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Spoon-Feeding Nitrogen: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

Indiana farmer reflects on twenty years of change, outlines how to maximize return on investment with N application.

Mike Starkey operates a 7th generation family farm in Brownsburg, Ind., right across the road from a K-8 school and the biggest church in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Farming in an urban area has some advantages, like being able to easily make it to Colts and Pacers games (Starkey is a season ticket holder). But the environment also comes with the usual challenges. 

“I have to educate as best as I can the urban neighbors (about airplanes dropping cover crop seeds),” Starkey says. “I plan around the traffic. I don’t dare move the equipment between 6 and 8 a.m., or after 4 p.m., or when the kids get out of school at 2:30 p.m.”

Starkey Farms stretches over 2,500 acres in Hendricks and Boone Counties, where the family raises corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and beef cattle. As a no-tiller, Starkey’s ability to adapt and embrace change is critical to the operation.

“You’ve got to learn from your mistakes, which I’ve done quite a bit. And, if that opportunity exists, make the change.” 

Zeroing in on Nutrients

Over the past 20-plus years Starkey hasn’t shied away from switching things up, especially when it comes to the application of nitrogen (N) to corn. He’s been calling audibles in that department since 2002, when he started adding Thio-Sul to the application of N with his planter.  

“Now anytime retailers sell nitrogen they always recommend Thio-sul,” Starkey says. “Times have changed. They realize our soils are so short of sulfur. If you’re not putting…

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Noah Newman

Noah Newman started at Lessiter Media in March 2022 as Associate Editor for No-Till FarmerStrip-Till Farmer and Cover Crop Strategies. He previously worked in broadcast journalism as a sports anchor/reporter for television stations in central Illinois and most recently Jackson, Mississippi, where he was named the state’s sportscaster of the year by the National Sports Media Association. The Cleveland, Ohio, native looks forward to engaging with growers, learning extensively about their operations, and sharing impactful stories with the audience.

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