Starter. Fertilizer. The name implies the intent: to get your plants off to a good start.
Its term of utility in a furrow is about 4-5 weeks—just enough time to allow for germination and nascent root growth. It’s there just long enough to help roots develop enough to reach the rest of your fertility program.
Then, it’s gone.
Which is why you shouldn’t credit the nutrients in a starter fertilizer to the rest of your fertility program.
I’ll admit that I’m open for discussion on this topic—I could be swayed with some good evidence—but so far, such evidence hasn’t been presented to me.
Whether or not you should get credits for a starter fertilizer is a usual topic of discussion in our circles, and I understand the desire to count it in your program. But…
Starter fertilizers are formulated to get into teeny tiny little baby plants ASAP. As such, they need to be light and fast, so there’s not a lot of product in them. Their nutrient rates are low because the point isn’t necessarily to sustain the plant but rather to provide a bridge between the seed and the nutrients that are meant to sustain it. It isn’t high-level stuff itself but is a vector to high-level stuff.
It’s akin to giving a toddler Cheerios. You give them Cheerios to bridge them to real food—the Cheerios themselves don’t count for lunch or dinner. They just get your toddler there.
I know that its easy to get caught up in the game as you plan your fertility program. Every credit keeps a bit more dough in your pocket, but game players beware: I’d hate to see you short 5 pounds of nitrogen or 12.5 pounds of phosphorous because you credited your starter. Imagine what that could look like at the end of your season.
Additionally, if your starter does what its supposed to do, you’ll be on a higher yield trajectory, which demands more nutrients, not less. Using a starter gets you out of the gates fast, but by crediting a starter, you run the very real risk of running out of steam before the finish line.
So like I said, I understand the desire to credit your starter and save a little cash, but the long-term consequences of such a decision will likely rob your plants of much-needed nutrients at key points later in the season and so rob you of the income boost that comes with higher yields. Which, as if I need to say it again, outweighs any cost-saving you could have done in the beginning…