Determining benefit of starter fertilizer for corn
By David G. Hallauer
Meadowlark District Extension Agent
How much yield benefit is there to that starter fertilizer you are using? Is it economic—or mainly visual? Every system is different, and that means that in some cases it may be both—in others, neither. What factors make it so?
Soil fertility levels make a difference—the lower the fertility level, the greater the chance of an economic response to starter, even in some low yield environments. Higher soil test levels may elicit a response, but the degree of response may be less frequent or of less magnitude. Cool/wet soils also increase response chances. Phosphorous source does not tend to make a difference (see the Meadowlark Extension District Facebook page for further information).
Tillage system can make a difference—you’ll often get a response to an N containing starter in no-till. This is especially so when preplant N is applied as deep-banded anhydrous ammonia or UAN, or where most of the N is sidedressed in-season. No-till soils are typically colder and wetter at corn planting time than soils that have been tilled, and N mineralization from organic matter tends to be slower at the start of the season in no-till environments.
Placement also makes a difference. Apply with the seed and you need to limit the N/K/Boron you use, making sure to have some soil separation between the starter fertilizer and the seed. If applying starter fertilizer with the corn seed, you run an increased risk of seed injury when applying more than 6 to 8 pounds per acre of N and K combined in direct seed contact on a 30-inch row spacing.
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