Focus on Fertility

July 26, 2013 10:16 PM
Focus on Fertility

Nutrients help triple-stack hybrids reach potential

Instead of expanding his acreage base like many farmers in his area, Matt Lantz is focusing on plant fertility to boost yields on his existing 2,800 acres planted to triple-stack hybrids.

For the past few years Lantz, who farms with his parents and brother near Lake Crystal, Minn., has tinkered with variable rates of zinc and sulfur. He estimates he has reaped 5 bu. more per acre as a result.

Triple-stack hybrids used 14% more zinc and 13% more phosphorus than those without insect protection

"That may not sound like a large increase, but when I can do that over 2,000-plus acres, that’s a lot of additional yield," Lantz says. "A 4% boost in bushels means I’ve increased the productivity of my land and enhanced production internally, which is great, given the competition for ground here."

However, Lantz is careful to use micronutrients with balanced rates of macronutrients. He bases use on soil sample tests done in 2.5-acre grid increments.

Research by University of Illinois scientists, led by plant physiologist Fred Below, shows that increased levels of nutrients—in particular nitrogen, phos-phorus, sulfur and zinc—boost the yield potential of triple-stack hybrids and deliver a return-on-investment. The research results were published in the January 2013 issue of Agronomy Journal.

Below says triple-stack hybrids have more extensive root systems than conventional and single-trait hybrids, which enable them to absorb more total nutrients for a longer period of time.

In addition, research shows that triple-stack hybrids do not use nutrients uniformly or at the same rate during their various growth stages.

"Corn plants need considerable nutrition after flowering, which is something we didn’t know prior to this research," Below says.

New strategy. Farmers’ current corn fertility practices might not match the uptake capability of triple-stack hybrids, notes Ross Bender, University of Illinois graduate student, who worked on the study with Below.

According to university research compiled by Mosaic, triple-stack hybrids used 14% more zinc and 13% more phosphorus than those without insect protection, says Kyle Freeman, agronomist and manager of new product development for Mosaic. The company provided financial support for the University of Illinois research.

Lantz is one of six farmers participating in Mosaic’s program, Pursuit of 300: The Road to Higher Yields. The company is helping each farmer–participant intensely manage a minimum of 100 acres to boost corn yields with practices that can be transferred to their full farm.

Freeman says corn growers can use soil samples and tissue tests to evaluate what nutrients their corn absorbs and which ones might be deficient. Lantz also uses on-farm strip trials to evaluate how triple-stack hybrids respond to nutrients. This year he is evaluating boron, a micronutrient said to support development at pollination and kernel fill.

Lantz has replicated applications of boron, at a ½-lb. rate per acre, in one 160-acre field. The field is split into quarters with two check strips and two boron strips. The boron was incorporated in spring applications of urea. Though Lantz uses variable-rate seeding, he planted the field at a static seeding rate, aiming for 40,000 plants per acre, to minimize variability.

After harvest, Lantz plans to overlay his yield map on the boron application map to see what response he achieves. "The field averages 210 bu. per acre, but I’m shooting for 250 bu. per acre this year," he says.

"This is a financial decision, one you don’t necessarily hit home runs with; you hit singles and doubles," Lantz says. "If this costs me $10 an acre and I can get $20 back, I’ll do that all day long," he adds.

You can e-mail Rhonda Brooks at


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