Nutrient availability is important throughout the lifecycle of a corn plant. However, it is especially critical in the plant's early development stages. Kurt Lahr, a crop product specialist with West Central Distribution LLC in southeast Minnesota, says nutrients including phosphorus, nitrogen, zinc, copper and manganese are often rendered unavailable to the plant if they bond with other ions and become stuck in the soil.
"In raising corn, it's important to keep in mind that just because your corn crop may have a deficiency of a certain nutrient, that doesn't mean the soil or fertilizer is low in that specific nutrient," he explains. "Actually, that nutrient could just be tied up and therefore unavailable for the plant to absorb."
Important to get vital nutrients to the crop early in season
As understanding of nutrient efficiency increases, growers are moving beyond blindly fertilizing acres, and more toward a strategy of fertilizing the individual plants, starting with in-furrow fertilizer applications. Pete Jahr is a corn grower at St. Ansgar, in northeast Iowa. Pete and his brother John have high fertility soils with a large portion of their acres dedicated to growing corn on corn, and they understand the importance of getting vital nutrients to their corn crop early in the season.
In addition to the normal routine of using starter fertilizer, in 2015 they focused on including innovative products in their crop management strategy, products that complement their in-furrow application and work toward boosting yields. This past spring they planted a check-strip with starter fertilizer, an untreated check, and a check with starter and several in-furrow technologies including:
•Levesol– A proprietary product developed by West Central Distribution with the purest and most highly concentrated form of ortho-ortho EDDHA chelate that exists.
•Headline– A fungicide created by BASF that provides disease protection and increased plant health.
•Xanthion– A fungicide and biological created by BASF that is developed to protect the area around the seed, as well, when applied in-furrow.
Because the Jahr's farm has a high percentage of corn-on-corn acres, they are looking into nutrient efficiency technology to replace nutrients as they are depleted from the soil. Raising corn on corn requires more nutrients than are needed in a rotating environment, and placing an emphasis on making the most of available nutrients is a proven way to get the best yields.
By using nutrients that are already in the soil along with the nutrients they are adding to the soil, growers can maximize the value of the fertility products they've paid for and ultimately achieve a larger return on their investment, says Lahr. In addition, to achieve the best possible results in any growing environment, it's also important to address and manage residue, seedbed preparation, weed control and insect pressure.
Starter fertilizer, in-furrow applications ideal for continuous corn
Since the Jahr brothers farm in northern Iowa, soil can be cold and wet in spring during planting season. Therefore, Pete Jahr says he and John have found that using a starter fertilizer and in-furrow application helps the plants get a better start during their early development stage, despite the cooler soil and wet weather conditions.
Starter fertilizer and in-furrow applications are his method to achieving the ideal return on investment from his corn-on-corn operation. Instead of increasing his input costs by adding more fertilizer, Pete Jahr opted to take a more efficient route by using new technology to get the most that he can out of his soil and fertilizer.
A good return on investment begins with the decisions that are made before planting season even begins, says Lahr. Taking steps to achieve nutrient efficiency leads to stronger emergence and better plant health, setting the stage for a bigger return at the end of the year. "We can learn something from Pete Jahr for growing corn," adds Lahr. It's smart to place a priority on fertility and nutrient availability as methods to boost yields. By planning ahead and using the right in-furrow applications, Iowa growers can get their plants the nutrients they need early on in the growing season."