Agronomy Talk

Agronomy Update

NE Illinois & NW Indiana: Zinc, Tissue Sampling, and Wheat Progress

Published on Thursday, April 17, 2014

One of the common questions I have been getting lately is definitely not a new one. “Should I be using liquid starter fertilizer at planting for corn?” While some farmers in the Midwest have been using starter for many years, others are just getting started.

In a 2x2 placement or in-furrow, liquid starter is an excellent way to supply young seedlings with necessary nutrients to stimulate early seedling growth. While starter fertilizer has often been thought of as a product for states where soils stay cooler longer, starter used in areas where soil phosphorus levels are below optimum have led to significant economic gains.

Results from Beck’s Central IL Practical Farm Research (PFR)® in 2013 indicate that starter fertilizer (7-22-5) provided an average return on investment of $18.90/A. Although the benefits of using starter under these scenarios have provided positive results, widespread adoption has been limited due to carrying more weight on the planter and the need to handle additional product. While most starters contain a decent level of phosphorus, many also supply nitrogen and potassium in lesser amounts. In addition to N, P, and K, adding a chelated zinc product to your starter fertilizer can help improve early growth through cold periods, thereby leading to improved plant stress and higher yields.

Sandy soils are more likely to be deficient in zinc than clay loam or silt loam soils, however the benefits from zinc in all soil types when cool soil conditions persist have been seen many times. Zinc is an essential nutrient for plant growth, involved in protein synthesis and necessary for growth regulation and enzyme systems. Most suppliers that sell starter fertilizer also offer a chelated zinc product that can be added. These products may also contain other micronutrients. Be sure to ask your supplier about recommended use rates as well as mixing instructions and precautions. It certainly feels like this spring could give us cool, moist soil conditions where zinc in your starter fertilizer program could pay off!

Have you mastered the “Seven Wonders of the Corn Yield World” and “The Six Secrets of Soybean Success?” Most likely, your answer is “No, but I give it my best shot to control what I can!” Although Dr. Fred Below’s recipes do not include foliar nutrition, plants lacking optimum levels of macro and/or micronutrients usually fail to produce high yields.

Micronutrients are just as important to plant nutrition as macronutrients; however micros are needed in lesser amounts. Tissue sampling is the most reliable method to assess the current nutrition status in a growing crop.

A tissue sample report can identify which nutrients are currently deficient, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, boron, manganese, zinc, sulfur, and iron, among others. You may not have thought about it much, but nutrient deficiencies can go unnoticed even in a “healthy-looking” field. 

                    Which nutrients are deficient in these corn plants? Let tissue sampling provide the right answers.

Often times, it’s only those fields that look “poor” that are sampled. Once a nutrient deficiency has been identified, you must then make a decision whether or not to address the deficiency with one of the many foliar products on the market. I will be conducting tissue sampling for our customers this year to help maximize yields and profitability. Please let me know if you are interested.

The wheat crop in our area has gone through one of the coldest winters on record. Growth stage currently ranges from Feekes 2- Feekes 4. Using October 12 as a planting date, we are 321 wheat growing degree days (GDDs) behind the previous year through April 12. If we have average temperatures in the last half of April, this will correlate to a two week delay. Given that some fields didn’t get planted until the last week of October, we are closer to a delay of 3-4 weeks.

Will this translate to a later wheat harvest? Most likely, but how much later will be determined by weather in May and June. Although winter kill in some fields will make replanting to another crop necessary, other factors leading to plant death and less than desirable stands have also been common.

                          A healthy wheat crop in the background. The low area in the foreground was killed
                                         by ponded water that froze, leading to a small area of plant death.

Water that ponded in low areas, and then froze during Feb-March, has been a common issue leading to plant death and low populations. Some fields that do not get replanted may have “holes” or thin spots where weed growth will need to be addressed. In addition, wheat that was planted into heavy residue was “hairpinned” in the seed slot and failed to make good seed-to-soil contact. If you haven’t looked at your wheat yet and need help making decisions, please contact me.










 Practical Farm Research (PFR)® is a registered trademark of Beck's Superior Hybrids, Inc.

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Chad Kalaher
Chad Kalaher>

Chad Kalaher

Beck’s Hybrids team sales agronomist for 22 counties in NE ¼ of IL and 7 counties in NW IN. Raised on grain and livestock farm in southern IL. B.S. Agronomy 1995 – University of Illinois, M.S. Weed Science 1997 – North Carolina State University. Previous positions in seed industry as researc

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Full biography

Beck’s Hybrids team sales agronomist for 22 counties in NE ¼ of IL and 7 counties in NW IN. Raised on grain and livestock farm in southern IL. B.S. Agronomy 1995 – University of Illinois, M.S. Weed Science 1997 – North Carolina State University. Previous positions in seed industry as research agronomist, district, and regional sales manager.


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