Plan Now for Spring Fertilizer Application
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Plan Now for Spring Fertilizer Application

December 09, 2008   |   ShareThis

The onslaught of weather curveballs Mother Nature drilled at farmers in western Minnesota and the eastern counties in the Dakotas during 2008 has set the stage for a challenging first inning in 2009. A late crop with delayed harvest and wet field conditions left nearly 90 percent of fall fertilizer application incomplete.

Brad Fronning, precision ag specialist with Triangle Ag of Uden, Minn., is advising growers who missed fall fertilizer application to work with their retailer this winter to put a plan together for spring application.

"In our area, there was little fall application completed because of the weather and late harvest," Fronning says. "The ground was saturated before it froze, and spring could be tough, depending on what the weather does." Equipment, manpower and time to complete spring fertilizer application may be stretched thin. That's why Fronning is working with growers in his area to start planning for 2009 spring application.

He starts by working with each grower to determine how many acres of what crops will be grown in which fields. This provides a guide for application timing since fields for early-planted crops such as wheat, corn and sugar beets will need fertilizer first.

"We have a good feel for which soils dry first, so this helps us decide where we can start application," Fronning says. "Then we look at each field, evaluating soil sample information, yield potential and yield goal to create the most efficient nutrient package for the field."

Because today's corn hybrids have much greater yield potential, they require a higher amount of nutrients to reach their full potential and deliver the return on investment in seed.

To help ensure adequate nutrients are available, a soil test is an invaluable investment in the production decision process. He uses this information to compare available soil nutrients to what the plant needs to reach the desired yield goal and full yield potential. While producers may be tempted to rely on nitrogen only, Fronning says phosphorus, potassium and sulfur shouldn't be overlooked.

He points out that potassium "regulates" many essential plant processes including enzyme activation, photosynthesis, water use efficiency, starch formation and protein synthesis.

Likewise, adequate phosphorus is necessary for higher yields and improved grain quality because P also improves the plants' ability to use all available nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Without adequate phosphorus, plant uptake of nitrogen is reduced, nitrate levels in the soil increase, and some of the N investment may be lost.

 "A lot of soil tests in this area show our soils are deficient in sulfur.And, in our high pH soils, we've also seen a benefit to applying sulfur using a fairly new phosphorus-based fertilizer that includes sulfur within the phosphorus granule," Fronning says.  "The MicroEssentials S15 granule actually lowers the soil pH near the granule, making the phosphorus more available to the plant and enhancing the plants' phosphorus use by 10 to 30 percent."  Healthier, more vigorous plants as well as yield benefits are the result.

 Researchers at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton also have seen yield benefits (6-12 bushels/acre) from the addition of sulfur and phosphorus for corn.

"We've seen 6 to 12 bushels per acre yield improvements, particularly in minimum tillage systems such as ridge-till and no-till where the nutrients are being incorporated between the rows after planting," says Jeff Strock, associate professor of soil science with the University of Minnesota.

A summary of the research is available at under Soil and Water Management. 

Investing in application equipment

Strock also advises growers to get a nutrient application plan together this winter because there's no crystal ball for next spring's weather and planting season. 

"My sense is there will be time to get fertilizer on. A lot can happen between now and April," Strock says.  "Coops will be prepared to work hard and get it done, and growers will have options to broadcast before planting, apply with the planter or side dress after the crop is up.

"But, don't get into a hurry and apply P, K and S on top of the snow or when the ground is still frozen," he reminds growers. "With snowmelt and spring runoff, there can be a lot of these nutrients lost if they haven't been worked in."

To be prepared for the busy spring application season, Fronning says some growers in his area are contemplating investing in their own application equipment. While this may be a viable option, coordination with the local coop will still be important, particularly in light of transporting product to the field and tendering the applicators.

"We have plenty of product available, but we'll still need good communication with producers in order to ensure product is available at the right time for the right fields," Fronning says. "Growers who apply their own will need to think about product delivery and the option of tendering equipment at the field."

For growers applying a balanced nutrient package using dry fertilizer, Fronning also recommends the MicroEssentials S15 (13 N - 33 P - 0 K - 15 S) as a convenient option to blended fertilizer.

"In a truck, seeder or cart, blends of different nutrients tend to bounce around and separate, just like chaff from grain," says Fronning. "With this product, because all nutrients are in one granule, it doesn't separate and there is consistent distribution across the field.  That gives every plant a better shot at getting what it needs to produce the best yield."