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With a proper combination of soil moisture, pH, microbial activity and total nutrient supplies, many no-tillers need less fertilizer.
A good example is Mike Starkey at Brownsburg, Ind., who has been making routine soil testing pay off in the family’s 3,300-acre cropping operation. He finds boosting corn yields by just 1 bushel per acre easily pays for the soil test.
By improving soil structure and making more effective use of available soil nutrients, Starkey has been able to dramatically reduce applied fertilizer rates.
Starkey Farms was a winner of a 2009 “Responsible Nutrient Management Practitioners” award from Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers and No-Till Farmer during last winter’s National No-Tillage Conference.
While nitrogen rates are close to 0.75 pounds per bushel of anticipated corn yield, Starkey expects to reduce the rate further with improved soil structure and higher soil organic matter levels. No nitrogen is applied in the fall.
“We’d like to get to where we apply all of our nitrogen with the no-till planter and eliminate sidedressing trips,” he says. “Last year, sidedressing took us until July 1 to complete.”
Other ways in which the family is looking to trim fertilizer costs include taking a closer look at nutrients other than nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. There’s increased emphasis on cover crops to provide low-cost nutrients and soil amendments and other minerals to improve crop efficiencies.
As an example, gypsum has proven to be an excellent way to improve both soil structure and nutrient use. When soil tests were done…