There still is time for growers to strengthen their soil fertility programs and ensure the most profitable crop return for 2001.

Proper soil fertility should be a top priority for growers in a long-term soil fertility program; therefore, the timing of nutrient applications has a substantial impact on the success of an overall management plan.

"It is crucial for growers to examine their soil fertility levels now, because we have just finished harvesting what is being predicted to be the largest and highest yielding United States crop ever, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report," says Dr. Harold Reetz, Midwest director for the Potash and Phosphate Institute (PPI). "It also means nutrient removal will be the highest ever."

There are several benefits of applying fertilizer now, including: saving valuable time in the spring and spreading out grower and dealer workloads. In addition, "spreading fertilizer over dryer soils in the fall, results in less yield-reducing compaction, compared with spring applications," explains Reetz.

Now also is the perfect time to take a soil sample. This assures that potassium (P) and phosphorus (K) will be applied where they are needed. When properly used, fertilization builds yields, boosts profits and allows for improved environmental protection.

"Fall sampling after harvest provides the lowest point for nutrients supplied," says Reetz. "Without soil testing, nutrient applications are a guess, and there is no room for guessing in today's situation of narrow margins and public concerns with the environment."

It is necessary for each field to be examined for its unique needs and plans made to meet those needs. If soil tests are medium or below, cutting corners on needed P and K could easily reduce yields and profitability. Any other approach stands a good chance of applying nutrients where they are not needed or not applying nutrients where they are--either way crucial profitability is lost.

Soil sampling and applying fertilizer after harvest helps dealers and growers avoid the spring rush. On the average, there are substantially fewer days available for field work in the spring than in fall. The focus in the spring must be on getting the crop in the ground, because planting delays are costly. Completion of fertilization now saves valuable time this spring and allows for the best rates of P and K to be determined.

"The most successful approach to managing soil nutrients like P and K is a long-term program that builds an optimum range of soil test levels and then maintains them by replacing the removed nutrients by growing crops," says Dr. Ray Hoyum, vice president of market development and communications, IMC Global. "In the long term, nutrients removed from the soil must be replaced, or fertility, yields and profitability decline."

Fertilization applications can help stabilize some of the peaks and valleys of activity to make the yearly workload more evenly distributed for growers and dealers. This allows a management team to develop a plan of action and begin implementing it. Growers can handle more acres and dealers can handle more customers with the same amount of labor and equipment; a win-win situation for all involved.

For more information about proper soil fertility, now including region-specific data, log on to the Back-to-Basics Web site, at www.back-to-basics.net.

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