Ken Ferrie Answers Your Questions About Starter Fertilizer

Boots in the Field Report with Ken Ferrie ( Crop-Tech Consulting )

In the past few weeks, Ken Ferrie says he has fielded a variety of questions on starter fertilizer—how to set up the planter, which mixes and product rates work best, as well as what nutrients and how many a starter fertilizer contains.

What he’s found is the perspective on starter fertilizer varies a lot from grower-to-grower.

“Some growers say it’s phosphate with microbes. Others consider starter fertilizer as straight 28% or 32% with a little ATZ in it. Other growers think it’s microbials—so-called bugs in a jug,” notes Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist and owner of CropTech, Inc., based near Heyworth, Ill.

Ultimately, Ferrie says he considers phosphate to be the major component in a high-performing starter fertilizer.

“Phosphate is critical, because it’s the source of energy that drives growth at the start of the plant’s life,” he says.

As for which application method to use, Ferrie says placement is an important consideration because, unlike nitrogen, phosphate moves very little in the soil. Phosphate needs to be placed where the early root system will actually grow through the band of fertilizer.

“Corn responds the quickest to in-furrow applications,” Ferrie says. “When we compare in-furrow applications at low rates and a 2x2 application at a higher rate, the in-furrow application almost always responds first, and you can see the response visually.”

However, in the history of CropTech’s extensive plot work the 2x2 application almost always outperforms the in-furrow application. “I think that’s because, even though it takes longer to kick off, the 2x2 has more staying power because of the higher rates,” he notes.

On average, CropTech test-plot results show there’s a 7 bu. to 10 bu. response to starter placed 2x2 and a 3 bu. to 5 bu. response to in-furrow application. More information on these studies is available in Farm Journal’s story, Dive Deep into Starter Fertilizer This Spring at

One application method for starter fertilizer that Ferrie doesn’t recommend is dribbling it on top of the ground behind the closing wheel. “Our tests show that’s not very effective in most cases,” he says.

You can learn more information about starter fertilizers, including microbials, rates and application methods from Ferrie’s Boots In The Field podcast. Listen to it here:

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