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