10 tips to improve your fertilizer use

Fertilizer production costs are substantially higher in 2011 than they were the past couple of years. When you look at the numbers, remember that commodity prices also have increased significantly.

If you are a shrewd marketer, you have taken advantage of crop pricing opportunities that will help offset the higher production costs. You may still be able to find a few bargains for prepaid fertilizer. However, most of the good deals have ended.

Keys to profitability

Following these 10 tips can help you achieve a profitable fertilizer program for 2011:

1. Follow a good soil testing program to know your soil’s macro and micronutrient levels.

2. Use the most efficient methods to apply phosphorus (starter or strip-till application), employ the best timing options and use the best methods and sources for nitrogen.

3. Take deep soil samples for residual nitrate so you will be able to fine-tune nitrogen rates.

4. Set realistic yield goals. Expected yield is the major factor in determining the nitrogen rate for corn. Use a proven five-year average corn yield plus 5% (to account for hybrid and management improvements).

5. Credit nitrogen from previous crop residue or legume crops. Soil tests will not show legume or crop residue credits as the residue or nodules must break down during the growing season. Credit N for corn after soybean, sugarbeet, alfalfa and dry beans.

6. Value and use manure sources properly. Manure is an excellent nutrient source for nitrogen, phosphorus and micronutrients.

7. Not all fertilizer recommendations are the same. University of Nebraska-Lincoln fertilizer recommendations may seem conservative compared to some of the recommendations made by commercial labs. However, UNL’s suggestions are based on research and on-farm verification. They are generally the most economical rates, even for high-yield situations.

8. Consider replicated strip trials to determine the effect of lower or higher rates on yield. Fine-tuning fertilizer use needs to be an ongoing process.

9. Comparison shop. Look at different products and do your “fertilizer arithmetic” to compare the actual cost per pound of nutrients.

10. Work with a reputable dealer who can provide quality product, price assurances, timely delivery and well-maintained equipment. Remember, service after the sale is also important.

Hergert is an Extension soils specialist at UNL’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Scottsbluff.

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FINE-TUNING: Soil samples to determine residual nitrogen are necessary for more accurate application rates. Here, Andy Runyan, an agronomist with Servi-Tech, takes a soil sample near York.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.