No-Till Notes: Tight Margins Require Closer Look at Fall Fertility Programs

Frequent soil sampling, nitrogen stabilizers, spring and split applications and cover crops are important tools to help no-tillers keep more nutrients for the crop.

AS WE MOVE INTO fall harvest, no-tillers need to be thinking about the soil, available nutrient reserves and planning their fall fertility program.

Beyond land costs, fertilizer is the biggest investment farmers have when producing a crop. And when commodity prices plummet — as they have the last 2 years — farmers become conservative and have the tendency to apply less fertilizer and remove more nutrients from the soil bank. And at the same time, no-tillers are continually pushing higher yields and removing more nutrients than ever before.

While growers want to save money by reducing fertilizer use, this decision puts yield at risk.

If a grower must reduce his fertilizer costs, they can withdraw from the nutrient bank. A better decision is to deploy strategies to improve nutrient efficiency, getting more bushels of grain from each pound of nutrient applied.

Don’t Forget Spring.

One of the best strategies, and easiest to deploy, is applying fertilizer in the spring. This is counter intuitive to common practice, which is to apply dry products in the fall when farmers have time and the soil is in better condition for trafficking.

Many no-tillers are on the right track already. No-Till Farmer surveyed readers this year in its 7th annual Operational Benchmark Study about their fertility plans. For corn, spring pre-plant or at-plant applications of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) were the most popular, followed by fall application. No-tillers are already making the switch to spring application.

For nitrogen (N), fall application was unpopular…

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Davidson_daniel

Daniel Davidson

Veteran farm advisor and agronomist Daniel Davidson no-tills near Stanton, Nebraska, and works as a private consultant.

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