From wet, cold conditions in the eastern Corn Belt to excessively dry, cool soils in the Plains states, spring field conditions could pose early growth challenges for this season's crops. They may also provide growers with the opportunity to witness the benefits of using a starter fertilizer, says an agronomic expert from CHS Inc., a farmer-owned cooperative.

"We tend to see the biggest benefits from starter fertilizers in cold, wet springs, during early or late planting, when soil phosphorus levels are low, and when plants suffer from significant stress such as heat or drought stress," says Maria Abbott, product development specialist and agronomist for CHS Crop Nutrients. "Healthier young plants are better able to handle adverse conditions."

Over the past two growing seasons, Abbott has worked with cooperative agronomists in locations around the country to incorporate starter fertilizers, including new CHS XLR-rate and CHS Aventine Complete liquid starter fertilizers, into their test plots. "Results from those plots, as well as grower fields, have delivered visual proof of the advantages to using a liquid starter – taller, thicker plant stalks and more developed root systems at the V5-V6 stage."

But the payoff comes at harvest, she adds. Yield results from South Dakota cooperative test plots in 2014 produced 11- to 14-bushel-per-acre advantages where a starter was applied at corn planting versus no starter. University of Minnesota field trials showed XLR-rate®-treated corn yielded an average of 8 to 12 bushels per acre more than the control, with an 18-bushel advantage at one Minnesota location from XLR-rate 7-23-5 with MNP.

"Yield response from starter use can vary and we tend to see the greatest response in years when the crop is planted into cold, wet soils and especially in no-till and minimum tillage systems or whenever the crop experiences severe stress," Abbott says.

Trial data has also shown that grain moisture levels were reduced by starter fertilizer use. "XLR-rate-treated plants produced some of the driest grain, which significantly lowered drying costs," she says.

Environmental benefits to using a liquid starter fertilizer are also helping to drive the increasing demand for these product in recent years, notes Abbott. "They are a great nutrient option to ensure growers follow the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship – putting the right rate of the right fertilizer in the right place at the right time."

Along with last season's very positive results, XLR-rate and CHS Aventine Complete liquid starter fertilizers offer the added benefits of seed safety and flexible, low-salt formulations, she adds.

To learn more about these products contact your local CHS member cooperative agronomist.