Five Fertilizer Misconceptions

February 14, 2009 10:44 AM

Input costs, especially for fertilizer, have been all over the board this past year, and they don't look like they'll settle down anytime soon. Properly managing your fertilizer applications and options can definitely save you heartache and cash during this year's growing season. Lloyd Murdock, Extension soil specialist at the University of Kentucky, shares advice on how not to make fertilizer mistakes.

Murdock says research at the University of Kentucky shows farmers cannot afford to cut fertilizer, specifically nitrogen, below the optimum levels needed for corn production. He says the difference in yield will be more than the money saved by not applying fertilizer. With that in mind, Murdock debunks five common myths:

1. Soil Tests Are a Waste of Time. "Of all things," Murdock says, "taking good soil samples are the most important." Pay attention to detail and take several samples in the same field, and a soil test will be the best indicator of what your field needs. "We recommend that one soil sample represent no more than 20 acres," he says.  Murdock also suggests using a third party, such as a university source, to analyze the soil sample data.

2. More = Better. Murdock says a common mistake is to fertilize more than is actually needed in a field. He says that by overfertilizing a field you are simply throwing money away and not benefiting your crop.

3. Synthetic Fertilizers Are Farmers' Only Option. Depending on the situation, Murdock says, alternative fertilizer options may be a good way to cut costs. "Manure and sewage sludge are two options to consider," he says. The fertility value in such byproducts can be a good source of nutrients and are typically less expensive than traditional fertilizer sources.

4. Application Methods Don't Matter.
Dramatic decreases in the amount of fertilizer can be made if farmers use the proper application methods, Murdock says. He suggests that farmers sidedress or band fertilizer applications so the nutrients are more readily available. Phosphorus and potassium amounts can be reduced by one-half to one-third if banded, Murdock explains, because the nutrients aren't as likely to become fixed in the soil.

5. "Extremely Efficient"
Fertilizers Will Pencil Out. Another piece of advice Murdock gives is to be sure to analyze the specific nutrient content of fertilizer sources. "When fertilizer prices are extremely high, you'll see advertisements for
‘extremely efficient' fertilizer that requires less fertilizer to be applied," he says. "Rarely do these types pencil out." Murdock suggests checking with a few sources before taking fertilizer recommendations.

You can e-mail Sara Muri at

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