Starter Fertilizer Tools Keep Evolving For No-Tillers

Surface banding starter fertilizer 2 to 3 inches off the row can provide a yield boost similar to 2-by-2 placement — without the need for openers.

For years we’ve known starter fertilizers have been essential for no-tillers to ensure early-season growth in our no-till farming systems. Using starter is necessary as plant root systems are evolving in size.

With many smaller planters, dry fertilizers were generally applied in a 2-by-2-inch band. But as planters increased in size, and row spacings narrowed, producers moved to liquid starters to accommodate centralized loading and make it easier to distribute the fertilizer to each row.

New research shows that increasing starter rates a touch higher than popup rates, and going to surface bands 2 inches off the row, can increase yields significantly.

Helping Plants Out

On our farm, adding fertilizer openers would have increased trash-flow problems, so we moved to a popup system. The popup provided an initial early-season boost to emerging seedlings — but because fertilizer rates were limited to reduce potential injury to seedlings, our yield responses to starter were in the 7- to 8-bushel range.

In the past, it was generally thought starters needed to be put in the ground, as older studies done with dry fertilizers usually showed corn responded best to 2-by-2 placement.

But recently, researchers have been getting higher yields when applying liquid starters on the surface, 2 to 3 inches off the row. Being 2 inches off the row let them increase rates by about 50% more than popup rates, which significantly increased the response to starter fertilization.

More Data

In the early 2000s, Kansas State University agronomist Barney Gordon found starter rates…

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Leverich jim

Jim Leverich

No-Till Farmer's Conservation Ag Operator Fellow for 2022, Jim Leverich is a no-till farmer near Sparta, Wis. His 1,000 acre-farm has been in his family since 1864 and no-tilled since 1984. An innovator and educator, Leverich has 35-plus years of no-till and on-farm research experience, and possesses a deep, practical understanding of what makes no-till work. For his contributions while at the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, Leverich was named the No-Till Innovator of the Year (Research & Education category) in 2006. A talented presenter and writer, Leverich was a regular guest columnist for No-Till Farmer in 2011 when it earned the Gold Medal as the nation’s top newsletter from the American Society of Business Press Editors.

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