Starter Fertilizer

March 28, 2019

3.28.19 | Starter Fertilizer from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

Starter Fertilizer – It is about plants, and not fertility.

Starter is intended to get plants off to a good start. It is formulated to get into small plants quickly and build their systems to be strong and support good growth. And because of that, some starters work better than others, and some application systems work better than others. Going back to what I talked about the other day though, I know that you all will be in a hurry this planting season. I know that the reality of a shortened preparation process in March, and snow on the ground has worked many into a frenzy about how fast we can move. And unfortunately, I have even had a couple of people talk to me about skipping the starter on the planter this year so they can cover more acres. I would caution those of you thinking, or even planning on not using starter this year, that you are hurting your yield. And I have data to prove it.

In 2018, our RD team led by Mick Goedeken did a starter response trial on corn at multiple sites across Nebraska and Kansas. We were looking at the CVA exclusive Begin starter placed in-furrow at a rate of Five gallons per acre. What was somewhat unique about this set of trials though was that all of our sites had a soil Bray 1 Phosphorus test that averaged over 39 ppm. That meant these soils were not deficient in Phosphorus, and that our Begin would be acting as a “plant health” component, not a “soil fertility” component.

What we saw was not surprising whatsoever from a plant growth standpoint. The difference was visible in many of our plots, and as we got towards the end of June, it was clearly visible even driving by the plots at speed. But of course, the size and the growth of the plants is not always indicative of the yield at the end of the year.

What we found though at year end was that yield was following the same trend. The cost of the Begin product that we put on in 2018 was equal to 5.4 bushels of corn at a harvest cash price of $3.16 per bushel. That meant that our break even in 2018 was 5.4 bushel. We had a single trial come in just below our break-even line at 3.8 bushel gain. Including that one, all trials averaged together was 15.7 bu advantage to using Begin, with a net average of 10.3 bu/A. At our $3.16 price, we averaged a net return of just over $30 per acre using a starter fertilizer on very good Phosphorus level soils. If I look at prices today for Begin and Dec 19 corn into Columbus, the breakeven is just below 5 bushels per acre. That would mean the net would have been very close to $40 per acre with current pricing.

I can’t think that many would argue about those results, as they are pretty compelling. But I also don’t want to overlook how that product was placed. Since starter is made and used to get fertilizer into the plant quickly, placement does matter. We all know roots grow down, not up, and therefore, placing starter fertilizer on the soil surface may or may not achieve the same effects. There are hundreds and perhaps even thousands of trials that have been run looking for a definitive answer to that very problem. I certainly don’t know the answer, but I do know this.

A blended starter made from 10-34-0 with roughly the same analysis as Begin might save you $5 or $6 per acre by placing it on the surface. But, will it provide the same benefits to the young plants as banded or furrow placement year after year. I doubt it. I think the yield advantage of placement and product combined will return far more than our six dollar savings, especially over several years.

So my call to action for you today is, that while spring planting and the period leading up to it could be hectic, don’t be too drastic or dramatic in your decision making. If you are putting on starter fertilizer today on the surface, consider talking to the ACS team about different attachments we have for placing fertilizer in a band, or in a furrow that will improve placement. Because combining the two together is where extra bushels are unlocked, perhaps not every year, or on every field, but definitely often enough to be a winning proposition.

By Keith Byerly


Posted: 3/28/2019 3:26:36 PM by Kelli Emanuel | with 0 comments