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Starter fertilizer in corn production traditionally has been recommended for fields with cool soil temperatures, including exceptionally early planted or no-till fields, those with high residue cover or fields in Northern states.
Starter fertilizer also has been recommended for fields with low phosphorus levels, and research studies have proven the value of this practice.
However, some growers seeking to exploit current grain price opportunities are evaluating whether starter fertilizer can play a more prominent role in increasing corn yields.
This Crop Insights discusses starter fertilizers, their traditional role in corn production and whether starter may have a role beyond historical uses.
Starter fertilizer is small amounts of plant nutrients placed in close proximity to the seed, usually at planting.
• Starter fertilizer benefits corn seedlings when growth of the nodal root system is slowed by weather, impeded by seedbed conditions or damaged by pests or other factors.
• If early season stresses are sporadic in the field, starter fertilizer may help reduce uneven stand development and yield loss that often results from these conditions.
• Research results show starter may provide the most benefit to growers using no-till or high-residue farming systems, growers in Northern states, or those with coarse textured (sand or silt) soils or other soils testing low in P. In addition, growers who routinely plant very early in cold, wet soils potentially may benefit.
• Research also shows starter fertilizer will not always increase corn grain yields, and would be particularly inconsistent when conventional tillage is used on moderately or well-drained soils testing high for P and K.
• Higher corn prices and changes in farming practices may create new roles for starter fertilizers; more research is needed to determine its potential applications.