Starter Fertilizer: More Than Product and Placement

3-30-17 Starter Fertilizer from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

A few weeks ago Mike Zwingman talked to you about starter, and more specifically, its importance. Starter is intended to get plants off to a good start. He also talked about how it’s formulated to get into small plants quickly, and I agree with everything he said. But I am going to make a bold statement – I don’t care where you place your starter, and I don’t really care what starter you and your agronomist have decided that is best for you. From a precision ag standpoint, what I do care about is the accuracy and consistency that you put into applying your starter.

Now, I do care about your placement and product. That was a little harsh. But I’m going to assume that you and your FSA have put due diligence into both of those decisions as most growers do. But, I see it all too often so much thought and stress are put into those first two decisions, and then we put together the cheapest system possible to apply the product. Would you ever hook up a tank of 32-0-0 to a pivot and Fertigate with nothing more than a ball valve controlling the rate per minute? Of course not, you want a pump that is calibrated controlling your application. In my opinion, that’s the same thing we do when we run a diaphragm pump into a set of redballs. We know after a while how close the average is, but have no idea on a minute by minute basis.

Simple systems produce a huge rate discrepancy row to row, let alone linearly within the row. This inconsistency is detrimental in unlocking the extra potential for our crop. And to be honest, it is really inexcusable.

Ag Leader, Raven, Sure-Fire, Precision Planting. The list goes on and on for companies that make fantastic rate control systems for planters. In my opinion, if your system doesn’t have at least a flow meter, you are leaving considerable yield on the table. Redballs and orifices are a great start, but they aren’t enough. We need to go further, into the advanced systems like V-Apply from precision planting. Row by row control with each row containing a flow meter.


Perhaps, but this is what I want you to take home as my point of the day. There is a ridiculous amount of focus in the industry right now on consistency of emergence. It is justified, but it’s a first step. The accuracy and consistency of our starter will contribute the consistency of stalk diameter, consistency of days to tassel, and so on. We can still mess up a great stand with inconsistent starter application.

I remember spraying in the days of speed and pressure, before Raven spray controllers. I wouldn’t go back and I suspect neither would you. Applying your starter with a system that doesn’t at least have a flowmeter is the same difference.