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Fertilizing Based On Yield Potential, Not Goals

Considering more data than just a soil test allows North Dakota no-tiller Mike Zimmerman to dial in fertility applications for current conditions.

A change in soil sampling and fertility application may be just the ticket for Garrison, N.D., no-tiller Mike Zimmerman to achieve his farm goals.

“We’re striving for sustainable agriculture,” he says. “We want to use less applied fertilizer and build the soil with cover crops and diverse rotations to produce quality foods for years to come.”

Switching from minimum-till to no-till in 2004 was a step in the right direction, along with the addition of cover crops in 2010. And for the last 4 years, Zimmerman has used a soil test that takes into consideration more than just what can be measured in the lab. This change brought him the highest barley yields ever recorded on his farm.

“I don’t necessarily use less fertilizer with this system, but I use the right amount of fertilizer for each field, and the year’s yield potential,” he says.

What’s Available?

In 2008, Zimmerman started using Western Ag Labs for his soil testing needs. The Canada-based company uses their patented Plant Root Simulator (PRS) technology and their PRS Nutrient Forecaster computer model to help farmers create a customized crop nutrition plan.

“We collect samples from the top 6 inches of soil, and then at the lab they use probes and charged membranes to attract nutrients from those samples the same way plants do,” Zimmerman says. “Based on the amount of nutrients attracted they can calculate how many pounds of different nutrients in the soil are truly available to plant roots.”

Then Zimmerman and his…

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Martha-mintz-new

Martha Mintz

Since 2011, Martha has authored the highly popular “What I’ve Learned About No-Till” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002.


Growing up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, Martha is a talented ag writer and photographer who lives with her family in Billings, Montana.

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