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Smooth Hand-Off

January 25, 2014
By: Margy Eckelkamp, Director of Content Development, Machinery Pete
smooth handoff planting
In central Illinois, Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie led his crew to learn how dual placement of starter gives a crop a strong start.   

Farm Journal Test Plots continue to study starter

Starter fertilizer is a game of inches. That’s how precise of a role placement plays in feeding a crop early in its development.

In the Farm Journal Test Plots, Farm Journal Field Agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer conduct independent field demonstrations to learn more about starter fertilizer’s role in increasing yields.

"Many factors come into play, including starter rates, products and placement," Ferrie says. "We’ve done starter test plots for more than 25 years, but every year teaches us more."

In the past, Ferrie has conducted extensive plots looking at starter product blends and attachments. (See "Starter Test Plot Roundup" in the February 2013 issue.)

"When we discuss timing and placement of nutrients, there’s a hierarchy in the decision-making," Ferrie explains. "Timing is determined by the environment—when does the plant need the nutrients to be kept happy all season long? Then timing sets the scene for placement. Placement strategies dictate the source."

There are two keys to placement: Put the nutrients where the plant can access them and never disrupt the seed itself.

"Based on our past studies, on average, we could expect a 7 bu. to 10 bu. response to starter placed to the side and below the seed and a 3 bu. to 5 bu. response to in-furrow application," Ferrie explains.

tractor planter planting

With tests in central Illinois and southern Michigan (pictured) in 30" and twin-row corn, the Farm Journal Field Agronomists validated starter rates should be determined by per foot of row for maximum yields.

The in-furrow yield bump results from the seed roots encountering the fertilizer very early. Because of the risk of starter burn, in-furrow rates must be limited to reduce the potential harm from putting too much salt around the seed, which could affect germination and ear count. Outside the furrow, a second fertilizer band to the side and below the seed is where farmers can increase rates and still reach the plant for early uptake of phosphorus.


Set the stage. Environment plays a big role. The cooler, wetter years often have a bigger response in early growth to starter fertilizer, phosphorus and placement.

"Once I know the environment, I think about timing," Ferrie says. "If planting into cool, wet conditions, a farmer might have trouble with phosphorus availability. In soils with low fertility or high pH, he or she might put most of their phosphate into a starter band to reduce

nutrient tie-up issues."

Once timing is nailed down, farmers should consider placement and source. Results from the 2012 placement study led Ferrie to drill down into dual placement with just two attachments. For 2013, Ferrie focused on learning more about placement and rates of dual placement of starter in-furrow and 2" to the side of the seed.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - February 2014
RELATED TOPICS: Test Plots, Production

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