Effective starter fertilizer use in corn
Many producers could benefit by using starter fertilizer when planting corn. Starter fertilizer is simply the placement of some fertilizer, usually nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), near the seed — which "jump starts" growth in the spring. It is not unusual for a producer to see an early season growth response to starter fertilizer application.
But whether that increase in early growth translates to an economic yield response is not a sure thing in Kansas. How the crop responds to starter fertilizer depends on soil fertility levels, tillage system, soil temperature and N placement method. Phosphorus source is not an important factor.
Soil Fertility Levels
The lower the fertility level, the greater the chance of an economic response to starter fertilizers. A routine soil test will reveal available P and potassium (K) levels. If soils test low or very low in P, below 20 ppm, there is a very good chance that producers will obtain an economic yield response to applying a starter fertilizer containing P, even in some low-yield environments. If the soil test shows a medium level of P, 20-30 ppm, it’s still possible to obtain a yield response to P fertilizer. But the yield response will not occur as frequently, and may not be large enough to cover the full cost of the practice.
If the soil test is high, above 30 ppm, economic responses to starter P fertilizers are rare. The chances of an economic return at high P soil test levels are greatest when planting corn early in cold, wet soils. In general, the same principles apply with K. If soil tests are low, below 130 ppm, the chances of a response to K in starter are good. The lower the soil test level, the greater the odds of a response.
All of the recommended P and/or K does not need to be applied as starter. If the soil test recommendation calls for high rates of P and K in order to build up or maintain soil test levels, producers will often get better results by splitting the application between a starter and a pre-plant broadcast application. As a general rule, starter fertilizer should be limited to the first 20 to 30 pounds of P or K per acre, with the balance being broadcast for best responses.
Does the type of phosphorus used as a starter make any difference? In particular, what about the ratio of orthophosphate to polyphosphate in the fertilizer product? This has been a concern for many producers.
Liquid 10-34-0 is composed of a mixture of ammonium polyphosphates and ammonium orthophosphates. The dissolved ammonium orthophosphate molecules are identical to those found in dry MAP (e.g. 11-52-0) and/or DAP (e.g. 18-46-0). Ammonium polyphosphates are simply chains of orthophosphate molecules, formed by removing a molecule of water, and are quickly converted by soil enzymes back to individual orthophosphates identical to those provided by MAP and/or DAP.
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