Starter fertilizer can be an effective way to get your corn crop off on the right foot because it provides the early nitrogen, phosphorus and zinc it needs.
But how do you know whether plants with starter are in better shape than those without it? Compare check and starter-applied stands with each other, says Missy Bauer, Farm Journal associate field agronomist, during 2014 Corn College in Coldwater, Mich.
Here are five tips you can use to begin evaluating plants to determine whether your investment is working.
Review stands and ear counts: How do check and starter-applied plants compare to each other? Remember that for every 1,000 ears lost per acre, you’re also losing between 5 bu. and 7 bu.
Dig to evaluate plant roots: Clear off soil from root balls and review differences in root hairs. Plants with correctly managed starter generally have healthier-looking crown roots.
Evaluate height differences: The key is to look for advanced maturity in the starter-applied plant. Use the extended leaf method to evaluate height.
Pay attention to the V-stage: Split open stalks to evaluate the number of visible growing points. More growing points is an indicator of advanced maturity.
Examine ear features: Look at silking progression and the growth stage of ears to evaluate whether starter has advanced plant maturity.
Keep in mind that while starter fertilizer can be beneficial, there are also risks. The cost of starter should be evaluated against the production opportunities, and placing starter too close to seeds—particularly cracked seeds—can damage roots and ultimately hurt yield.
"The better your root looks, the better your ear looks," Bauer explains.
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