In central Illinois, the test plots ran several starter attachments and fertilizer blends.
For success early with young plant growth, the Farm Journal Test Plots focus on starter fertilizer
With the correct management moves, starter fertilizer can give a corn crop a boost as well as advance maturity. Farm Journal Field Agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer led efforts to examine starter rates, products and placement. Ferrie ran test plots looking at starter placement and rates, and Bauer wrapped up a multi-year study on starter fertilizer.
Site for Success
The key to maximizing the response to starter fertilizer is placing the right nutrients in the right zone.
"It’s important to put phosphorus close to the young root system," Ferrie says. "On the flip side, when a crop needs nitrogen, it can be placed further away or even dribbled on top and be effectively taken up by the plant."
At two locations in Central Illinois, Ferrie and his team tested the following attachments that offer a range of placements relative to the seed: Huckstep shoe, ¾" beside by ½" below the seed; Schaffert Generation 2 fertilizer disk, 2" to the side of the seed; Yetter 2959 injection coulter,
2" beside by 1" below the seed; Yetter 2968 row-unit mount in-between fertilizer opener, 2" beside and slightly below the seed; and the Keeton Seed Firmer in-furrow.
These attachments were also used in plots in 2011, except now the Schaffert Gen 2 features a nozzle and it has replaced the Gen 1 that applied fertilizer with a hose dragging behind the row unit. [See "Strategic Placement," Farm Journal, February 2012.]
"On average, we could expect a 7 bu. to 10 bu. response to starter beside and below the seed and a 3 bu. to 5 bu. response to in-furrow application. In 2012, we saw some 11 bu. and 12 bu. responses to adding pop-up alone," Ferrie says.
However, applying starter in-furrow carries risk. While one location showed a significant response, there were problems in a few situations with in-furrow fertilizer in spring 2012.
"This past year we had double the amount of starter burn calls due to the dry conditions," Ferrie says.
The seed roots, the first to emerge, can be impacted by banded fertilizer placed nearby. The early uptake provides a quick visual response. The fertilizer placed farther away comes in contact with the crown roots, and those results are evident when the plant is older.
"From our studies, I’ve seen that pop-up can provide that first boost for the plant and then banded fertilizer placed to the side and below the surface can give it a second-round growth spurt early in the season," Ferrie explains. "The in-between placement is the shoe, which can catch the seed roots but because it is close to the seed it carries higher risks with higher rates."
When the plant takes up more nutrients earlier, growth accelerates and pushes maturity forward. The 10 bu. to 12 bu. responses to pop-up could have been due to pushing that hybrid into a more favorable time for pollination.
In the eastern Corn Belt, Missy Bauer concluded a multi-year starter test plot program in 2012 looking at fertilizer blends and placement options.
"Most likely changing the maturity put this hybrid in a sweet spot at the end," Ferrie explains. "We had another field where the response to starter was strong, but adding pop-up didn’t dramatically change yield. That lends me to think that the extra push from the pop-up didn’t put this hybrid in a significantly different pollination time."
Ferrie says there are two keys to placement: put the nutrients where the plant can access them and don’t disrupt the seed.
"No matter what you do with starter application, be careful to not change the planting depth or seed spacing," he says. "If you bring up moist soil with an upfront, row-mounted attachment, use a scraper on the depth wheels to maintain uniform depth. Otherwise, moist soil collects on the depth wheel and changes the planting depth."
Farmers also must keep in mind their purpose for applying the fertilizer.
"This crop wasn’t demanding as much up-front nitrogen," Ferrie says. "As a result, we saw a much stronger response to the phosphate compared with nitrogen placed for early uptake by the plant."
Crop rotation is a factor to consider with starter placement and rate. Both of the test plot fields were corn following soybeans.
- February 2013