Making Better Use Of Fertilizer

Using the right timing and application of nutrients saves fertilizer, increases yield.

Published on: Jul 24, 2013

When it comes to applying fertilizer, timing makes all the difference. This was part of Jerry Cordell's message at the Four-State Farm Show, where the owner of Quality-Ag Inc, of Sedgwick, Kansas, and area manager representing Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizer in Kansas says with the right timing of the right nutrients, less is more.

This is especially the case with nitrogen. Cordell notes more farmers have been strip tilling and applying nitrogen six to eight inches below the surface for corn, followed by spoon-feeding nitrogen for three or four more applications, which he says is more efficient. "They cut down on the amount of nitrogen on the four applications significantly," he says. "Yield was significantly higher."

RESPONSIBLE FERTILIZER USE: Jerry Cordell, owner of Quality-Ag Inc of Sedgwick, Kansas, and area manager representing Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizer in Kansas, says by applying the right fertilizer at the right time and place, growers can reach higher yields with less fertilizer.
RESPONSIBLE FERTILIZER USE: Jerry Cordell, owner of Quality-Ag Inc of Sedgwick, Kansas, and area manager representing Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizer in Kansas, says by applying the right fertilizer at the right time and place, growers can reach higher yields with less fertilizer.

For phosphate, correct placement is important, because it isn't mobile. "Phosphate is critical, because if it's more than a quarter inch away, the crop will never take it up," Cordell explains. "Once you place it in the soil, that's where it's going to stay." More farmers are realizing the benefits of applying phosphate in furrow. "By using a starter program, you're feeding your corn phosphate that's usable to the crop."

Potassium plays an important role in moisture intake. "It controls the pores of the plants, the stomates, the opening and closing. If it's not properly fertilized, the plant will open later in the day and close later in the day. It'll lose too much moisture," Cordell explains. "It's kind of like your non-irrigated man's irrigation system."

Applying starter fertilizer in furrow makes nutrients constantly available early on, which is especially important to the plant's early development. By the 5-leaf stage, corn plants have already determined ear size and the number of rows of kernels. "You want plenty of nitrogen to get it to that stage," Cordell notes. "You also want a good source of nutrition there before you get it to the tasseling stage."

The importance of micronutrients

More farmers are also applying micronutrients. For example, to reach corn yields of about 200 bushels per acre, Cordell says a minimum of four pounds of zinc per acre is required, so an application may be necessary. "As people increase their yield potential, micronutrients are a huge factor in reaching those upper yield goals," he says.

Five are particularly important: zinc, manganese, iron, copper and boron. Because the amounts they are applied in are smaller, it's best to apply them in a single product, like Agro-Culture's Micro 500. "You can apply all that nutrition that the crop needs all at one time and location, rather than spending money for more applications," he says. "When you root zone band it, you have the concentration of those nutrients." "We're getting a synergistic effect of all those nutrients together."

Several years ago, the company compared a starter fertilizer with a non-starter fertilizer on its research plot in Michigan. Although original tests indicated the crop needed no starter fertilizer, the results speak for themselves. "The corn actually emerged sooner, had better color, it tasseled sooner, silked sooner, and yielded [20 bushels] higher," Cordell notes. "What we're ruling that down to is the synergistic effect of all those micronutrients working together as opposed to one."