Can You Cut Fertility Costs Without Cutting Yield?

You could lose more than you save if you cut costs in the wrong places.

Some farmers are thinking about cutting back on their fertility program for 2022 crops because fertilizer costs are increasing and pre-order prices aren’t guaranteed into next spring. I understand that price hikes cause uncertainty. As someone who also farms, I feel the same way. What I’ve learned is that fertility is the foundation to keeping a crop healthy all season. Top-performing hybrids need food to fuel their growth.

Below are three questions to ask yourself as you plan your 2022 fertility program:

Phil TT potassium levels

  1. Are you keeping potassium levels up? Potassium (K) is critical for handling drought stress and late-season stalk health. Depending on cation exchange capacity (CEC), you want to see K levels of 150 to 220 parts per million (ppm) on your soil test. North Dakota State University (NDSU) research reveals the type of clay soil (high vs. low shrink swell clay) is key to fertilization. High shrink swell clay soils must be kept at that 200-ppm threshold. When these soils dry out, they hold the K between clay layers much tighter. On soils with low shrink swell potential, the 150-ppm threshold will provide enough K throughout the season. Have you ever noticed how some soils are more forgiving after you accidently cut ruts when it’s a little wet? Note those soils because they hold K tighter, prohibiting your crop from using it.
  1. Thinking about cutting back on nitrogen? Nitrogen is more closely tied to yield than any other nutrient. Corn takes up approximately 150 to 300 pounds of nitrogen (N) to reach its full yield potential, but this doesn’t have to all go down as commercial fertilizer. Nitrogen needs depend on several factors including crop rotation, manure application, green manure, and residue management. Consider applying nitrogen in the spring with a nitrification inhibitor on lower CEC soils or if it’s a wet spring. The best practice in the fall is to wait until soil temps are below 50 degrees before applying nitrogen.
  1. How are you valuing manure? When comparing fields where manure was applied to fields that only get commercial fertilizer, you realize fertilizer is worth the additional hassle to apply. Microbes in the manure and the biology that feeds on it can build nutrient levels much faster in the soil as compared to commercial fertilizer. It’s important to have a representative manure analysis to know what you are applying.

Remember, every 100 pounds of nitrogen applied requires about 500 pounds of lime to offset the acidity created by the nitrogen conversion process. Make sure your pH is correct, so all the nutrients in your soil are available to your growing crop. Correct soil pH before you try to build your P, K or micronutrients.

Feel free to call me if you have any questions about how Data Forward can help you collect and store information that can lead to more profitable farm management decisions.