches to the side of the seed and two inches under the seed.