Fall fertilizer decisions are right around the corner. A fall fertilizer application has a number of advantages so growers should consider such an option. However, there are three sure-fire mistakes every grower should avoid when make such a decision. This article will highlight the benefits of a fall fertilizer application. Additionally, it will explore each of these three mistakes so you can make the most profitable decision for your operation.
Benefits of Fall Fertilizer Application
Last season The-Farmer.com ran an article titled, “The Economics of Fall Fertilizer”. The advice in this piece remains very relevant today as we face a similar grain commodity price pressure.
The piece starts out touting by highlighting some of the advantages of fall fertilizer applications.
- Soil moisture is generally lower in the fall, so the risk of soil compaction is lower than with wet spring soils.
- If fall tillage is planned, phosphorus and potassium can be incorporated into the rooting zones of next year’s crops.
- It also ensures that nutrients get applied, something that could slow spring planting depending on whether conditions.
- Fall fertilizer can be an attractive option as fall prices are generally lower than spring prices.
- Lastly, dealer equipment and applicators are more available.
The first mistake to avoid is not getting a soil test. It is essential to get such a test as the basis for any fertilizer decision. Dan Quinn of DTN/PF ran a piece titled, “Mulling Fall Fertilizer Decisions”. He quotes University of Minnesota Extension soil fertility specialist Dan Kaiser:
“There is a lot of thinking with nutrient management. You want to get away from the guessing game from one year to the next and really see what is your best option.”
Without knowing where your soil is at, its a guessing game and nearly impossible to make the optimal management decision.
This soil test isn’t merely important about timing of fertilizer application. It is crucial to ensuring that within rotations, the right nutrient is applied at the correct rate. Getting the right nutrient and rate is more important than applying at the time.
Rick Gilbertson, a crop consultant with Pro Ag Crop Consultants, shared with The-Farmer.com
“The top concern I’ve seen farmers have when making fall fertilizer decisions is uncertainty about the commodity mix for each field in the coming year. Without a clear plan of desired crop in the field, it’s difficult for them to apply appropriate amounts of fertilizer ahead of time.”
Dan Kaiser says there are four nutrients that provide the greatest return on investment in Minnesota. Nitrogen is the most consistent need for non-legume crops, while the need for phosphorus, potassium and sulfur varies.
Therefore, not knowing your crop plan for the coming year is another mistake to avoid when making your decision. After all, if you haven’t decided what to grow, how do you know what and how much to feed it?
Greatest Economic Benefit
Soil test and crop plans provide enough information for you to determine how to get the most profit out of your fertilizer application. In other words, the last folly to avoid is optimizing your decision for something other than the greatest economic benefit. Kaiser offers this nugget of advice to growers:
“My advice is to target your fertilizer to the areas of greatest economic benefit, and reduce in areas where there is little economic benefit. Fertilizer is one of many input costs in crop production, and knowing which will make most economic sense increases the chance for a profitable cropping season.”
While simple and straightforward he is imploring the grower to be sure to get the biggest bang for your buck. He is not alone in this call.
Quinn looks to Jeff Vetsch, a UMN soil scientist who also highlights that the economics of applying fertilizer needs to be considered.
Over-applying nitrogen just to chase the last few bushels is not a good practice for the bottom line if the economics doesn’t justify it, he said. In addition, when more nitrogen is applied, then a higher percentage of the nutrient will be lost if uncooperative weather (too much moisture) is present.
Vetsch goes a step further to make a nitrogen recommendation.
“If nitrogen has to be applied in the fall, the best form would be anhydrous ammonia. And delaying this application as late as possible would be good as well.”
Nitrogen is the nutrient most consistently needed for non-legume crops. However, there may be a day when applying nitrogen for an upcoming corn crop is a thing of the past. Ag Nook explored this possiblity in a piece titled, “Self-Fertilizing Corn is Closer Than You Think“.
Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur
The other three nutrients to consider are phosphorus, potassium and sulfur. The U-M researchers calculated return on investment for P, K and sulfur applications in a two-year corn-soybean rotation (see table at the-farmer.com). Phosphorus and sulfur were the clear winners when it came to increasing profit at sites where soils had a low probability of supplying either nutrient. However, eliminating applications on fields when a soil test shows high levels of P and K could be an effective way to cut costs.
A fall fertilizing application offers growers some distinct advantages over a spring application. However, there are three mistakes growers should avoid on the path to making such a decision. Do not skip a soil test. Do not ignore your crop plan for next season. Lastly, optimize your spend on nothing else but to create the greatest returns.
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