Starter response tied to tillage

Whether or not applying starter fertilizer pays is an
age-old debate. However, many believe that as you cut down on tillage, the equation changes.

Here’s a question for the Indiana Certified Crop Advisers panel:

We’ve never applied row starter fertilizer. Last fall we bought a vertical-tillage tool and will plant directly behind it. Rigging up the planter will cost $7,500 for 1,500 acres of corn, plus nitrogen (starter) cost. Will I get that investment back?

Betsy Bower, Ceres Solutions, Terre Haute: It sounds like you’re transitioning into no-till or a cropping system closer to no-till. Starter and/or starter with nitrogen provides a small amount of nutrition in a concentrated band close to the seed in a 2-by-2-inch placement, or on the seed if you use pop-up.

Of course, a 2-by-2-inch placement allows you to get a few more nutrients in the band because you can use higher rates vs. pop-up. You may also want sulfur in the 2-by-2-inch placement. If you plant early, the small amount of nutrition can be a big benefit when the weather turns cool and wet, and plant and root growth slows. Since your plan is to use vertical tillage, which limits tillage depth, you will have colder soils near that seed. In that scenario, I see a big benefit to starter, especially with nitrogen in it.

Ryan McAllister, Beck’s Hybrids, Parker City: You will have the cost of additional equipment on your planter, but you will not have additional N cost. Nitrogen has to be applied somehow, sometime — it’s not an additional input. Now, if you add 10-34-0 or micronutrients that you haven’t typically added, then, yes, you have additional cost.

Answer these questions: Do I no-till or conventional till? If conditions are right, will I plant in early to mid-April or wait until May? Are my phosphorus levels adequate or testing below critical levels?

Ohio State University has researched these questions (see AGF-210-92). In central Ohio, starter N would have a high probability of payback in no-till when planted prior to April 15 in dark and light soils, and between April 15 and May 1 in no-till in light soils.

Jeff Nagel, Ceres Solutions, Lafayette: Apply the starter N and include it as part of your total N rate. Corn will benefit from starter in conservation tillage and in any system if you’re planting early. A 2-by-2- inch placement would allow you to apply 25 to 30 pounds per acre of N.

We have some growers with large planters where 2-by-2-inch placement isn’t feasible. Then we recommend broadcasting 40 to 60 pounds of liquid N at planting time. While not ideal, it can give a “starter” response as rainfall or tillage moves the N into the seed zone.

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Note: If you apply 100 pounds per acre of 7-21-7 in seed slot, that’s 7 pounds N plus 7 pounds K2O, and exceeds the limit, no matter what type of soil it is.

This article published in the February, 2012 edition of INDIAN PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.