Cut Starter Rate While Yielding More

March 10, 2017 10:44 AM
Cut Starter Rate While Yielding More

Results from field trials show placement drives starter response


As it is for many farmers, evaluating and fine-tuning starter and nitrogen fertilizer is an annual effort for the Farm Journal Test Plots program. With several new starter attachments on the market, an emphasis on placement is more important than ever. 

Before jumping into new data, it’s essential to understand past findings. On average, the Farm Journal Test Plots program has documented a 7 bu. to 10 bu. per acre response to starter placed 2" to the side and 2" down from the surface (2x2) and a 3 bu. to 5 bu. response to in-furrow application. Using dual placement, yield has increased 15 bu. to 20 bu. 

“We often call dual placement the relay effect,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “It’s like the fertilizer positions are handing off a baton, so the roots find the nutrients as they need them.” 

For years, Ferrie has found significant and consistent starter response using the Huckstep shoe. The results in 2016 were no exception. In central Illinois, applying 7-22-5 with the Huckstep shoe resulted in a 30-bu. to 50-bu. yield increase compared with the check (no starter). 

What Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer Think You Need to Know
  • Yield potential is set early in a corn plant’s life. Using efficient starter fertilizer is critical in end-of-year bushels. 
  • From germination to thigh-high stands, inches matter in starter fertilizer placement.
  • Starter fertilizer can weatherproof early-season corn growth.

In 2016, Ferrie also evaluated the Great Plains AccuShot and Schaffert Generation 2 fertilizer disks and the Precision Planting FurrowJet using the same hybrid, populations, weather environment and planting dates to collect, weigh and evaluate results by management zones. Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer also conducted tests in southern Michigan following similar protocol.  

Placement #1. The AccuShot uses a metering system to trigger a dose of liquid fertilizer every time a seed drops. The operator has control of how much and how close to the seed the fertilizer is applied. This concept is ideal when evaluating starter placement in narrow or twin rows. For a strong response, remember, starter needs to be within a 3" circle around the seed.

“In 30" corn, when you dribble starter in-furrow, there’s not a lot outside of the 3" circle because plants are only 6.5" apart,” Ferrie says. “But when we get into twin rows and dribble fertilizer in-furrow where plants are 13" apart, the starter is less effective. It’s not lost fertilizer, but it acts more like a fall broadcast application.”

To address this, Ferrie has found a 5-gal. rate in-furrow in 30" rows needs to be a 10-gal. rate in twins to get the same effect. 


In the first 2016 plot field, the crew used a Great Plains 16-row planter, half twins, half 30", outfitted with the AccuShot system. The study used 7-22-5 Zn and applied a range of rates from 2.5 gal. to 20 gal. at ¾" away from the seed. The field was planted on April 20, using Pioneer 1197 at 32,000 and 36,000 plants per acre (ppa). 

In twin rows at 32,000 ppa, the plot compared 7-22-5 Zn applied at 2.5-gal. and 5-gal. squirts and a 10-gal. dribble. The 5-gal. squirt had a slight average yield advantage compared with the 10-gal. dribble. The 5-gal. squirt had a 3-bu. to 7-bu. gain compared to the check, with 2.5 bu. paying the fertilizer bill. In this scenario, the 5-gal. squirt was the economical choice because the 10-gal. dribble didn’t pay the bill. 

In 30" rows, at 36,000 ppa, the plot compared 7-22-5 Zn applied in 2.5-gal. and 5-gal. squirts, a 5-gal. dribble and a 10-gal. dribble. Compared with the check, there was an average 2-bu. advantage using the 2.5-gal. squirt, a 8-bu. gain using the 5-gal. squirt, a 6-bu. advantage using the 5-gal. dribble and a 1-bu. gain using the 10-gal. dribble (which was too much and started causing seed burn). Overall, the 5-gal. squirt yielded 7 bu. more than the 10-gal. dribble. In this scenario, the 5-gal. squirt was the economical choice with only 2.5 bu. needed to pay the fertilizer bill. 


“​When fertilizer is placed close but not on the seed, you can use a higher salt, cheaper starter,” Ferrie says.

In 30" rows at the lower population, 32,000, sunlight was wasted. Raising the population to 36,000 allowed the plants to capture more sunlight and bushels. 

In twin rows, sunlight didn’t hit the ground at 32,000 ppa so once you close the rows, pushing the population can actually make the hybrid go backward, Ferrie says. “Therefore, hybrid selection, plant architecture and population are critical in narrow rows,” he adds.

Overall, the yield results show using precise, strategic placement can cut starter rate in half while yielding more. 

In southern Michigan, Bauer found similar results in 2015 and 2016. Using a Great Plains eight-row planter with AccuShot and Redline 6-12-2 low-salt fertilizer, the study compared a 1.5-gal. squirt in-furrow (1⁄2" from seed), 1.5-gal. squirt (3⁄4" from seed), 3-gal. squirt (1⁄2" from seed), 3-gal. squirt (3⁄4" from seed), 3-gal. dribble and 6-gal. dribble. The 1.5-gal. (¾" from seed) application yielded 2 bu. to 8 bu. more compared with all other applications. 

“We found the 1.5-gal squirt in-furrow acted the same or better than the 3-gal. dribble,” Bauer says. “The yield results prove with proper placement, there’s potential to cut rates in half and receive similar responses.” 

Across all applications, applying starter ¾" rather than ½" from the seed yielded higher results. In the sandier soils in southern Michigan, being ½" from the seed proved to be too hot. 


Placement #2. Going a step further, the Illinois Test Plots crew evaluated different placements and starter combinations. The FurrowJet applies liquid fertilizer ¾" from the seed on both sides of the furrow using two wings that slice the sidewall. The Schaffert attachment cuts a slice 2" away from the seed and uses an injection nozzle to apply fertilizer. 

Planted on May 6 and 7, the starter rates and combinations included 3 gal. 10-34-0 Zn Avail in-furrow, 10 gal. 7-22-5 Zn in the wings and 3 gal. in-furrow and 10 gal. in wings, via relay. Ferrie recommends adding zinc to starter, and Avail gives starter fertilizer more horsepower (3 gal. acts like 5 gal.), but it increases overall cost. 

In 2016, the in-furrow starter application averaged an 11-bu. advantage compared with the check. The wings application averaged a 14-bu. gain, and the relay effect yielded a 26-bu. advantage. 

Within 24 hours of planting, this field received excessive rainfall in a short amount of time, which played a big role in the results. 

“The large yield responses show the effect of starter fertilizer placement and the horsepower it provides to mitigate early season stress,” Ferrie says. “The fact we were able to weatherproof this plot by replicating it across the field makes the large yield increases more believable.” 

The test plots crew also evaluated 3 gal. 10-34-0 Zn Av in-furrow, 10 gal. 7-22-5 Zn FurrowJet (relay) and 10 gal. 7-22-5 Zn Generation 2 (relay) applications. On average, the in-furrow application saw a 16-bu. gain, the relay FurrowJet application had a 27-bu. gain and the Relay Generation 2 had a 24-bu. gain. 

“In order to catch up to the Huckstep shoe, these applications have to be in a relay format,” Ferrie says. “You will need to apply some fertilizer in-furrow and some in the wings.”

This year, Bauer and Ferrie plan to continue Farm Journal Test Plots research with new starter placement technology, specifically a deeper look at in-furrow and relay rates. 

“In the past, we’ve been using higher rates in-furrow to try to get enough response to pay the bill,” Ferrie says. “When we relay, we only need enough response to get it to the 2x2. There’s a possibility we can decrease in-furrow rates to 2 gal., lowering the cost.”


Thank You to Our Test Plot Partners
Case IH, Jay Barth, Bill Hoeg and CJ Parker; Great Plains, Mike Cleveland and Doug Jennings; New Holland, Mark Hooper, Daniel Valen, Ken Paul, Mike Kizis and Sheldon Gerspacher; Precision Planting and Cory Muhlbauer; Burnips Equipment and Carl VanderKolk; Versatile and Adam Reid; Central Illinois Ag and Kip Hoke; Kinze Manufacturing, Susanne Veatch and Phil Jennings; Marco N.P.K. Inc; Schaffert Manufacturing and Paul Schaffert; SFP; Unverferth Manufacturing and Jerry Ecklund; Wells Equipment; Apache Sprayers; Trimble, Frank Fidanza and John Pointon; AirScout and Brian Sutton; AgXcel and Ramiro Trevino; Geovantage; Ag Leader and Luke James; Yetter Manufacturing, Pat Whalen and Scott Cale; Blu-Jet and Nick Jensen; Fast and Dan Liening; Greenmark Equipment and Chad Kasprazak; Yamaha; West Central and Joe Schubert; Don Schlesinger and Dan Reynolds; Shorty Olson; Crop-Tech Consulting, Isaac Ferrie, Matt Duesterhaus, Mike Carl, Logan Koester, Aaron Herrmann and Chelsea Ferrie; LDK Farms and Leon Knirk; Bob Minor; B&M Crop Consulting, Bill Bauer, Amanda Anderson, Jared Haylett 

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