Agronomy Talk

AGRONOMY TALK: STARTER FERTILIZER USE IN CORN

Published on Monday, April 20, 2020

Starter fertilizers are relatively small amounts of plant nutrients, placed near the seed at planting. The two most common application methods are in-furrow, also called pop-up, and 2x2. While some planter setups are not a true 2 in. over and 2 in. below the seed, all banded starter fertilizer that’s not placed in the planting furrow is referred to as 2x2.

WHY USE STARTER FERTILIZER?

Uniformity of emergence and early development are crucial first steps in maximizing yield potential. A corn seedling only requires a small amount of available nutrients, but a deficit can result in slow and uneven seedling development.

EARLY-SEASON NUTRIENT AVAILABILITY

The radicle is the first root to emerge from the seed and serves as the foundation of the larger root system. It does not take up substantial nutrients due to its small surface area. Young seedlings primarily rely on the stored nutrients from the seed itself until the nodal root system is developed.

The radicle is the first root to emerge from the seed. It is important for water uptake, but does not have adequate surface area to take up substantial amounts of nutrients. Young seedlings primarily rely on stored nutrients from the seed itself until the nodal root system is developed. Additionally, certain weather events or man-made factors can delay or impact nodal root development, increasing the likelihood of starter fertilizer effectiveness. 

FACTORS THAT DELAY OR IMPEDE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NODAL ROOT SYSTEM INCLUDE:

1. Excess or Inadequate Soil Moisture: Oxygen is required in the soil for root development. Heavy rains saturate the soil and displace oxygen. The lack of oxygen slows plant development, leaving the seedling vulnerable to seedling diseases that thrive in anaerobic conditions. Conversely, too little soil moisture can result in root tips drying out and ceasing to elongate and can cause plant death if dry conditions persist. This is particularly troublesome in situations with inadequate planting depth, cloddy soils, or open seed slots.

2. Smeared Sidewall: Planting into wet soil conditions can result in a smeared sidewall, which then hardens and physically impedes root development. This results in tomahawk or hatchet roots. Restricting root growth to the seed trench dramatically limits how much of the soil is being explored for both water and nutrients.

3. Anhydrous Burn/Fertilizer Salt Injury: Planting too soon after an anhydrous application or applying anhydrous too shallow can result in root injury or even seedling death. Anhydrous and high salt fertilizers are hydrophilic, meaning that they draw moisture into the application band. Pulling moisture out of the root or seed itself can result in either killing a portion of the roots or the whole plant, particularly in dry soil conditions. 

Beck’s Practical Farm Research PFR® has shown that yield response to starter fertilizer varies greatly year to year. However, when planting early, especially into heavier soils, starter fertilizer can be a cost effective strategy to encourage even seedling development. Additionally, while starter fertilizers don’t always produce more grain yield, they may expedite early plant development, meaning drier (-.5% to 1%) grain at harvest. 

 

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Author: Travis Burnett

Categories: Agronomy, Agronomy Talk

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