|This is the Year: Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency|
By Dick Farst
Almost every year someone tells us this is the year to be the most efficient. I will soon celebrate a half-century making my living selling crop inputs and primarily fertilizer. I can honestly tell you this is the YEAR!
Only twice in my lifetime have I seen fertilizer at the prices we have this year. The bright side of this year is that crop prices are much better, and if you are raising corn the price is extremely good. Let us first look at the price ratio between fertilizer and corn and we will see it is still a very good buy! I know it is high, but look at what is does for the yield and the profit at the end of the year.
Efficiency is very important with all crop inputs, but let’s look at fertilizer and especially nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). Potash and sulfur (S) prices have risen only 7% so they have become very good buys. N and P prices have ranged up to 31% increases, but they are extremely important in the production of corn and cotton. Therefore, we must examine the most efficient methods and timing for both N & P.
Let’s first look at phosphorous. Banding P at planting has long been the most efficient method and time to apply P. As early as the late 1940s, research proved to the American farmer that we could apply P in a band beside the rows of corn or cotton and enhance our yields tenfold. With the production of DAP in early 1960s and with bulk blending of P with N & potassium (K), broadcast spreading soon became the application method of choice. Yet many still agreed that a starter band still produced the best yield, but it took too much time; and besides, fertilizer was very low cost.
In the 60s, many areas in the Midwest and Eastern Corn Belt turned to liquid starters containing N-P-K. Here in the South N-P starters were available and only heavy liquids with un-dissolved potash were offered. Research again showed that starters, liquid and dry, were producing better yields. Planters got bigger; starters became more time consuming and the equipment to apply them became too heavy for mounted planters.
Because of this, the use of broadcast fertilizer containing P almost stopped the use of starters for most farmers. NO, not that it was not the most efficient, but it was the easiest. Most all of my peers selling fertilizer agreed and sold what was the easiest.
Now comes 2007 and I know that most of the corn may already be planted this spring, but what is best when it comes to P and corn is true for P and cotton, soybeans and peanuts. Starter bands containing at least N & P will consistently replace much higher rates that are broadcast. N-P-K starters are even better and N, P, Potash and S starters will out yield each of the others. I will not take up your time to show a lot of research, but be assured that it is available to back up these statements. 45# Banded P can replace 60# of broadcast P. Efficient cost savings.
With the higher prices in 2007 of dry P, why not consider liquid P banded? Because of marketing programs and manufacturing timing liquid P is considerable less costly than dry Phosphate. In addition to the favorable pricing, agronomic research has proven that Liquid 100% water-soluble polyphosphate P will out produce dry sources.
How can you apply liquid phosphorous and band it next to your crop?
The simplest answer is a liquid starter attachment on your planter. Also, we have many farmers dribbling behind the press wheel two inches to the side of the row using an herbicide applicator on their planter. They either turn the nozzle sideways or use an orifice disc instead of a nozzle. Others just run a hose in front or behind the press wheel two inches to the side of the row. We want to keep the fertilizer on the soil not on the seed.
Another very popular method of applying a starter is a separate application using a side dress applicator by offsetting the knife 4 to 6 inches to the side of the row. We also have several farmers using 60’, 70’ and 90’ boom sprayers with strip jets laying down bands on the surface of the soil.
The very best method is a starter attachment; however, the most used method is a band two inches to the side of the row on the surface of the soil using existing herbicide tanks and pumps.
Nitrogen plus Phosphorous
Banding 10-34-0 is good, however 10-30-0-3 (S) is an agronomical superior analysis, as is 11-22-0-10 (S), or 18-22-0-2 (S). Using N-P-K-S will increase yields over N+P. Using a 9-25-3-3 (S) clear liquid, which is like 10-34-0 but because of potash and sulfur being added it will consistently out yield 10-34-0. This analysis looks and handles just like 10-34-0, but cost less and yields more.
Liquid forms of N have long been proven to be equal to or superior to dry forms of N. The most efficient method of applying N is to band apply at least one band per row. Research shows that splitting the middle of the row works in feeding the plant. Research also shows that, depending on the time of application, the most efficient method is to band the N closer to the row.
Liquid or dry sources of N are both very sound agronomical practices; however, banding dry sources is difficult because of the available equipment. Liquid N is much easier to handle and the equipment is much more available.
Banding liquid N is the most efficient method and, again, if you are using a boom sprayer, consider strip nozzles rather than broadcast. If weed and feed is your application method, consider splitting your N applications so to include a side-dress rather than your entire N in a broadcast application. There is considerable amount of research supporting split applications of N showing marked increases in yields due to better utilization of the applied N.
When making your N choice
Liquid - use a nitrogen sulfur mixture containing ammonium thio-sulfate to protect your N from volatilization. 28-0-0-5 is the product of choice. Dry - ammonium nitrate is the most popular choice. However, a more efficient cost effective choice would be 32-0-0-3 or 30-0-0-6 (ammonium nitrate blended with ammonium sulfate). If you choose urea, another popular choice, you must use Agrotain to protect the urea from volatilization.
Efficiency is extremely important! REMEMBER crop nutrients are still a very good buy and cutting back with out practicing efficient methods can reduce your profits.
Dick Farst is the Terminal Manager for Agri-AFC’s Fertilizer Department in Rattlesnake Bend.