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Read articles, brief reports and up-to-date news to keep you on top of valuable agronomic information that can help turn good yields to great.

Oct 03 2017

Subsurface Phosphorus Placement Could Help Improve Water Quality

Subsurface Phosphorus Placement Could Help Improve Water Quality

There continues to be a growing concern about the impact of production agriculture and phosphorus fertilization on water quality. Phosphorus enrichment of water bodies have been blamed for algal blooms in Lake Erie. Many states in the Midwest have discussed nutrient management strategies to reduce the amount of P lost to surface waters.

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“The dissolved form of phosphorus has the largest direct impact as a causal factor for harmful algal blooms,” said Dr. Tom Bruulsema, Vice President Americas and Research at the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI).

Two factors that have been identified to contribute to eutrophication – nutrient enrichment of a water body - are fertilizer source and placement. There are as many as 20 potential causes for the increased soluble P finding its way into Lake Erie (Smith et al., 2015).

Considering the 4 R’s: Placement and Source Research

Several decades of phosphorus fertilizer placement research have been conducted throughout North America. Researchers have found less dissolved phosphate in runoff water when fertilizer is applied below the soil surface as opposed to surface broadcast.

Dr. Douglas Smith, a soil scientist at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Temple, Texas, conducted phosphorus fertilizer placement research in the Western Lake Erie Basin region.

In 2015, Smith conducted an experiment to measure soluble P concentrations in water following various fertilizer application methods. Smith lined runoff boxes with landscape fabric and placed soil in them. He then simulated rainfall events. The amount of soluble P was collected and measured from each treatment.

Smith found P loss decreased when dry, granular monoammonium phosphate (MAP) were banded in the soil compared with surface application. The banded placement of MAP decreased soluble P loss by 98 percent.

When liquid ammonium polyphosphate (APP) was applied to the soil surface and banded subsurface, there were no differences in soluble P loss. However, the amount of P lost from APP application was significantly less than dry applications of MAP.

One way to combat these negative environmental effects is by placing P fertilizer below the soil surface. Placing liquid or dry fertilizers just a centimeter below the soil surface can dramatically decrease their loss potential (Smith et al., 2016). This translates into improved water quality and higher plant P availability.

Management Practices

The findings from these studies are leading to one conclusion: “Farmers and fertilizer applicators should use phosphorus placement as a way to reduce dissolved phosphorus in the water supply,” said Bruulsema.

In the spring of 2017, Bruulsema compiled an Issue Review on the 4R Phosphorus Management Practices. The publication discussed what placement farmers should use to decrease the chances of negative environmental impacts while supporting high crop yields. All of the cropping systems in the article recommend banding or incorporating phosphorus fertilizer in the soil as a way to improve water quality.

“In addition to improving water quality, subsurface phosphorus placement can produce higher yields in some soils,” Bruulsema said. “For soils testing above the optimum test level, phosphorus applied in a band near the seed can assure the fertilizer does not limit yields.”

With the research to back them up, Bruulsema said farmers can be confident that subsurface phosphorus placement can be used with the right source to improve water quality and potentially boost yields with greater plant P availability.

Smith, D. R., R. D. Harmel, M. Williams, R. Haney, and K. W. King. 2016. Managing acute phosphorus loss with fertilizer source and placement: Proof of concept. Agric. Environ. Lett. 1:150015

Sep 19 2017

Florida Forage Production Holds Important Lessons for Farmers Nationwide

Florida Forage Production Holds Important Lessons for Farmers Nationwide

Cattle ranchers in southern Florida are blessed with a combination of tropical temperatures and abundant rainfall, ideal for forage production. That may seem like an enviable set of circumstances, especially for farmers in northern and western U.S. regions who are challenged to produce adequate grazing forage. However, both regions experience limited potassium (K).

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Many Florida producers farm sandy soils that do not retain key nutrients, especially K, leading to loss of K through leaching. Management practices utilized by Florida farmers to overcome these soil conditions could potentially benefit farmers in other regions, especially in areas facing decreasing levels of vital nutrients.

Potassium depletion, due to leaching and crop removal, is well documented. The latest eKonomics nutrient balance analysis reveals a large percentage of soils across North America with K levels far below critical level. In Florida, for example, 75 percent of soils sampled are below critical levels of K, respectively.

“If you’re not prioritizing fertilizer, it’s not a question of if your yields will be impacted by decreasing nutrient levels, but when. This applies to everyone,” says Dr. Joao Vendramini, Associate Professor, Agronomy Forage Specialist at the University of Florida.

Risks of Not Following a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Strategy

Vendramini is based at the University’s Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona, Fla., where he researches forage-based animal production systems. Ranchers in southern Florida typically grow four grass types — bahiagrass, bermudagrass, stargrass and limpograss — which respond well to nitrogen.

Therefore, southern Florida producers have traditionally applied low inputs of other nutrients. These other nutrients can include K - helps plants develop strong root systems to better resist drought, disease and insects, and phosphorus (P) - energy storage and transfer in plant production to increase yields.

“For the grasses we have here, producers started buying nitrogen only, and they pretty much disregarded the other nutrients. They still produced forage because N is the nutrient to which the grasses here are most responsive,” Vendramini says. “But over time, we had a lot of grasses start dying because our soils are too sandy. They don’t hold any potassium.”

Vendramini has studied how forage crops extract nutrients from the soil to determine the interaction between nitrogen and K. His studies found that root mass was increased with K applications when no nitrogen was applied. However, there was no effect of K fertilization when N was applied.

Based on these results, they concluded that K fertilization may be essential in grazing systems, specifically when nitrogen is limited.

Even when producers have fertile soil with high reserves of nutrients, a point at which one nutrient is limited, will eventually be reached. Since grasses removed varying amounts of each nutrient, a balanced fertilizer management plan is essential for achieving high yields.

“If you don’t keep track of the balance of those nutrients and the composition of your grass, over time you lose control. You’ll hurt animal production, and the final problem will be when the grass dies,” Vendramini says. These results can apply to any area where K is limiting.

How to Balance Nutrient Levels

In Florida, applying K to sandy soil has helped forage crops become more resilient by building better roots and rhizomes, Vendramini says. By understanding that forage crops remove relatively more nutrients than grain crops, farmers can make better decisions for replenishing those nutrients.

Table 1 shows average nutrient removal for common forages grown in North America. For example, bermudagrass removes roughly 46 pounds of nitrogen, 12 pounds of P, and 50 pounds of K per ton.

However, in general, there is no universal solution. That’s why Vendramini encourages ranchers everywhere to regularly soil sample for these nutrients. Vendramini also recommends that farmers contact their local county extension agents for regional information.

“Don’t apply too much nitrogen and don’t have too much potassium. You want to balance the nutrients to a point that you never get the extremes that limit forage yield and cattle revenue potentials,” Vendramini says. This is especially true if you want your management practices to be profitable.

For additional information on forages, check out the following stories:

Sep 10 2017

Take Advantage of Phosphorus and Nitrogen Interactions to Boost Corn Yields

Removal of Potassium in Hay Harvest A Huge Factor in Nutrient Budgets

When calculating nutrient balances so much of the attention is given to primary commodities like corn, soybean, and wheat, but forage crops are significant users of both potassium and phosphorus. Forage crops, unlike grain and oilseed crops, can remove as much potassium as nitrogen, so forage producers should consider of what their crops are removing from the soil when it comes to making fertilizer decisions.

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“Inadequate fertilization and/or nutrient imbalance prevent many producers from achieving desired forage yields and quality, and they can also adversely affect animal health and decrease weight gain and milk production.” (Dr. Cliff Snyder, 2003)

Harvesting 6 ton per acre dry matter of alfalfa removes approximately 360 pounds K2O per acre.

Since “over half of the land area in the US is used for grasslands/forage productions, to provide feed for livestock and to convert fiber to milk and meat for human consumption”, forages are known as “the backbone of sustainable agriculture.”

Sep 04 2017

Achieve Maximum Yields By Applying The Right Amount of K

Achieve Maximum Yields By Applying The Right Amount of K

Dr. Mark Reiter of Virginia Tech speaks to the importance of applying the right amount of potash for best possible crop yield. Supplying adequate K to a soybean/wheat rotation means maximum yields for both. But how do you know what the required rate of application should be? And how does crop removal affect your fertilizer decisions?

Read the article here

Aug 1 2017

Take Advantage of Phosphorus and Nitrogen Interactions to Boost Corn Yields

Take Advantage of Phosphorus and Nitrogen Interactions to Boost Corn Yields

For corn farmers, it’s well known that phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) fertilizers are crucial for increasing yields. Farmers typically focus resources on nitrogen applications to their fields, but research findings show that applying both phosphorus and nitrogen together is far more effective – potentially increasing yields up to 225 percent.

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Dr. Alan Schlegel, Agronomist-in-charge at the Southwest Research-Extension Center at Kansas State University, is one of the lead researchers of a 50-year study being conducted at the Southwest Research-Extension Center near Tribune. Per Schlegel, the interaction between phosphorus and nitrogen provides the highest yield benefit rather than applying one or the other.

“This interaction can help improve farmers’ profitability by increasing corn yields, improving nutrient efficiency and getting the maximum return on their crop investment,” he said.

Evaluating Appropriate Rates

The study at Kansas State University that yielded these results began in 1961 with the goal of determining optimal nitrogen rate and evaluating the interaction between nitrogen and phosphorus in irrigated corn.

The experiment was conducted on a Ulysses silt loam soil with inherently high soil test potassium – 30 years of no response to potassium fertilization. Researchers hand-applied all fertilizer in the spring prior to planting. The study compared nitrogen rates at 0, 40, 80, 120, 160 and 200 pounds per acre. At each nitrogen rate, phosphorus rates included 0 and 40 pounds of phosphorus per acre. To maintain consistency of results, researchers kept the nitrogen rates the same throughout the length of the study. They determined the optimal nitrogen rate was between 170 and 180 pounds per acre.

Researchers saw a change, however, in the yield response to phosphorus fertilizer over the course of the study. In 1991, they noticed a decrease in the phosphorus soil test levels in the 40 pounds per acre phosphorus plots, thus indicating P application rates were less than P removal rates.

For example, at 110 bushel per acre corn yield, a total of 42 pounds of phosphorus per acre would be removed – based on the removal rates in our Nutrient Removal Calculator. With corn yield greater than 110 bushel per acre, higher rates of phosphorus would be removed, therefore decreasing soil test phosphorus.

In response to this, starting in 1992, researchers added an 80 pounds per acre phosphorus rate each year to every nitrogen rate. Researchers documented a yield increase of 4 percent and a buildup of soil test phosphorus levels after the higher rate was applied.

The plots with only phosphorus applied showed a 20 percent yield bump over the untreated control plot. The plots with only nitrogen boosted yields by 103 percent over the control plots. However, the plots with both phosphorus and nitrogen applied together increased yields 225 percent.

“We expected a yield boost from the interaction of both nutrients,” Schlegel said. ”However, the size of the interaction was a little surprising.“

The mean irrigated corn yield from 1992 to 2010 shows how applying both phosphorus and nitrogen can improve yields.

Improving Nutrient Use Efficiency

The interaction of phosphorus and nitrogen also improved the nitrogen nutrient use efficiency in corn. Schlegel reported a 25 percent greater apparent nitrogen fertilizer recovery rate at the 40 and 80 pounds per acre phosphorus rates compared to the 0 pounds per acre phosphorus rate.

To determine the nutrient use efficiency, researchers calculated an apparent nitrogen fertilizer recovery rate for corn plants. Schlegel explained the higher the apparent N recovery rate, the more efficiently the plant is using nutrients. For example, percent nitrogen fertilizer recovery can be calculated as follows:

Percent Fertilizer Recovery

= ((Total N taken up in fertilized plots) - (Total N taken up in control plots)) / (Rate of fertilizer applied)

Improved nutrient use efficiency shows the importance of phosphorus fertilizer to help farmers maximize their return on their crop nutrition investment and, thus, their profitability.

Farmers can use this research and other tools, such as the eKonomics Nutrient ROI Calculator 2.0, to estimate the most economical phosphorus rates to boost corn yields and increase the plant's efficient use of nutrients.

Jul 31 2017

Future Crops to Remove More Phosphorus and Potassium

Future Crops to Remove More Phosphorus and Potassium

Since 2010, median soil test levels for potassium (K) have declined an average of 18 ppm in 26 states. For phosphorus (P), the median soil test levels in 22 states declined an average of 9 ppm.1 Soil test levels have decreased due to crop yields continually increasing over the same period – meaning an increased amount of nutrients have been removed from the soil each year.

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“With declining nutrient balances, there is a concern going into the future about soil fertility levels,” said Dr. Paul Fixen, Retired Senior Vice President at the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI). “The long-term trend is we are pulling more nutrients from the soil. If you are removing more nutrients from the system, at some point, you have to restore what you remove to maintain soil fertility levels.”

Exactly how much more P and K is expected to be removed in coming years?

By 2026, 5 more pounds of K would be removed per acre from an average Midwestern corn field – an 11% increase from what is predicted to be removed in 2017.2 Also, for P, roughly 13 more pounds will be removed per acre, which equates to a 20 percent increase over those nine years. Higher removal without adequate replacement means soil test levels will continue to decline across key growing states, ultimately impacting growers’ yields and profits.

With record yield and record harvest production over the past three years, future crops will remove more nutrients and decrease soil-fertility levels, which could negatively affect yields and lower profits.

See how the P and K removal of several important crops in the coming years compares below.

Breaking Down the Data

To determine nutrient use efficiency, farmers and researchers can calculate the “apparent nutrient recovery” in plants. For example, Dr. Alan Schlegel, Soil Scientist at Kansas State University, calculates the apparent nitrogen (N) recovery rate as:

corn
soybean
wheat
cotton

Even though Schlegel uses this equation for N, it can also be used for P and K. Schlegel explains that the higher the apparent N recovery rate, the more efficient the plant is at using the nutrient. Improved nutrient use efficiency will allow farmers to maximizes on fertilizer inputs, therefore increasing their profitability.

Farmers can use this research and other tools, such as the eKonomics Nutrient ROI Calculator 2.0, to estimate the most economical phosphorus rates to boost corn yields and increase the plant’s efficient use of nutrients.

1 IPNI Soil Test Levels in North America 2015 Update

2 USDA Agricultural Projections to 2026

Jul 07 2017

Chloride Fertilizers Increase Spring Wheat Yields in the Northern Great Plains

Chloride Fertilizers Increase Spring Wheat Yields in the Northern Great Plains

Not only is potash a great source of potassium, it can also be utilized as a source of chloride. Some states in the Great Plains and Midwest need additions of chloride for crop production. Universities in the Great Plains are working on fertilizer recommendations and critical values for chloride in spring and winter wheat.

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Research has shown that chloride additions can positively affect wheat yield by as much as 4 bushels per acre and suppress diseases such as take-all root rot, common root rot, tan spot, powdery mildew and leaf rust.

This recently published article by Graham et al., 2017 in the peer-reviewed Agronomy Journal quantified spring wheat yield response to chloride fertilizer in the Northern Great Plains. Based near Aurora, South Dakota, the research site consisted of chloride studies from 1997-2000 and then again in 2002. Both Muriate of Potash (MOP, KCl) and calcium chloride (CaCl2) were used as chloride sources. Researchers found:

  • There were no significant differences between potassium sources.
  • “Across all site-years of the study, results show a statistically significant grain yield increase of 0.17 t/ha-1” (2.29 bushels per acre).
  • “Where pre-plant soil test Cl- levels were lower than 1.87 mg/kg-1, fertilizer Cl- applications increased grain yield by 0.26 t/ha-1 with an average return of $18.42 ha-1.”
  • That is equivalent to 1.87 ppm soil test chloride, 3.5 bushels per acre increase and $7.45 per acre.
  • “The potential of profitability of Cl- fertilizer application is highly dependent on the choice of cultivar.”

This paper includes an excellent review of previous research in its introduction, discussing how chloride may protect the plant roots from pathogens such as those that cause common root rot in barley. Mechanisms have been suggested that chloride presence may cause plants to take up ammoniacal forms of nitrogen as opposed to nitrate, which would aid in making the plant less susceptible to pathogens. Other researchers have found a reduction of tan spot, powdery mildew, and leaf rust with the applications of chloride.

  • Conversion factors:
  • 2,000 pounds in 1 ton
  • 1 hectare is 2.47 acres
  • 1 bushel wheat is 60 pounds

Jul 04 2017

Site-specific management for potassium fertilizer

Site-specific management for potassium fertilizer

In this webinar, Dr. Steve Phillips, IPNI Director of North America, addresses some management practices utilizing precision agriculture. He begins by giving a brief introduction on potassium in the soil. Based on soil samples submitted for testing in the US, most soils used in agriculture test below critical levels for potassium. Therefore, yields could be limited due to inadequate potassium levels.

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Here are the keys to taking the best soil sample:

For example, in Kentucky in 2015, 73 percent of soil samples tested below the critical level. Based on our nutrient balance data, the potassium balance trends are down 815 percent from 1975. Therefore, additions of potassium fertilizer are needed or yields may be limited.

Dr. Phillips addresses issues with soil testing, questioning the number of samples taken, what size grid to use and how levels can change from year-to-year. However, producers should look at general trends for soil test potassium over time as opposed to year-to-year analyses. Dr. Antonio Mallarino from Iowa State University has shown that general trends are better at addressing issues with temporal variability and annual soil test potassium. Using general trends is a better predictor of how soil test potassium levels are changing over time. Dr. Joshua McGrath from the University of Kentucky is also conducting research to describe the spatial variation in critical levels within a field.

By utilizing the 4R’s, producers can determine the best potassium management practices for their operation. All components of the 4R’s are site specific and should be addressed as so when utilizing techniques such as precision agriculture.

Jun 30 2017

Proper Phosphorus Levels Lower SDS Risk

Proper Phosphorus Levels Lower SDS Risk

For farmers preparing to plant more soybeans in 2017, a plan against the various soybean-specific diseases that could diminish yields and reduce profits is important, especially regarding Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS).

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Dr. Eric Adee, Assistant Professor and the Agronomist-In-Charge at the Kansas River Valley Experiment Field near Topeka, is aiding soybean farmers by focusing research efforts to minimize the incidence of diseases such as SDS.

“Our latest data illustrated a connection between increased soil phosphorus test levels and the reduction of SDS severity,” said Dr. Adee. “The link between phosphorus and SDS, which has not been documented before, could help farmers minimize future yield losses.” Adequate phosphorus levels would be needed especially in areas already prone to SDS, such as the Kansas River Valley.

Linking Phosphorus and SDS

In the last two years of soybean production, Dr. Adee found that soils testing with higher phosphorus levels have reduced the incidence of SDS by more than 50 percent. This connection between phosphorus and SDS emerged as an accidental finding from a long-term study launched in 1972. In the study, a crop rotation of corn in the odd years and soybeans in even years is used. Treatments in this long-term study test include multiple rates of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Fertilizers were applied before corn was planted, as a two-year application, and soil samples were taken before soybean planting in even years.

In this study, Dr. Adee’s soybean plots first developed SDS symptoms in 2014 because rainfall during June was more than three inches above the 30-year average. The plot with no phosphorus applied had 58 percent of its leaves showing SDS symptoms. In contrast, the plot with 60 pounds of phosphorus per acre applied had just 23 percent of its foliage showing SDS symptoms. After 42 years of corn and soybean production, phosphorus levels in soils have decreased in plots receiving 0 pounds of phosphorus, leading to phosphorus stress in soybean plants.

Dr. Adee had similar results in 2016. Overall, there were less SDS symptoms observed due to below-average precipitation in June. The plots with no phosphorus applied had 20 percent of its foliage showing SDS symptoms. In the plot with 60 pounds per acre only 8 percent of the foliage presented SDS symptoms.

In 2014 and 2016, the percent of soybean foliage expressing SDS symptoms decreased as the phosphorus rate applied increased.

Yield Results

Phosphorus application lowered the incidence of SDS, contributing to higher soybean yields. In 2014, the plots that historically receive 60 pounds of phosphorus per acre yielded 52.9 bushels per acre. The plot with no phosphorus applied yielded 34 bushels per acre.

Similar results were observed in 2016. The plots that receive 60 pounds of phosphorus per acre produced the highest yield at 69.5 bushels per acre yield, and the plots without any phosphorus fertilizer applied yielded 46.4 bushels per acre. Without the excessive rainfall as in 2014, yields were not as affected by SDS.

Dr. Adee was surprised by the soybean yield difference between the highest and lowest phosphorus rates in the study, especially in the past few years. This was the largest yield difference he reported for phosphorus in the long-term fertility study and could be attributed to differences in soil test phosphorus. For example, plots receiving the highest rate of 60 pounds phosphorus per acre and plots receiving no phosphorus for the past 30 years had soil test levels of 46 and 6.5 ppm, respectively. After years of mining the soil of phosphorus with high removal rates in corn and soybean grain, the lack of phosphorus application is leading to stressed soybean plants and therefore, making them susceptible to SDS. Based on Dr. Adee’s research, phosphorus levels play a significant role in yield reduction due to SDS.

Higher phosphorus rates resulted in higher yields in soybeans when SDS was present.

Even though the environments of both years were different, Dr. Adee saw a strong correlation between soil phosphorus levels, the incidence of SDS, and yields.

“The consistency of the results from these two years further confirms the role phosphorus is having on the severity of SDS in this long-term fertility study,” he said. “These results enforce the importance of monitoring soil phosphorus levels in fields and increasing the soil phosphorus levels in fields with a history of SDS.”

Farmers can apply liquid or dry phosphate fertilizers on soils testing low for phosphorus to raise the soil phosphorus levels and reduce the chance of developing diseases such as SDS.

While the importance of proper soil fertility to boost yields has been known for years, research into the positive effects of nutrient management on crops resistance to disease is becoming more prevalent in the industry. To help determine the return on investment benefits of proper soil fertility levels, farmers can use tools such as the eKonomics ROI Calculator 2.0.

Could phosphorous applications on your soybean crop influence SDS and your yields?

Of soils tested in Kansas in 2015, 47% tested below critical levels for phosphorus. Consult with your retail agronomist and try it out on your farm via either a broadcast or liquid phosphorous application on your beans. We’d love to know your findings! Feel free to share them with us via Twitter throughout the 2017 growing season.

Jun 28 2017

How to Take the Best Soil Sample

How to Take the Best Soil Sample

The importance of soil sampling is critical to a farm’s success. Though the process seems simple, doing it wrong can greatly impact the accuracy of results.

Here are the keys to taking the best soil sample:

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Jun 20 2017

Improving Water and Energy Efficiency with K Applications

Supplemental K Applications Can Increase Cotton Yields and Quality

Low soil potassium levels, combined with the plant uptake of potassium by the cotton plant during growth, leads to nutrient deficiencies that ultimately reduce yields and fiber quality in cotton production.

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Dr. Glen Harris, one of the nation’s top soil fertility experts and the Extension Agronomist for Environmental Soil and Fertilizer at the University of Georgia, advises how cotton producers can prevent potassium deficiency issues through proper fertilization.

“Potassium is our number one nutrient problem in cotton in Georgia and the Southeast,” said Harris.

The eKonomics nutrient balance analysis shows that an alarming 85 percent of the soils submitted in 2015 for analysis in Georgia are below the critical level for soil test potassium. Several other states in the southeast United States also have a high percentage of their soils under the critical level for potassium, which can have negative implications on cotton yields and fiber quality.

On average, cotton requires 40 pounds of K2O to produce one bale (480 pounds of lint), which removes 14 pounds K2O at harvest.

Why Timing of Potassium Application Matters for Cotton Growers

A shift in cotton varieties has also changed potassium nutrient management in cotton production. In the past, a single cotton variety was planted on 80 percent of the cotton acres in Georgia. However, Harris explained seed companies have released new, higher-yielding varieties. The new varieties are short season, which have a shorter period of flowering than “full season,” and earlier flowering varieties, which start to flower at the presence of the fifth node as oppose to the eighth or ninth.

Because of this, new varieties use potassium before producers would typically make a side-dress application. Harris recommends that producers apply potassium earlier to ensure adequate potassium during the flowering stage, as potassium increases drastically during early boll set. Seventy percent of potassium uptake in cotton occurs around first bloom.

Figure 1. Nutrient uptake rates reach maximum during mid-bloom and decline rapidly as the boll matures (Mullins and Burmester, 1990).

To maintain quality and yields, Harris recommends that cotton producers consider applying supplemental potassium applications around first bloom in addition to their full pre-plant rate.

In the late 1990s, Harris linked potassium deficiency with an increase in some cotton leafspot diseases. Once deficiency sets in and leafspot appears, a fungicide application will not alleviate the condition. Ensuring adequate potassium levels is one way to prevent these harmful leafspot diseases.

Potassium Applications: Split Versus Supplemental Application Rates

Over the years, there has been debate if producers should apply all potassium fertilizer pre-plant or split their potassium fertilizer applications – splitting the full rate in half between pre-plant and the growing season. Splitting the full rate would be similar to how many cotton producers manage their nitrogen application.

Harris has researched these techniques for many years and believes that with the introduction of short season, early flowering varieties, potassium uptake would peak before the in season split application is made.

“I was initially leaning toward split application being a better approach,” he said. “However, I found that applying a full rate of potassium fertilizer pre-plant and supplemental applications, if needed, produced the highest yields.”

Part of the reason for the difference is that potassium is not as mobile in the soil as nitrogen. Based on Harris’s research, producers should consider a supplemental potassium application if they have any of the following field conditions:

  • Deep sanded soils (clay soils not found until at least 18 inches deep in the soil profile)
  • Low testing potassium soils
  • High-yielding conditions
  • Areas where potassium deficiency and leafspot have been observed in the past
  • Planting of short season cotton varieties

Harris recommends producers apply a full rate of potassium at pre-plant and be prepared to make two supplemental applications in season. Tissue testing of the cotton petiole can be used as a great tool for determining if additional potassium is required. When potassium is needed, cotton producers should consider applying 5 to 10 pounds of K2O per acre in two supplemental applications during the bloom growth stage. The applications should be made two weeks apart and be finished by the eighth week of bloom. As seen in Figure 2, greater potassium concentrations in the petiole during the early bloom stages decrease as the plant progresses into maturity.

Figure 2. Sufficiency-deficiency range for soluble K in cotton petioles (University of Arkansas).

Cotton producers can use tools such the eKonomics nutrient ROI calculator 2.0 and eKonomics nutrient removal calculator to estimate the amount of potassium to maximize the investment in their crop.

Harris continues to research how the latest production practices affect his cotton soil fertility recommendations. While more research is being conducted, producers should continue to soil test, apply a full rate at pre-plant and prepare for supplemental foliar potassium applications to maximize their yields and return on investment.

Jun 14 2017

Improving Water and Energy Efficiency with K Applications

Summer 2017 Field Reports

Distributed twice each year, the PotashCorp Field Reports provides farmers and ag retailers with relevant news and trends that affect their business.

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Here’s what you can expect from this issue:

  • Get to know members of the PotashCorp Agronomy Team and hear their passion for helping farmers and agricultural retailers.
  • After three years of record soybean production, more emphasis is being placed on K requirements. Dr. Cristie Edwards explains how K nutrition can be used to maximize soybean yields.
  • The fertilizer industry is undoubtedly a demand-driven market. Kelly Freeman explains what this means for the global market in coming years.

Click here to view the latest issue of Field Reports.

Jun 1 2017

Improving Water and Energy Efficiency with K Applications

Highlights from the Frontiers of Potassium Science Conference

This spring, the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) hosted a free webinar on potassium and its role in soil fertility. The webinar, “Highlights from the Frontiers of Potassium Science Conference” was given by Dr. Scott Murrell, Director of the Potassium Program for IPNI and echoes the emphasis of one of our recent articles, Potassium: The Overlooked Nutrient in Crop Production.

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Some of the key topics discussed at the January 2017 conference and addressed again in this presentation include potassium soil fertility assessments, fertilizer recommendations and educational efforts. Watch a recording of the webinar here. The IPNI website also has developed several resources from the conference that are available on their website.

May 31 2017

Improving Water and Energy Efficiency with K Applications

How Potassium Placement and Root Growth Affect Uptake

While conducting a tillage trial, researchers in Iowa examined the factors beyond rate that affect how nutrients move from the soil into plants. They took soil samples and applied nutrients based on recommended rates. In some of the plots, however, the corn plants still showed signs of potassium deficiency such as yellow leaves near the bottom of the plant and stunted growth.

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According to John Kovar, soil scientist at the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, this phenomenon could be a result of issues with nutrient uptake. In particular, it shows how potassium placement and how plant roots grow can affect nutrient uptake. If a plant is unable to properly absorb nutrients, despite adequate fertilizer application, growers will ultimately miss out on yields.

Potassium Placement

In Kovar’s study, researchers took soil samples six inches deep. These results showed adequate amounts of potassium overall.

Kovar then pulled more detailed soil samples from the research site that included no-till plots. He found potassium levels tested high in the top two inches of the soil profile but decreased as the soil profile got deeper; the lack of tillage did not mix the nutrients deeper in the soil profile.

To correct the subsurface potassium levels, Kovar applied higher potassium rates. After seven years, he started to see an increase in subsurface potassium levels.

“When soil tests show levels at the critical level, you have to add back potassium to build up the subsurface levels,” he noted.

Kovar is currently researching other methods to increase subsurface potassium levels, including subsurface potassium application and the use of liquid potassium. While more research is done, he advised farmers in a long-term no-till or reduced till system to monitor potassium at both the surface and subsurface levels to prevent deficiency issues.

The Root of the Matter

Plant roots play another key role in taking up potassium from the soil.

“When making potassium recommendation rates, we need to take into account that plant roots grow differently depending on the plant type,” said Kovar.

Some root growth factors that affect how plants take up nutrients include:

  • The amount of root hairs on the root system. Kovar said plants like corn, wheat and soybeans have numerous root hairs that assist them taking up nutrients like potassium. Other crops with fewer root hairs (such as onions and sugar beets) restrict the amount of nutrients the plant can absorb.
  • Uneven root growth in the soil profile. The roots do not grow uniformly in the soil. More roots may grow on one side of the plant or closer to the soil surface, but this might not be where the potassium is in the soil.
  • Soil compaction limiting root growth. In compacted soils, roots have more trouble growing due to increased bulk density and reduced pore size in the soil profile. Avoiding driving in the field when it is wet and reducing the overall weight of farm equipment are common ways farmers can prevent subsoil compaction.
  • Roots growing past potassium placement. Kovar explained roots could grow beyond the top six inches that are commonly sampled. Some of the corn hybrids marketed as drought tolerant might develop deeper roots. This can lead to plants mining subsurface nutrients such as potassium. “The best bet is not to mine the soil to begin with,” said Kovar.

While researchers like Kovar continue to work to improve potassium rates, farmers should continue to use tools such as soil sampling, nutrient removal rates and tissue sampling.

“I think farmers should keep testing the soil. If you don’t test the soil, you are just guessing,” he advised.

Kovar added farmers should calculate and replace nutrients that are removed from the field in the grain during harvest. Conducting plant tissue tests every few years will also allow them to monitor what nutrients the crops are taking up and be able to reapply accordingly before planting the next season’s crop.

May 22 2017

Improving Water and Energy Efficiency with K Applications

Improving Water and Energy Efficiency with K Applications

In recent years, concerns with extreme weather conditions and the amount of water used to successfully grow crops are on the rise. Securing a reliable water supply is one of the most important factors growers must consider to support high-yield agriculture. Given the limited supply of water and energy, farmers must look to improve crop efficiency and resources. Crop production can be increased through a number of practices, including nutrient management.

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Proper management and adequate potassium levels can play a critical role in utilizing the water and energy needed to grow crops. Dr. Jeff Volenec, Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University, studies the physiological basis for differences in growth, yield, and stress tolerance of crops. In his research, Volenec found that under ideal conditions, alfalfa takes about 1,500 pounds of water to produce one pound of dry matter, and corn takes 500 pounds of water to produce one pound of dry matter. In areas with poor potassium nutrition, it takes more water to produce the same amount of dry matter.

“If water is limited, crop growth will be limited,” he said. “Sufficient potassium nutrition helps farmers maximize water usage, which helps them reach optimal yields.”

The Relationship Between Potassium and Water

Plants depend upon potassium to regulate the opening and closing of stomates — the pores through which leaves exchange carbon dioxide, water and oxygen with the atmosphere. Proper functioning of the stomates is essential for photosynthesis, water and nutrient transport, and plant cooling.

When potassium moves into the guard cells around the stomates, the cells accumulate water and swell, causing the pores to open and allowing gases to move in and out freely. When water supply is short, potassium is pumped out of the guard cells. The pores close tightly to prevent water loss and minimize drought stress to the plant.

If potassium supply is inadequate, the stomates become slow to respond and water vapor is lost. Closure may take hours rather than minutes, or never fully complete. As a result, plants with an insufficient supply of potassium are much more susceptible to water stress.

“A lot of water is expelled relative to the amount of carbon dioxide going in,” said Volenec. “Potassium is important to moderating water loss, especially when plants are under mild or moderate water stress conditions.”

Cooling the Planet

In addition to letting in carbon dioxide, potassium allows water vapor to leave the leaf, which helps cool plant tissue.

If the stomates close tightly, the temperature inside the plant increases. Internal plant temperatures can increase 5 to 10 degrees above the ambient temperature, which can cause metabolic issues in the plant and reduce growth.

In extreme heat or drought conditions, plants curl their leaves to reduce the surface area exposed to the sun. As a result, the plant takes in less energy and light, reducing its growth and energy efficiency.

Reducing Yields

Potassium is also an important building block for starch and protein formation in the plant; it helps the plant convert energy and water into grain. Potassium is essential to the enzymes that help build starch and also provides the energy to produce proteins within the plant. In plants, potassium activates as many as 60 enzymatic and plant hormonal reactions, regulating many physiological and biochemical processes.

“When potassium is limiting, the plant might have problems producing vegetative tissues and seed. This can reduce yield,” said Volenec.

For example, plants growing in soil testing very low in potassium will likely produce 250 viable seeds with full starch content, as opposed to growing more seeds that are nonviable, containing only half the starch content. Since inadequate potassium levels decrease the plant’s ability to produce energy efficiently, the number of seeds produced is lowered to ensure adequate starch content in those produced. Therefore, less yield is achieved. In forages, such as alfalfa, inadequate potassium levels could result in reduced regrowth after the first cutting and therefore, limited yield.

Improving Efficiency and Yields

Overall, Volenec emphasized the role that potassium plays in helping a plant grow. He advised farmers to follow recommended rates for their crop to maximize the plant’s water and energy use efficiencies.

Tools such as the eKonomics ROI Calculator and the Nutrient Removal Calculator can help farmers to estimate their potassium needs to maximize water and energy efficiency and yields. Farmers with fields testing under the critical levels should consider building up their soil fertility levels. During the growing season, farmers can also visit eKonomics for tips on monitoring nutrient deficiency symptoms that may arise.

May 18 2017

Drought and Potassium Deficiency in Corn and Soybean

Drought and Potassium Deficiency in Corn and Soybean

Since potassium is mobile in plants, yellowing along leaf margins starts in the lower leaves and progress toward the top. In plants, potassium activates as many as 60 enzymatic and plant hormonal reactions, regulating many physiological and biochemical processes. Potassium also regulates the opening and closing of leaf stomates responsible for water and gas exchange. Therefore, adequate potassium levels are needed to keep plants from being susceptible to drought.

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As it approaches time to plant corn and soybean or as corn is coming up, producers need to be able to properly identify potassium deficiency in corn and soybean. This extension bulletin from Michigan State University Extension gives a detailed description of physical deficiency symptoms, as well as, physiological stresses. This publication came out in July 2016, when most areas were experiencing drought. However, producers should still be aware of potassium deficiency symptoms.

May 11 2017

Tissue Testing and Nutrient Management of Forage Crops

Tissue Testing and Nutrient Management of Forage Crops

The most important time to be mindful of nitrogen and potassium application rates is typically early in the spring as crops break dormancy and resume growth.

Given eKonomics’ recent release on The Importance of In-Season Tissue Testing and the focus on nutrient management of forage crops, the work of Dr. Emily Glunk, Extension Forage Specialist at Montana State University, is especially relevant. Dr. Glunk explains how a non-traditional approach to nutrient management of forage crops can unlock more dollars on your forage ground in 2017.

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It’s important to always be aware that hay crops remove substantial amounts of potassium and phosphorous. Given an annual six ton per acre harvest of alfalfa, the phosphorous removed would be equivalent to the P2O5 content found in thirty-seven pounds per acre of MAP. On the potassium side, the removal would be equivalent to the 294 pounds of K2O found in 490 pounds per acre of potash.

Find out how much you should be replacing by running a quick calculation tailored to your specific forage operation on eKonomics’ own Nutrient Removal Calculator.

To help generate more value on your forage ground this year, eKonomics invites you to check out all we have to offer on forage:

May 9 2017

4R Phosphorus Management Practices for Major Commodity Crops in North America

4R Phosphorus Management Practices for Major Commodity Crops in North America

In this Issue Review, potential issues needing addressed and P management practices for five cropping systems in North America are described. To decrease the chances of environmental impact while supporting high crop yields, producers should question: what source they use, what application rate to apply, what timing coordinates with crop uptake, and what placement they should utilize.

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The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) is well known for their promotion of the 4R’s: right source, right rate, right time, and right place. In this Issue Review, Dr. Bruulsema discusses the potential environmental concerns associated with higher phosphorus (P) application rates due to expectations of higher yields. A science workshop sponsored by IPNI and The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), in collaboration with Field to Market®Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, was held in June, 2016 in Washington, D. C. The main goal of the workshop was to describe 4R practices specific to each of the major commodity cropping systems of North America. There were 19 specialists that contributed to the conference from all over the U.S. and Canada.

May 7 2017

Starter Fertilizers for Spring 2017 Planting

Starter Fertilizers for Spring 2017 Planting

eKonomics is taking the opportunity to bring you some timely in-season information on starter fertilizers, beginning with this recent update coming out of Nebraska. University of Nebraska Extension soil scientist Charles Shapiro talks about using starter on corn and soybeans at planting to provide optimal conditions for early season growth.

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We recommend you review this information, then take the results of your soil tests and the cool weather across the Plains and Midwest into consideration as you discuss the details on starters with your retail agronomist. This spring, the circumstances may be right for you to maximize your investment with a starter application. In addition, check out these stories on eKonomics to see what other industry professionals and farmers have to say about the benefits of starter fertilizers:

May 5 2017

Better Late Than Never: Even Late Potassium Application Can Benefit Soybean Yields

Better Late Than Never: Even Late Potassium Application Can Benefit Soybean Yields

Busy spring fieldwork, flooded fields and renting new land just before planting are a few reasons farmers might not get their pre-plant potassium fertilizer applied. As a result, a number of farmers are considering in-season potassium fertilizer application to help increase soybean yields.

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Nathan Slaton, one of the nation’s top soil researchers and a professor of soil testing at the University of Arkansas has recently focused his research on this topic. He claims that even if farmers missed the pre-plant application, they can still get a yield benefit from applying potassium after soybeans enter the reproductive stages.

In his research, he found that soybeans with in-season potassium applied up to the R4-R5 growth stage can achieve yields similar to those that had a pre-plant application.

The Research: Phase One

Slaton started the potassium rate and timing research in 2015. Although results have shown that it is best to pre-plant apply the higher rate of potassium, farmers can still reap benefits by applying potassium until the R5 growth stage.

For the rate research, he applied three different rates: 0, 60 and 120 pounds of potassium fertilizer (K2O) per acre. The highest rate applied pre-plant produced the highest yield at 64 bushels per acre, whereas the omission plot achieved the minimum 45 bushels per acre.

For the timing research, Slaton applied 60 pounds of potassium fertilizer at various growth stages until the R6 growth stage.

There was no significant difference in yields from the pre-plant to R5 application timing. Soybeans produced 60 bushels per acre when fertilizer was applied pre-plant, and yields were 55 bushels per acre when potassium was applied at the R5 growth stage.

The Research: Phase Two

In 2016, Slaton applied 60, 120 and 180 pounds of potassium fertilizer per acre before planting. Slaton applied 0, 60 and 120 pounds per acre of potassium fertilizer at different growth stages through the growing season from pre-plant until R6 growth stage. A plot without any potassium fertilizer was used as an untreated check.

The results were similar to the 2015 study. The highest rate applied before planting had the largest yield at 71 bushels per acre. The plot without any potassium fertilizer applied pre-plant or during the growing season had the lowest yield at 42 bushels per acre.

“It is unusual to see close to a 30 bushel per acre yield difference from the untreated check to the 180 pounds per acre rate,” Slaton said.

In the timing research, the results were also similar to the 2015 study. Farmers can get an increase in yields by applying potassium fertilizer until the R4 growth stage, even if they miss their pre-plant application. At the 60 pound per acre rate, the pre-plant application yielded 61 bushels per acre and 56 bushels per acre applied only at the R4 growth stage. At the 120 pounds per acre rate, the pre-plant application yielded 62 bushels per acre and 61 bushels per acre when applied only at the R4 growth stage.

Monitoring Potassium Uptake

The research team took tissue samples during the growing season to measure how the plants were taking up potassium from the soil.

Slaton plans to continue the potassium rate and timing research in the upcoming year.

“We are still trying to answer the question of how late and at what rate a farmer can apply potassium fertilizer and still get maximum yield,” Slaton said.

Other universities, including Iowa State, are taking similar steps to update their potassium recommendations. The updated recommendations, soil testing and the eKonomics ROI Calculator can help farmers maximize both soybean yields and the return on their crop investment.

Apr 24 2017

The Top Seven Trends Affecting Soil Fertility in 2017

The Top Seven Trends Affecting Soil Fertility in 2017

Farmers are working with retailers to finalize their crop plans before the 2017 spring planting kicks into full gear. Many factors such as weather, soil conditions and market trends affect soil fertility—so understanding these latest trends can have a major impact on your 2017 crop profits.

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Here are the top seven trends in soil fertility we believe are worth paying attention to in 2017:

  1. 1. Reduction in crop acres

    Scott Irwin, agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, expects farmers to reduce their corn and overall planted acreage due to lower crop prices. In the place of corn, he predicts more cotton and soybean acres will be planted in 2017. At the end of January, many traders were expecting U.S. farmers to plant three to seven million more soybean acres, which would be a 3.5 to 8 percent increase from last year.

  2. 2. Increasing potassium application for soybeans

    Josh McGrath, extension soil fertility specialist at the University of Kentucky, explained that soybeans use more potassium than corn. Using national average yields for soybeans and corn, soybeans remove 21 more pounds of potassium per acre. “It is harder to maintain soil potassium levels with more frequent bean plantings,” McGrath said.

  3. 3. Catching up after a wet fall

    Clarke McGrath, on-farm research and extension coordinator for the Iowa Soybean Research Center at Iowa State University, said that the warm and wet fall in 2016 prevented about half of the fall anhydrous ammonia from being applied in Iowa, which poses an increased demand for application work this spring for corn acres. Furthermore, current predictions of a wet spring threaten to compound the issue for retailers and farmers trying to get nitrogen applied before planting.

  4. 4. Your soil tests will point out changes in fertility levels

    Josh McGrath advises farmers to conduct more frequent soil testing to monitor soil fertility trends over multiple years. Instead of conducting grid soil sampling every three years, McGrath recommends testing one-third of the amount of soil samples per grid every year. By the end of the third year, the same amount of samples would be tested. Following this method, the cost would be the same to farmers, but they would be able to better monitor overall soil nutrient trends more effectively.

  5. 5. Potassium soil levels continue to decline

    Josh McGrath noted that potassium soil levels continue to decline around the country; the median soil test levels for potassium have declined an average of 18 ppm in 26 states since 2010. From the IPNI 2015 soil test summary data, the most significant decline in potassium levels was found in the Midwest, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. Farmers should test for potassium and apply if below optimal levels.

  6. 6. Fertilizer will still be a great investment

    Despite lower crop prices, fertilizers are still a good return on investment. “Crop nutrition needs do not change due to costs,” said Josh McGrath. “Any reduction in yield will cost you more than the cost of fertilizer.” Farmers can use the eKonomics Nutrient ROI Calculator 2.0 to explore fertilizer’s return on investment.

  7. 7. Opportunity to build soil fertility levels

    “Building fertility is an investment in the fields,” says Josh McGrath. With the lower fertilizer prices, it could be a good time to build soil fertility levels—especially for nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus. Fields testing low for soil nutrients should take a “build and maintain” approach to soil fertility. If crop prices within the next decade begin to increase or have sustained highs, your farm will be poised to take maximum advantage of such bullish economic situations.

Farmers who develop a plan that takes current trends into account can avoid soil fertility issues and provide proper nutrition to support their crops throughout the growing season. No one wants to be caught in a bullish commodity market with infertile fields knowing that they skimped on fertility when prices were so affordable.

Apr 13 2017

Potassium: The Overlooked Nutrient in Crop Production

Potassium: The Overlooked Nutrient in Crop Production

In general, potassium (K) is an essential nutrient in both plant and human nutrition. Particularly in agriculture, many soils have inadequate levels of K for crop production and, therefore require additional K supplementation. Even though there are no environmental concerns with over application of K, producers still tend to put money towards applications of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer over K. Inadequate levels of K can lead to losses of yield and, therefore, less return on invest (ROI). Hence, K can be the overlooked nutrient in crop production.

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This topic was presented as a part of the Frontiers of Potassium Science Conference in Rome in January 2017. This conference, organized by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), brought together over 130 scientists and linked more than 37 countries to discuss issues pertaining to potassium. This article from the Michigan State University Extension discusses K in human nutrition and crop production in further detail. More information on topics that were covered at the conference can be found on IPNI’s website.

Mar 24 2017

Potassium vs. Phosphorus: What Your Crops Need Most – and When

Potassium vs. Phosphorus: What Your Crops Need Most — and When

Farmers know that nutrients are important to crop growth. However, in this era of tight operating budgets, some may feel forced to choose between them. According to Carrie Laboski, Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management Specialist at the University of Wisconsin, potassium could be more yield limiting than phosphorus in corn and soybean production than what was previously understood.

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Meaning that for some soils, potassium could reap more economical returns than expected.

Laboski launched a study in 2011 to update potassium and phosphorus rates for newer corn hybrids and soybean varieties. After analyzing her initial results, her research actually led her to broader insights: she was able to uncover more about the importance of potassium in corn and soybean production.

For her research, she used fields at the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Research Station in Arlington that were testing very low for potassium and phosphorus. Laboski then applied different rates of potassium and phosphorus. For potassium, she used rates of 0, 40, 80, 120 and 160 pounds per acre. At each potassium rate, she applied 0, 30, 60 and 90 pounds per acre of phosphorus.

Results Support Potassium’s Role in Increased Yields

The study was conducted from 2011 to 2016 and the results indicated substantial yield increases of applying potassium every year for corn. Even in the drought year of 2012, Laboski experienced a yield increase of 80 bushels per acre for corn. In other years, the yield increase averaged 200 bushels per acre compared to areas where no potassium fertilizer was applied.

Also, soybean yields increased on average 25 bushels per acre compared to those where no potassium fertilizer was applied. This does not include the drought year of 2012, which had a seven bushel per acre yield increase.

Potassium in Relation to Other Nutrients

Corn yielded 10 to 50 bushels per acre when no potassium was applied on very low potassium testing soils. On similar soils, without applying nitrogen but with adequate potassium and phosphorus levels, she says corn yields would likely be 100 to 150 bushels per acre.

During the research, Laboski found a yield response to applying phosphorus in soybeans when soil test potassium levels were over 75 ppm in 2016 only. Soybean plot photos show that plots with no added potassium and higher levels of phosphorus did not close the row and yielded smaller soybeans at harvest. Soybean plots with no phosphorus and higher levels of potassium closed the row and had higher yields.

There are a couple of possible explanations for the lack of a response to phosphorus in soybeans. One is that potassium soil test levels might need to be higher to see a yield response. Moreover, this research also suggests there may be an interaction between potassium and phosphorus impacting yields. For example, in 2014 the corn plots showed a yield response from applying phosphorus, but only in plots that had 80 pounds per acre of potassium applied per year and which had soil test potassium levels greater than 65 ppm. From this situation, Laboski concludes that for corn, potassium might be more yield limiting than phosphorus. In addition, she thinks potassium levels need to be adequate before a phosphorus response might be found.

Future Research on Potassium’s Role in High Yields

Laboski’s results show that potassium may be more limiting for corn than soybeans. A phosphorus response in soybean was observed in 2016 in plots where soil test potassium was at least 75 ppm. However, in the previous growing season there was no yield response to phosphorus even when soil test potassium was greater than 75 ppm. Thus, yield responses for phosphorus might only happen after potassium levels are eliminated as a limiting factor and appear to be dependent upon growing season weather.

Laboski is continuing her studies at the University of Wisconsin to gain more information about phosphorus and potassium yield responses.

“This research shows how important potassium is for corn and soybean production,” she explains. “Sometimes potassium does not get the attention it should, but this research shows it is key to increasing yields.”

For farmers with limited budgets, she says this means they might be better off if they prioritize their investment in potassium. To ensure adequate applications are being made, researchers across the Midwest are continuing to update the potassium recommendations. When determining application rates, farmers should use soil tests to determine their soil fertility levels and tools like the eKonomics ROI calculator 2.0 to help them estimate their nutrient needs for their corn and soybean crop.

Mar 21 2017

Improving Rice Yields and Quality with Potassium

Improving Rice Yields and Quality with Potassium

Higher prices and changing crop rotations have led a Missouri researcher to re-evaluate the role that potassium plays in rice production.

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According to David Dunn, soils lab manager at the University of Missouri Fisher Delta Research Center, higher soybean prices in recent years have caused many farmers in the area to change their rotation. The traditional rotation was two years of rice followed by one year of soybeans. Now, it is becoming more common to plant one year of rice and two years of soybeans.

These findings have been corroborated by the eKonomics Nutrient Removal Calculator. Using average yields for the area, soybeans remove more than double the amount of potassium per acre than rice does. This has led to lower soil potassium levels, especially in the silt loam soil in Southeast Missouri.

“We are not supplying as much as we are taking off,” said Dunn. “Even if the recommended potassium rates are followed, farmers may still have reduced yield and quality in their rice crops.”

Impact on Yield and Quality

With his research, Dunn has shown that growing rice on soil testing 100 pounds below the critical level of potassium could lead to a 30 to 35 bushel per acre yield reduction. With current prices, that represents $150 per acre loss of profit to the farmer.

Milling quality is an important consideration for farmers. If a farmer’s rice quality is low, they might be docked in price. Dunn found higher potassium levels led to higher quality rice. Soils with higher potassium levels produced more “head” and “whole” rice, which is how elevators and processors determine quality.

Effects on Lodging and Stalk Strength

Lodging can be a major problem for farmers as it can slow harvest and reduce grain quality. In his research, Dunn found that foliar applied potassium in one study reduced lodging from 40 percent to 15 percent — even in fields with adequate soil applied potassium.

Dunn also devised a way to measure stalk strength and relate it to reduced lodging and concluded that rice stalks from areas with higher potassium levels had both stronger stalks and less lodging. When applying the full potassium fertilizer rate, stalk strength was double the stalk strength when no potassium fertilizer was applied. Lodging was reduced from 30 to 18 percent when a full potassium rate was applied compared to no potassium fertilizer application.

Updating Potassium Rates

Dunn states that farmers in Missouri should adjust rice potassium rates to maintain productivity and ensure good quality harvestable grain.

In the late 1990’s, the critical rice potassium rate was updated to 125 pounds of potassium plus five times the soil CEC (cation exchange capacity). Now, farmers should use an updated rate of 220 pounds of potassium plus five times the soil CEC for rice production, which is the same as the recommended rate for soybean production in Dunn’s area. In southeast Missouri, silt loam soils have a CEC from 7.5 to 18 and clay-based soils have a CEC of 18 or more.

With the changes in crop production, farmers should monitor and manage their soil fertility levels using a number of tools, including soil testing and online tools such as the eKonomics Nutrient ROI Calculator 2.0 to estimate their crop nutrients needs.

Feb 28 2017

Trade Downward Growth for Upward Growth: The Surprise Impact of Banded Phosphorus Application

Trade Downward Growth for Upward Growth: The Surprise Impact of Banded Phosphorus Application

Could banded phosphorus application allow corn plants to conserve energy and grow more efficiently? That’s the surprising find from one of the nation’s top soil researchers who found that corn plants have less root density near banded subsurface phosphorus fertilizer.

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“What this suggests is that the corn plant is redirecting energy otherwise used for growing roots to other areas of development,” said Jake Mowrer, assistant professor for soil fertility at Texas A&M University. “It is able to invest more of its photosynthetic product into the grain we harvest, rather than scavenging for food and water.”

Mowrer launched a study in 2016 to look at how banded liquid phosphorus could affect corn rooting patterns. He emphasizes that it is important to study how the roots develop — in conjunction with the rest of the plant — since the roots are a key investment the plant makes to survive and grow.

”Nutrient uptake begins at the plant root,“ explains Mowrer. “Therefore, an understanding of how fertilizer application could affect rooting patterns can be very helpful to increasing yields.”

Conducting the Experiment — Right Rate, Right Place

In his experiment, Mowrer examined two locations — one with clay soil and one with silt loam soil. In both locations, phosphorus was banded six inches from the row. He then varied the depth and amount of application.

He placed the fertilizer on the surface, at 15 centimeters deep and at 21 centimeters deep. He used four rates: 0 percent, 50 percent, 100 percent and 150 percent of the standard soil test recommendation.

Mowrer’s research team conducted tissue sampling twice during the growing season to monitor phosphorus uptake by the plant. Once the crop hit the V10 growth stage, the team began digging up and cleaning the corn roots. Photos were then taken to measure the root density in the area closest to the liquid fertilizer.

The root density was very low in the areas closer to the subsurface band compared to the control groups with no fertilizer or surface-applied fertilizer.

Plants Conserving Energy

Mowrer theorizes that, since the phosphorus fertilizer is close to the roots, the plant does not need to use its resources to develop dense roots to feed itself. The plant can then use the leftover energy in other areas for its development.

Mowrer says with an increased interest in subsurface fertilizer application, it is important for researchers and farmers to know how banding fertilizers affects root and plant development and crop yields.

He plans to continue to his research on how fertilizer placement affects plant root development. As additional research is conducted, farmers should make sure to continue to utilize proper soil testing techniques and use all the tools available to them to help maximize their fertilizer investment.

Feb 7 2017

Integrating Advanced Technology Into Modern Fertilizer Equipment

Soil Testing Improves the Odds of Boosting Profits

According to Jerry Martin, Senior Extension Associate for the Nutrient Management Education Program at Penn State University, many farmers do not use a consistent soil-testing program.

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Soil tests are sometimes bypassed due to limited funds, the lack of adequate time or resources, or a lack of concern over the value of routine soil tests, but skipping this critical step can hurt profits in the long run.

In fact, he claims the odds of correctly and successfully fertilizing without a soil test is less than one in three. For more information, view Martin’s original article from the Pennsylvania Nutrient Management Education Program or a summary from CropLife.

Feb 1 2017

Making Wise Phosphorous and Potassium Decisions

Making Wise Phosphorus and Potassium Decisions

At the conclusion of the 2016 harvest season, many farmers are dealing with a combination of large harvests and low crop prices, resulting in some thinking of reducing phosphorus and potassium rates for the 2017 crop.

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According to Antonio Mallarino, Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management Extension Specialist at Iowa State, farmers should make rational decisions regarding phosphorus and potassium rates — and sometimes this means resisting the urge to reduce application rates simply because of unfavorable crop prices.

In his article, “High Yields, Low Grain Prices: Manage Phosphorus and Potassium Wisely,” Mallarino advises farmers to think about what they need to keep the soil productive.

Using soil testing as the basis for decisions

The first step in making wise phosphorus and potassium decisions starts with soil sampling and testing. During times of low prices, this is especially relevant.

Mallarino cites research that suggests a zone or grid soil sampling approach may be better than sampling just by soil type.

Based on the soil test results, Mallarino suggests the following P and K application rates:

  • In very low testing areas, avoid reducing application rates.
  • In low and optimum testing areas, farmers may reduce the rates slightly.
  • In high testing areas, use only a low starter rate.

Using additional information to determine suitable rate

While soil sampling and testing is a crucial input in making application decisions, farmers should also use yield maps from the past two to four years to help define their phosphorus and potassium rates.

For farmers that are using removal rates to influence their decisions, they should monitor yield levels and P and K removal rates to maintain optimum levels. If farmers only replace some of the nutrients based on the removal rate (rather than replacing all of the removed nutrients), higher nutrient rates will be needed in the future because soil-test values will decline. Farmers can use online tools such as the eKonomics ROI calculator to help determine the best application rate based on their soil test results.

In addition to planning based on soil test results, farmers should not reduce application rates if they band their fertilizer applications. Several decades of research show that banding phosphorus and potassium fertilizer is seldom more efficient than broadcasting application and reducing banded rates will raise the risk of yield loss as the need for future fertilization increases.

For corn, placing potassium five to six inches under the soil level could be beneficial in ridge till systems and sometimes in no-till or strip-till. However, Mallarino does not recommend reducing application rates even in these situations.

Overall, the use of soil testing and various tools to determining the proper application rate can help farmers maximize their fertilizer return on investment, especially during times of high yields and lower prices. For additional information, visit the Iowa State University Soil Fertility web site at www.agronext.iastate.edu/soilfertility.

Jan 15 2017

Testing Soybean Grains for Potassium Deficiency

Identifying the cause — or in some cases, multiple causes — of lower-than-expected yields is a complicated task many farmers face after they finish harvest. While there are a number of diagnostic options available, some methods are much more effective than others.

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Soil testing is usually an adequate and reliable means of measuring soil fertility, and is generally used as a predictor of potential issues in future crops. In recent years, grain testing has emerged as a helpful trend for growers looking to determine if nutrient deficiencies — specifically potassium — were a cause of lower-than-expected yields.

According to Nathan Slaton, University of Arkansas professor of soil fertility, farmers who are looking to identify the causes of decreased yields might want to consider sending soybean grain to a testing lab.

“It is like doing an autopsy for the soybean crop,” says Slaton. “Many farmers and agronomists conduct end-of-season cornstalk tests for corn to determine how their nitrogen program worked, and it’s important that similar tests are done for soybeans.”

Linking soybean potassium levels with yields

Slaton based his theories on testing soybean grains for potassium deficiency on the idea that soybean grains have been tested for other nutrient deficiencies such as sulfur, manganese, zinc, boron, copper and molybdenum.

In his research, he looked at published and unpublished data from potassium fertilizer yield response studies across North America, including studies from Iowa, Arkansas, Canada, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri and Virginia. The observations included yields, soil testing levels and grain concentrations with and without potassium fertilizer.

Overall, he found that soybean grains with potassium levels less than 1.65 percent or 16.5 grams potassium per kilogram of grain would improve yields 77 percent of the time when potassium fertilizer is applied.

These results indicate that farmers can test soybean grain for potassium levels (similarly to how they have used grain testing for other nutrient deficiencies) to help determine if low potassium levels were a contributor to reduced soybean yields.

Using grain tests to improve yields

Outside of the research lab, these tests can be used to help farmers determine if low potassium levels were a primary cause of lower yields.

Randall Warden, CEO and agronomist at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, recommends farmers submit a 4-8 ounce representative grain sample to their regional testing lab. The analysis typically costs $20-25 per sample with results normally available the next business day. After receiving the test results, farmers should analyze their soil fertility levels. If low potassium levels did in fact contribute to the lower than expected yields, Slaton says farmers can then take action to improve nutrient levels by applying more potassium fertilizer to build up potassium soil levels.

As part of a comprehensive nutrient management plan, farmers should consider taking regularly scheduled soil samples to analyze soil fertility levels. Record yields over the past several years have led to increased nutrient removal across the Midwest, meaning growers in these areas should be especially mindful of their fields’ nutrient balance levels. They can also use the eKonomics Nutrient ROI Calculator 2.0 to estimate their nutrient needs and apply potassium fertilizer as needed to raise soil fertility levels to maximize their return on investment.

Nov 21 2016

Increased Investment Supports Timely Fertilizer Delivery

Increased Investment Supports Timely Fertilizer Delivery

Timely delivery of inputs is critical to efficient farm management, especially as farmers make nutrient applications for next year’s crop. Problems regarding the delivery of inputs can inhibit a farmer’s ability to achieve the maximum returns on next year’s crop.

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A few years ago the markets experienced a sharp increase in demand for rail resources in the U.S. and Canada, which resulted in issues moving commodities like grain and fertilizer. The increased transportation needs were a result of the heavy demand the energy resource sectors and from a large U.S. and Canadian crop of corn, soybeans and wheat.

Due to recent infrastructure improvements and returns to more manageable demand from recent harvests, experts predict a smoother fall transportation season for agriculture and related industries this year with minimal trouble shipping grain and inputs to and from the fields.

Infrastructure Improvements

Recent transportation improvements will benefit growers across the Midwest as they move harvested grain from the farm to international markets and have fertilizer delivered to their farms in time for application.

“I don’t expect any challenges with rail transportation this year,” says Mike Steenhoek, Soy Transportation Coalition executive director. “The rail industry has done an impressive job of preparing an ample supply of locomotives and labor to haul agricultural commodities in preparation for this busy season.”

In addition to the improvements the rail industry has made, the fertilizer industry has also built up their transportation and distribution infrastructure. In August 2016, PotashCorp completed construction of its Distribution Center in Hammond, Indiana, ensuring timely and more efficient deliveries to customers during seasonal periods of peak demand.

“Approximately 60 to 65 percent of our company’s potash moves through the Chicago area, which is already known as a bottleneck for the national freight railroad transportation system,” says Bob Felgenhauer, PotashCorp Vice President of Transportation and Distribution. “The strategic placement of the new facility helps to avoid this bottleneck, allowing potash to be delivered when and where it is needed with a significant reduction in delays.”

The new Regional Distribution Center can store 180,000 tons of potash along with additional capacity for more railcars on-site. This addition is enhanced by the company’s recent order of new railcars specifically designed to haul potash, culminating in an improvement in fertilizer logistics so retailers and farmers can optimize the timing of their applications.

Reduced demand from the energy resource and grain shipping industries should thwart any major rail transportation issues because there is also less seasonal demand from grain hauling that peaks in the middle of harvest and runs throughout the winter months in many regions. “Farmers have begun to spread their grain sales out more evenly through the year, meaning there is less of a surge during harvest,” says Steenhoek.

The Weather Wildcard

While there are reduced concerns about rail transportation this fall, the unpredictable nature of weather can quickly change that.

“If there is a quick cold snap, it could put pressure on the railroad system,” Steenhoek says. “Severe cold weather would make the railroads less efficient and likely increase demand for commodities, such as coal, that people use to heat their houses.”

The wet weather could also affect barge traffic. Smaller tows are being carried as a result of the high water and fast currents affecting the inland waterway system.

However, Steenhoek and Felgenhauer both note they don’t expect any major transportation issues this fall and winter that would disrupt the efficient transport of grain and fertilizer, allowing for the timely application of fertilizers without any major price spikes due to transportation issues.

Nov 8 2016

Integrating Advanced Technology Into Modern Fertilizer Equipment

Integrating Advanced Technology Into Modern Fertilizer Equipment

Valuable data generated by precision agriculture technology is now being incorporated into a wealth of new fertilizer equipment, helping farmers increase their return on investment while being environmentally responsible with crop nutrients.

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Collection and usage of precise fertilizer placement and record-keeping data have spurred two of the latest advancements in fertilizer equipment.

Fertilizer Placement Technology

Border spreading is a dry fertilizer application technology that Ohio State University agriculture engineer John Fulton expects to be offered by United States spreader manufacturers soon. In fact, some spreaders in Europe have utilized this technology for several years. Fulton further predicts that the adoption of variable-rate fertilizer technology will continue to trend upward as a result of lower commodity prices and environmental pressures.

With profitability and environmental responsibility in mind, this in-the-cab technology gives the operator the option to adjust application rates by controlling the amount of fertilizer applied to field edges near water sources. For phosphorus, precision subsurface placement technology allows applicators to place the nutrient where the plant will use it, thereby reducing the chances of runoff.

Other developments in fertilizer application technology include:

  • Pulse-width modulation systems. This allows for a highly precise placement of starter fertilizer into the furrow during planting. Planter attachments using this pop-up technology can place liquid fertilizer ahead of, on top of or behind the seed.
  • Residue management system combined with fertilizer application. This precision applicator can apply dry, liquid or ammonia fertilizer at high speeds while placement adjustments can be set for different row spacing (15-, 20-, 22- or 30-inch) as well as for applications at various placement depths.

Mark Hanna, Iowa State University Extension agricultural engineer, notes the emergence of more adaptable fertilizer equipment as another key trend to watch. This equipment has been designed for easy transition between nutrient applications for pre-plant, planting and post-plant phases.

“Because of this, variable fertilizer application is currently more common than variable-rate planting,” Hanna says. “We are seeing changes in nutrient management practices that are prompting [fertilizer] equipment development.”

More opportunities to advance variable-rate fertilizer technologies exist, and new developments in the science behind perfecting rate, time, placement, and source of crop nutrients are ongoing. The desire to know more about interactions taking place beneath the soil’s surface is constantly revealing new understandings. “It is easier to make the fertilizer equipment than it is to determine how to arrive at the correct rate,” according to Hanna.

Fertilizer Information and Record Keeping

Fulton and Hanna both agree that the information being generated from fertilizer application technology is another important area driving the advances in application equipment.

An increasing amount of application equipment is capable of providing the operator in the cab with real-time information about the rate of nutrients that are being applied, allowing the operator to constantly monitor for proper application. Before, a row or section could have an issue–such as a plugged nozzle or stuck valve–without the operator knowing it.

Coupled with display and recording equipment in the cab, information about the application is recorded for the operator. Recorded information such as this allows a farmer to later use multiple field maps simultaneously to make more informed agronomic decisions.

Overall, these technological advancements that are being made in fertilizer equipment will help farmers with right rate, placement, source, timing and record keeping. In addition to these technologies, PotashCorp’s eKonomics Nutrient ROI Calculator 2.0 can be used to allow the grower or retail agronomist to check their work to help ensure the best return on investment from their applied crop nutrients.

Oct 21 2016

PotashCorp Field Reports - Winter 2016

Fall 2016 Field Reports

Distributed twice each year, the PotashCorp Field Reports is developed to provide farmers and ag retailers with relevant news and trends that affect their business.

In this issue, we feature:

Click here to view the latest issue of Field Reports.

Oct 6 2016

Record Crop Could Remove Large Amounts of Crop Nutrients

Record Crop Could Remove Large Amounts of Crop Nutrients

Looming record corn and soybean crops this fall stand to remove large amounts of nutrients, significantly impacting soil fertility levels.

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Farmers have access to tools such as the eKonomics Nutrient Removal Calculator to estimate what rates may be needed to replace those nutrients and keep soil fertility at optimal levels for subsequent crops.

Large crops projected

Recently, the USDA projected the 2016 corn crop at a record 15.2 billion bushels, with a record average yield of 175.1 bushels per acre. This follows strong corn production and yields in 2015 and a previous record crop production and yield in 2014.

A number of states are projected to have significantly increased corn yields from last year. Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio are all forecasted to have double-digit yield increases compared to the 2015 corn crop.

For soybeans, the USDA projected a national record crop at 4.06 billion bushels with a projected record yield of 48.9 bushels per acre. If these records are realized, this would be the third year in row for record soybean production and yields nationwide. In fact, Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina are expected to have the largest yield increases from 2015.

Nutrient Removal

“It is important to know the amount of nutrients that are being removed,” says Scott Murrell, a director with the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI).

According to him, replacing soil nutrients is good for long-term soil sustainability and soil health.

Dan Kaiser, Extension Nutrient Management Specialist at the University of Minnesota, agrees that replacing the removed nutrients will help farmers maintain their soil nutrient levels.

“It is a good place to start,” says Lloyd Murdock, soil specialist and professor at the University of Kentucky. “You are trying to get decently close to the amount of nutrients you need to apply to maintain levels.”

Replacing nutrients based on crop yields works in fields that previously tested at optimal levels. For soils testing below the critical levels, it’s vital to consider applying more than crop removal to reach yield potential.

Determining the amount of nutrients removed

If using the national average corn yield estimate with the eKonomics Nutrient Removal Calculator, approximately 123 pounds of nitrogen, 67 pounds of phosphate and 47 pounds of potash will be removed per acre.

For soybeans, 41 pounds of phosphate and 64 pounds of potash will be removed per acre.

Kaiser says farmers can also use long-term yield averages to estimate the amount of nutrients that are removed. If a farmer makes his fertilizer applications based on yields reported by the yield monitor, they should make sure it is properly calibrated.

Murrell says farmers should look at their crop yield and application records to help determine the amount of nutrients needed to be applied. However, he warns crops are known to remove more nutrients than expected.

Management practices, soil fertility, and different hybrids or varieties can cause the crop removal rates to vary.

“Getting a grain sample tested is a good way for a farmer to double check the amount of nutrients being removed,” Murrell says.

In addition, farmers that are harvesting stover could be removing more nutrients from the field as well. As a result, farmers should be aware of the amount of nutrients that will be removed and need to be replaced due to the potential record yields.

Oct 5 2016

Certified 4R Program Grows With Goal of Protecting the Environment

Certified 4R Program Grows With Goal of Protecting the Environment

Launched in 2014, the 4R certification program aims to maintain agricultural productivity while also improving the quality of watersheds in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Since that time, it has grown to include 34 retail locations that service 1.8 million acres – 36 percent of farmland in the basin.

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As the industry’s appreciation for the program and its benefits continues to grow, so does the list of agricultural retailers that are 4R certified in the voluntary program.

Andrew Allman, Executive Director of the Nutrient Stewardship Council, governing body of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, says the program is a way to show that the industry of agriculture is being responsible with nutrient applications that are necessary for successful crop growth.

Launching the 4R certified program

Industry leaders started discussions about the 4R certified program after the severe algal bloom in Lake Erie in 2011. The program was launched by a group comprised of agricultural retailers, governmental and non-governmental organizations such as The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), The Nature Conservancy and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Agricultural retailers wanted to create a program that was geared toward them, as many programs are already tailored to influence best management practices on the farm. As a result, four facilities were audited under a 2013 pilot program to test the process. The 4R certified program was then launched in March 2014 in Perrysburg, Ohio. There were 150 attendees at the launch and 20 retailers signed up to participate in the program. The first retailers were certified in October 2014. Soon after that, more retailers began showing additional interest in the program and it has continued to grow over the past two years.

The certification process

Under the certification process, a retailer is audited for a total of 41 requirements over three years. There are 26 requirements for the first year, nine requirements for the second year and six requirements for the third year.

These requirements are based on the 4R principles of Right source, Right rate, Right time and Right place.

The certification program consists of three key pillars:

  • Training and education of customers and staff
  • Monitoring 4R implementation
  • Recording applications

According to Allman, documentation is a significant part of the certification process. In the first year, an on-site audit is required. Third-party auditors conduct the certification reviews and the retailers pay for the $600 cost to conduct the audit. The audit process takes about ten to thirteen hours (two to three hours for a pre-audit visit, then eight to 10 hours for an on-site audit).

After receiving the report from the auditor, facilities are able to review and put an action plan in place to correct any non-compliance areas within the next year. Any non-compliance requirement will be audited when the facility is reviewed in the following year.

Additional costs for the audit include staff preparations for the audit and implementation of necessary changes in operational procedures and staff training.

It is also important to note that each retailer’s facility independently goes through the auditing process. Moreover, to add to the credibility of the program, there is a decertification process in place.

“However, we hope participants don’t fall into this,” Allman says.

Under the program guidelines, a facility can be decertified if it:

  • Gives false information in the audit process
  • Egregiously violates a standard or law
  • Does not become compliant with corrective action plans as proposed after the audit that gained or maintained its certification
  • Does not pay annual application or auditor fees
  • Changes ownership and new ownership does not wish to comply or participate in the program

Effect of the program

Overall, Allman says the effort shows that agricultural retailers are being responsible with nutrient management, making a true effort to reduce runoff and doing their share to improve water quality.

He says the program has already helped to avoid harsh legislation that could have affected agricultural retailers in Ohio.

The program helps agricultural retailers make improvements and prepare for the future. It also shows agricultural retailers are doing their part to reduce the Lake Erie algal blooms and protect the environment.

Oct 1 2016

Soil Nutrient Levels Can Be a Concern on Newly Acquired Land

Soil Nutrient Levels Can Be a Concern on Newly Acquired Land

With multiple years of tight farm margins, experts are expecting more rented farmland to turn over to new tenants this fall. With that in mind, incoming farmland tenants will want to be aware of their soil fertility levels before planting 2017 crops.

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Changes expected with rented farmland

Kelvin Leibold, Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist, focuses his efforts on North Central Iowa, where between 61 to 70 percent of all farmland is rented. “Last year, there were a few farmers in our area that had to reorganize and let rented farmland go,” he says. “I expect twice as much this year.”

Michael Boehlje, a distinguished professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, also expects farmers to exit due to age or the downturn in the agricultural sector. “Over the past few years, some farmers have delayed exiting the business due to higher prices,” he says. “However, we expect a turn in the rental market for the upcoming growing season.”

Managing newly acquired land

This shift could provide an opportunity for farmers who have had difficulty renting new ground in the past two to four years to expand their operations. Boehlje says farmers interested in expanding their operations should already be thinking about how they want to proceed.

Farmers renting new ground should do research on soil fertility levels in their area when they are determining rental bids. As a way to cut costs, the previous operator might have drawn down the soil P and K levels versus building up soil fertility levels – especially if they were uncertain of how long they would be farming the ground.

While many farm leases have provisions about soil fertility in them, Leibold says some renters might not be adhering to them. “Farmers are expected to apply nutrients to replace what their crops remove,” he says. “But in reality, I am not sure it is happening.”

Tim Smith, managing agronomist for Cropsmith based in Monticello, Illinois, says soil nutrient levels in his area have likely been reduced since yields have exceeded their fertilized yield targets.

“Soil tests are a very inexpensive way to monitor nutrients and pH levels,” he says. “Farmers should use soil testing as a guideline and look at soil tests over time.”

Overall, it is important to focus on trends rather than the absolute numbers in the soil test. For example, if a nutrient is trending downward, he says farmers should discuss the need for corrective management options with their retail agronomist.

To help retailers and farmers determine their fertilizer rates on any newly rented land, PotashCorp offers a number of tools and resources such as the Nutrient ROI Calculator 2.0 and a Nutrient Removal Calculator on the eKonomics website.

Aug 12 2016

Latest Research Reveals Declining Soil Test Levels in Fields Nationwide

Dry Conditions Make Potassium Deficiency Symptoms Evident Across The Country

This growing season, dry conditions in late June meant an increase in potassium deficiency symptoms in fields stretching from the Great Plains to the Mid-South – a trend that didn’t go unnoticed by university specialists focused on soil fertility.

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Reports Across the Country

Dave Franzen, soil fertility specialist at North Dakota State University Extension, reported calls about potassium deficiency symptoms in North Dakota cornfields. It has been shown that untreated potassium deficiencies can cause reductions in yield, which will impact a farmer’s bottom line and soil productivity in both the short and long-term.

Anthony Bly, soil fertility specialist at South Dakota State University, said the potassium deficiency symptoms were showing up mostly in the northeast part of his state on corn that was growing in soils classified with higher ratios of clay content.

In the South, Tyson Raper, University of Tennessee Extension cotton and small grains specialist, in the UT Crops Blog, reported many cotton fields in western Tennessee were showing potassium deficiencies.

Hugh Savoy, extension soil fertility specialist at University of Tennessee, explains that fields which are used for Bermudagrass hay production this year should be more carefully monitored for potassium deficiency.

Identifying the Symptoms

To properly identify symptoms in clay soils, farmers should understand the reasons crops growing in clay can be different from other soil types. Bly explained as the soil dries, clay soils shrink and crop roots can’t access the potassium that is held between the layers of clay in the soil. When the soil is rehydrated, the clay layers swell and crop roots can get to the nutrient.

“Soybeans are reluctant to show potassium deficiency symptoms,” he said. “Corn, on the other hand, is more sensitive to potassium deficiency.” Due to this, potassium deficiency is more difficult to spot in soybeans, let alone segregate from other nutrient deficiencies they may be exhibiting.

Bly also noted that the plant will move potassium from the older leaves to the younger leaves. Leaves will become chlorotic and experience tissue death at the outer leaf margins, which looks like an inverted V. It starts at the leaf tip and goes down the margin to the leaf base.

“Potassium deficiency can be confused with nitrogen deficiency,” Bly said. “Nitrogen deficiency starts with a yellowing of older leaves. However, a key way to differentiate between the two is by recognizing that nitrogen deficiency symptoms are located from the leaf tip down the midrib in a V shape.”

Preventing Future Damage to Crops

According to Bly, fields where potash was band applied are showing less deficiency signs than fields that were broadcast applied. Since reporting seeing potassium deficiency symptoms, he said the area has received some rain, which will help reduce the potassium deficiency moving forward.

Franzen said the tradition of soil sampling in North Dakota has been to take cores, mix them together and submit a mixed soil sample to the lab. He said farmers should keep cores from various soil types separate so it doesn’t mask any low testing areas within a field.

He advised that in the years in which farmers take soil samples, they sample at the same time in the year to monitor any changes that occur from sample to sample. Farmers should keep in mind that soil potassium levels are generally the highest in the spring and then level off in the fall.

Farmers should also be aware of what crops can influence soil potassium levels. Franzen mentioned as an example that North Dakota soil potassium levels have been declining as more acres are switching from wheat to corn and soybean production.

While dry conditions cannot be controlled, there are steps that farmers can take to help protect crops from unfavorable weather. Recognizing nutrient deficiencies and taking a corrective course of action early in the growing season is important, as proper potassium levels can help to relieve crop stress. The healthier a plant is, the better off farmers’ bottom lines will be – whether it is a good growing year or a dry year.

Jun 01 2016

State-by-state Analysis Illustrates Potential Profit Loss Associated with Declining Nutrient Balance Levels

Careful analysis of the 2015 soil test summary recently released by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) illustrates the severity of declining nutrient balance levels nationwide. This information is critical for growers like yourself, as the decline in soil nutrient levels could be decreasing both crop yields and farmer income. The articles below highlight the conditions in fourteen key agriculture states, explaining what the research means for your farm. If your state isn’t included in the below analysis, check out our geographic data page for state-by-state video commentary from Dr. Robert Mullen.

SELECT A STATE

One Third of Illinois’ Farmland Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $17,000

At least a third of Illinois farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 707,000 in Illinois – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 36 percent of Illinois farms are critically deficient in potassium, while 39 percent are critically deficient in phosphorus,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Illinois. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Illinois farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Illinois’ problem could worsen over time.”

Since 1975, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down by 151 percent, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 254 percent.

Farmers Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Illinois farmers.

“Under current conditions, one-third of Illinois farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and almost forty percent are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $3.60 corn on 380 acres with a yield potential of 200 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s potash prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $17,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Illinois Crop Advisors Agree
Longtime agronomist Harold Reetz and Director of Nutrient Stewardship for the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association Dan Schaefer, both say they’re most concerned about the steady decline of soil potassium levels.

“For the next several years, (corn) profit margins are going to be very thin so, we can't lose sight of potassium's role in our production,” Reetz says.

“Once you drop below what the recommended level is for a soil test you can start seeing a decline in yield,” Schaefer says. “And by then it’s too late or it’s going to take longer to build the soil tests back up to where they should be.”

“The fact is, if soils are deficient in potassium, the cost of fertilization is offset by the increased yields,” Reetz says. “There's been years when, with the low commodity prices, that farmers will just opt to drop out the potash and just do nitrogen. The problem is if you don’t have enough potassium to get the most efficient use of your nitrogen, then you’ll suffer yield losses.”

Quarter of Indiana’s Farmland Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $31,000

A quarter of Indiana farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 550,000 in Indiana – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 29 percent of Indiana farms are critically deficient in phosphorus, while 25 percent are critically deficient in potassium,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Indiana. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Indiana farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Indiana’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figures show some improvement in potassium, but a continued slide for phosphorus in the last five years, since 1975, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down by 115 percent, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 186 percent.

Farmers Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Indiana farmers.

“Under current conditions, one-quarter of Indiana farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and almost thirty percent are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $3.60 corn on 250 acres with a yield potential of 200 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s potash prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $31,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Indiana Crop Advisor Agrees
The lead agronomist for East-central Indiana’s Harvest Land Co-op, Steve Dlugosz, said the data matches his experience, and he tells his farmers that there’s money to be made by testing the soil and fixing potassium and phosphate deficiencies.

“Regarding potassium specifically, we continue to see a decline in soil potassium levels, some cases significantly, which is resulting in lower yields,” Dlugosz says. “If we can get them to look at making some additional applications, comparing it to the areas they don’t treat, many times they’ll see that bump in yield and it more than pays for itself.”

Four in Ten Iowa Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $20,000

Forty percent of Iowa farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 719,000 in Iowa – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 40 percent of Iowa farms are critically deficient in phosphorus, while 45 percent are critically deficient in potassium,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Iowa. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Iowa farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Iowa’s problem could worsen over time.”

The downward trend is staggering in Iowa. While the “critically below” figures show some improvement in phosphorus, and even more so for potassium in the last five years, historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down 434 percent, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 874 percent.

Average Farmer Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Iowa farmers.

“Under current conditions, 40 percent of Iowa farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and almost half are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $3.60 corn on 350 acres with a yield potential of 200 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s potash prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $20,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Nearly Three-Quarters of Kentucky’s Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus

The majority of Kentucky farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 89,904 in Kentucky – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 73 percent of Kentucky farms are critically deficient in potassium, while 50 percent are critically deficient in phosphorus,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at Potash-Corp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state break-down of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Kentucky. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’ve added critical state-specific data that Kentucky farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Kentucky’s problem could worsen over time.”

The “critically below” figures have gotten worse in the last five years, and historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down by a staggering 815 percent since 1975, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 113 percent in that time period.

Farmers Leaving Money In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Kentucky farmers.

“Under current conditions, 73 percent of Kentucky farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and half are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

The problem of pulling back on P and K, therefore, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Six in Ten Michigan Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $11,000

The majority of Michigan farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 266,000 in Michigan – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 62 percent of Michigan farms are critically deficient in potassium, while 35 percent are critically deficient in phosphorus,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Michigan. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Michigan farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Michigan’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figure was unchanged in the last five years for potassium, phosphorus has seen its percentage rise, and historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down 175 percent since 1975, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 159 percent in that time period.

Average Farmer Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Michigan farmers.

“Under current conditions, 62 percent of Michigan farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and more than one-third are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $3.60 corn on 190 acres with a yield potential of 200 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s potash prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $11,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Half of Minnesota’s Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus

Forty-seven percent of Minnesota farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 418,000 in Minnesota – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 47 percent of Minnesota farms are critically deficient in potassium, while 47 percent are critically deficient in phosphorus,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Minnesota. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Minnesota farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Minnesota’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figure was improved in the last five years for potassium and phosphorus, historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down 550 percent since 1975, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 242 percent in that time period.

Average Farmer Leaving Money In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Minnesota farmers.

“Under current conditions, nearly half of Minnesota farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and they are shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Half of Missouri’s Farmland Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers Nearly $34,000

More than half of all Missouri farm fields are critically deficient in at least one of two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including nearly 250,000 in Missouri – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 54 percent of Missouri farms are critically deficient in phosphorus, while 27 percent are critically deficient in potassium,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Missouri. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Missouri farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Missouri’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figures show some improvement in potassium, and even more so for phosphorus in the last five years, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down a staggering 459 percent since 1975, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 225 percent.

Average Farmer Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Missouri farmers.

“Under current conditions, a quarter of Missouri farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and more than half are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $3.60 corn on 285 acres with a yield potential of 200 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s potash prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $34,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Missouri Crop Advisor Agrees
David Moore, a Missouri Certified Crop Advisor for MFA, Inc., agrees.

“There is a great deal of deficit spending on both the potassium and phosphate accounts,” he says. “I try to get my customers to see the big picture. My goal is not for them to save their land into a profit, but to grow the land into a profit. If a grower starts to cut back to save money, eventually playing catch up will be cost prohibitive. It’s an expensive way to play the game.”

One Third of Nebraska Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and PhosphorusNutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $84,000

Thirty-five percent of Nebraska farm fields are critically deficient in one of two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 533,000 in Nebraska – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 35 percent of Nebraska farms are critically deficient in phosphorus, while 9 percent are critically deficient in potassium,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Nebraska. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Nebraska farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Nebraska’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figures show some improvement in phosphorus, and some decline in potassium in the last five years, historically, phosphorus nutrient balances in the state are down 37 percent, and potassium nutrient balances are down 61 percent.

Farmers Leaving Tens of Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Nebraska farmers.

“Under current conditions, 35 percent of Nebraska farmers are losing money because they are phosphorus deficient and nine percent are losing out by shorting the soil of potassium,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $3.50 corn on 950 acres with a yield potential of 200 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of phosphorus and you apply university recommended rates at today’s MAP prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $84,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Nearly Seven in Ten North Carolina Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $18,000

The number of North Carolina farm fields critically deficient in key soil nutrients continue to grow, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 328,600 in North Carolina – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 69 percent of North Carolina farms are critically deficient in potassium, while 28 percent are critically deficient in phosphorus,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in North Carolina. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that North Carolina farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests North Carolina’s problem could worsen over time.”

The “critically below” figures for both potassium and phosphorus have gotten worse over the last ten years. Historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down by 73 percent since 1975, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 70 percent in that time period.

Average Farmer Leaving In Money The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for North Carolina farmers.

“Under current conditions, 69 percent of North Carolina farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and more than a quarter are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $.58 cotton on 200 acres with a yield potential of 1,500 pounds per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s phosphorus prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $18,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Vast Majority of North Dakota Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $15,000

Eighty percent of North Dakota farm fields are critically deficient in one of two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including nearly 103,000 in North Dakota – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 83 percent of North Dakota farms are critically deficient in phosphorus, while 16 percent are critically deficient in potassium,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in North Dakota. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that North Dakota farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests North Dakota’s problem could worsen over time.”

The downward trend is staggering in North Dakota. While the “critically below” figures show some improvement in phosphorus and potassium in the last five years, historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down 92 percent, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 248 percent.

Average Farmer Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for North Dakota farmers.

“Under current conditions, 83 percent of North Dakota farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and 16 percent are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $5.28 spring wheat on 1,300 acre farm with a yield potential of 55 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of phosphorus, as most in North Dakota are, and you apply university recommended rates at today’s phosphorus prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $15,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Half of Ohio’s Farmland Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $12,000

Nearly half of Ohio farm fields are critically deficient in at least one of two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 327,000 in Ohio – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 48 percent of Ohio farms are critically deficient in phosphorus, while 35 percent are critically deficient in potassium,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Ohio. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Ohio farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Ohio’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figures show some improvement in potassium in the last five years, phosphorus figures are worse since 2010. And since 1975, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down by 169 percent, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 160 percent.

Average Farmer Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Ohio farmers.

“Under current conditions, one-third of Ohio farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and almost half are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that its leave a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $3.60 corn on 190 acres with a yield potential of 200 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s potash prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $12,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Ohio Crop Advisor Agrees
Mike Dailey, Independent Certified Crop Advisor from East Central Ohio, has seen the nutrient deficiencies firsthand.

“This past year, I’d say that 75 percent of my farms have experienced a decrease in potassium balances,” he says.

“I had a farmer who had never applied potash before and I suggested he do so,” he says. “At the time he was relying solely on chicken manure and averaging about 115 bushels per acre of corn. Now it’s more like 186 bushels. And on 1,800 acres, that’s a big deal. The value of potassium can’t be overstated.”

Two-thirds of South Dakota Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $19,000

More than two-thirds of South Dakota farm fields are critically deficient in one of two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across South America – including nearly 158,000 in South Dakota – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 65 percent of South Dakota farms are critically deficient in phosphorus, while 20 percent are critically deficient in potassium,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in South Dakota. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that South Dakota farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests South Dakota’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figures show some improvement in phosphorus, and some worsening in potassium in the last five years, historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down 62 percent, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 59 percent.

Average Farmer Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for South Dakota farmers.

“Under current conditions, 65 percent of South Dakota farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and 20 percent are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing $5.28 spring wheat on 1,300 acre farm with a yield potential of 60 bushels per acre. If you are below the critical level of phosphorus, as most in South Dakota are, and you apply university recommended rates at today’s phosphorus prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $19,000.

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Nearly Half of Tennessee’s Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus Nutrient Gap Costing Some Farmers $24,000

Forty-three percent of Tennessee farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 152,800 in Tennessee – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 43 percent of Tennessee farms are critically deficient in potassium, while 58 percent are critically deficient in phosphorus,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Tennessee. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Tennessee farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Tennessee’s problem could worsen over time.”

The “critically below” figure for potassium has risen significantly in the last five years, while the phosphorus figure has gotten slightly better. Historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down by a staggering 798 percent since 1975, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 106 percent in that time period.

Average Farmer Leaving Thousands of Dollars In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Tennessee farmers.

“Under current conditions, 43 percent of Tennessee farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and more than half are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Mullen uses the eKonomics ROI calculator to illustrate his point. “Let’s say you’re growing 58-cent cotton on 190 acres with a yield potential of 1,200 pounds per acre. If you are below the critical level of potassium and you apply university recommended rates at today’s potash prices, you could increase your net profit by an average of $24,000.”

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

Half of Wisconsin’s Farm Fields Nutrient Deficient Statewide Soil Tests Show Critical Deficiency of Potash and Phosphorus

The majority of Wisconsin farm fields are critically deficient in two key soil nutrients, which is decreasing both crop yields as well as farmer income throughout the state.

These are the findings of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), which recently collected more than 4 million soil samples from farms across North America – including 141,450 in Wisconsin – and had them analyzed by both public and private laboratories.

“This landmark study shows that 65 percent of Wisconsin farms are critically deficient in potassium, while 48 percent are critically deficient in phosphorus,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy at PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of crop nutrients.

Interactive Map Shows Results of Study
Mullen, who oversees PotashCorp’s eKonomics research program, has created a state-by-state breakdown of the study coupling the data with historic nutrient balance trends in Wisconsin. eKonomics is an agribusiness resource focusing on crop nutrients.

“At PotashCorp-eKonomics.com, farmers can view the results of the IPNI study in an easy-to-use interactive map. Plus, we’re adding critical state-specific data that Wisconsin farmers need to see,” said Mullen. “For example, we’re comparing fertilizer application rates to fertilizer removal rates over the last 40 years. And the emerging ‘nutrient balance’ trend line suggests Wisconsin’s problem could worsen over time.”

While the “critically below” figure was improved in the last five years for potassium and phosphorus, historically, potassium nutrient balances in the state are down 125 percent since 1975, and phosphate nutrient balances are down 268 percent in that time period.

Average Farmer Leaving Money In The Field
Given the importance of potash and phosphorus to crop health and yields, these figures should paint a sobering picture for Wisconsin farmers.

“Under current conditions, 65 percent of Wisconsin farmers are losing money because they are potassium deficient and nearly half are losing out by shorting the soil of phosphorus,” Mullen said. “When times get tough and crop prices are down, the natural tendency is to pull back on your P and K applications, but more often than not, cutting back on crop nutrients means cutting back on profits.”

The problem of this practice, experts say, is that it leaves a lot of potential yield and profit lying dormant in the field.

Potash (K) is a major source of potassium and helps plants develop strong root systems giving crops greater resistance to drought, disease and insects. Phosphate (P) is the major source of phosphorus, the energizer of plant production, which increases yields.

May 16 2016

Experts Advise Illinois Growers to Focus On Potash in 2016.

Experts Advise Illinois Growers to Focus On Potash in 2016.

The record yields of the past three years combined with the tight profit margins imposed by recent commodity prices make it awfully tempting for producers to act conservatively when it comes to fertilizer application. But Illinois agronomy experts warn that maintaining, and maximizing, those yields is as dependent on potash applications as almost any other factor.

+ read more

Longtime agronomist Harold Reetz and Dan Schaefer, Director of Nutrient Stewardship for the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, say they’ve seen a steady decline of soil potassium levels in the soil that pretty much mirror the findings of the state-specific eKonomics Nutrient Balance Analysis.

“Our analysis shows that since 1975 potassium balance in Illinois massively declined 151 percent,” said Dr. Robert Mullen, Director of Agronomy for PotashCorp. “It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security when yields have been so good, but if you are not prioritizing fertilizer, it’s not a question of if your yields and bottom line will be impacted by decreasing nutrient levels, but when.”

This first-of-its-kind nutrient balance analysis uses USDA harvest records, manure application data and AAPFCO fertilizer consumption data.

“When you look at it in the context of the last few decades,” Reetz says, “the soil test potassium levels have steadily declined to the point that about 36 percent of the soil tests are below the optimum level.”

“The next several years, the profit margins are going to be very thin,” Schaefer says. “So we can’t lose sight of potassium’s role in crop production.”

Reetz says some to the reasons for decreases in potassium levels are certainly driven by low grain prices, but the thinking that leads to skimping on potassium is short sighted. Which is why some producers – whether they are leasing acreage for one year or have owned and operated the same fields for decades – are selling their yield potential short and turning their backs on increased profits.

“When grain prices are down like they are now, farmers are looking for ways to cut corners and potassium is one that takes a hit,” Reetz says. “The general feeling is that I can cut back for a year and it’s not going to hurt me.”

“The problem with that is, once you drop below what the recommended level is for a soil test you can start seeing a decline in yield,” Schaefer continues. And yield lost is money lost, even on a one-year lease.

“If I’m in a one year cash rent lease the investment of a soil test could save me a lot of dollars in yield loss, especially if we find out that we've got some deficiencies,” Schaefer says.

“The fact is, if soils are deficient in potassium, the cost of fertilization is offset by the increased yields,” Reetz says.

With low commodity prices, Reetz and Schaefer say they are seeing farmers just opting out of using potash and just applying nitrogen.

“The problem is if you don’t have enough potassium to get the most efficient use of your nitrogen, then you’ll suffer yield losses,” Reetz says.

Schaefer points out that a farmer can put on “ten folds amount of nitrogen” but without the correct balance of other nutrients, you won’t get maximum yields. And, the situation is more severe if you short potassium and face drought conditions.

“With K’s affinity to help with water uptake... if you’re not sufficient on your K in a drought or a stress year you’re probably going to get hurt more so then than you would in a really good year. It’s really a matter of gaining knowledge of the soil and how sufficient the K levels are in a given soil before you start cutting back.”

Knowledge is power, and oftentimes profit, which is why Schaefer and Reetz also find the eKonomics ROI tools valuable. The website provides data that all farmers need regarding commodity prices, weather factors and the effect of optimal nutrient application.

But from the start, they say, the key piece of data you need it what you’ll find in a soil test.

“I would always rely on a soil test over just a traditional fertilizer application... every year at the same rate,” Schaefer says.

“The big takeaway from all this is it’s really great news that we’re continuing to increase yields, but we can’t forget the importance of good potassium soil test levels to make it happen,” Reetz says.

Apr 18 2016

Ohio Certified Crop Adviser seeing K-deficient fields firsthand

Ohio Certified Crop Adviser Seeing K-deficient Fields Firsthand

For Mike Dailey, an independent Certified Crop Adviser in East Central Ohio, decades of experience corroborates the data in Ohio’s portion of the eKonomics nutrient balance analysis showing an ongoing deficiency in potassium levels in farm soils.

+ read more

“The amount of decline in potassium levels in the soil over time might seem shocking, or hard to believe,” Dailey says, “but the science shows that potassium has been steadily mined out of the fields without being adequately replaced, which is costing farmers’ in both yields and profit.”

From 2005 to 2010 alone, the percentage of soils that test below the critical level for potassium increased from 22 percent to 36 percent. In addition, the eKonomics nutrient balance analysis found that since 1975, the potassium balance in Ohio has declined 169 percent due to increasing nutrient removal trends and decreasing fertilizer use. This first-of-its-kind nutrient balance analysis uses USDA harvest records, manure application data and AAPFCO fertilizer consumption data.

“As a guy who has spent more than 35 years in the field, I can tell you that this decline is real, and that in a majority of places it is actually getting worse,” Dailey said. “This past year, I’d say that 75 percent of my farms have experienced a decrease in potassium balances.”

Dailey, the Ohio CCA of the year in 2012, says that regardless of whether a farmer is seeing increasing yields on his farm, this nutrient decline is something every producer should pay attention to if they want to be profitable and produce as much as possible. Higher yields have put downward pressure on crop prices, so profit margins are razor thin. That means that the contribution of potassium to those profit margins cannot be overlooked.

Dailey said it is common for famers to rely more heavily, or even solely, on nitrogen fertilizers when profit margins are tight. Failing to keep up levels of potassium is a mistake he recommends against to all his customers.

“But for one reason or another, some growers have often chosen not to apply enough potassium and I can tell you that in all those cases they wished they had because their crop health suffered and yields went down,” Dailey said. “No matter how much nitrogen you buy, if you don’t have enough potassium in that plant’s sap to carry the nitrogen to where it needs to go, a lot of that nitrogen goes unused and is just a waste. So not only are you losing out on yield by being deficient in K, that leads to less efficient N. So a double-whammy loss.”

It’s advice like that which all farmers need, along with solid information about commodity prices, weather factors and the effect of optimal nutrient application, which is why PotashCorp provides eKonomics return on investment tools that can help guide your planting and fertilizing decisions. Doing things the “same old way” can be a costly habit.

“I had a farmer who had never applied potash before and I convinced him to do so,” Dailey said. “At the time he was relying solely on chicken manure and they averaged about 115 bushels per acre of corn, which I thought was really low for that area because it’s a great area. Now it’s more like 186 bushels. And on 1,800 acres, that’s a big deal.

The value of potassium can’t be overstated. With the decline in potassium levels that studies have shown and what I’m seeing out there in the field, there’s no question this issue is something that should be addressed. Because even though you might not be impacted by decreasing levels yet, it will happen. And that can end up costing you some serious money.”

Mar 24 2016

Three Lesser-known Advantages Of Starter Fertilizers

Three Lesser-known Advantages of Starter Fertilizers

Beyond boosting yields, application of spring starter materials provides advantages of early crop growth, drier grain at harvest-time and less phosphorus runoff.

“With spring planting underway, producers can profit from a more complete understanding of the usefulness of starter fertilizers,” says Dr. Robert Mullen, Director of Agronomy at PotashCorp.

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Early Crop Growth

Starter fertilizers play a key role in fostering crop growth at the beginning of the growing season, especially when the ground is cold and/or in no-till operations.

Since starters are applied in close proximity to the new roots, they provide higher availability to the young plants.

“What it all comes down to is soil temperature,” Mullen says. “The reason why that’s important is because the colder the soil temperature, the slower the chemical reaction that makes fertilizer materials available to the plant.”

A field may have an abundant supply of phosphorus, based on soil tests, but that phosphorus isn’t in the right spot for moving into the plant as it begins growing. The starter fertilizer is right where it needs to be to kick start young plants’ root growth.

Drier Grain; Quicker To Mature

“According to a summary review conducted by Purdue University, researchers found that a large percentage of the time, growers experienced drier grain as a result of the application of starters compared to a non-starter treatment,” Mullen says.

In some instances, researchers found, grain can be 3 percent drier at harvest.

“The reason this happens is because starters help a plant accumulate biomass faster, which allows for the plant to mature faster, leading to a lower grain moisture level,” Mullen says.

Drier grain means that you can harvest earlier and you won’t have to pay as large a fee to dry your grain.

“There’s nothing worse than having to wait for your grain to dry below 25 percent moisture to get it out of the field,” Mullen says.

Here’s an illustration of this economic advantage:

infographic

Let’s say we didn’t use starters and our initial grain moisture is 25 percent. The cost of drying would be 30-cents per bushel, propane cost alone. That’s a cost of about $24,990.

Now let’s say we used starters and experienced drier grain, a moisture level of 22 per-cent. Drying would be only about 20-cents per bushel, with a propane cost of $17,510.

That saves us more than $7,000.

Environmentally Responsible

“The third benefit of using starters is an environmental one,” Mullen says. “If I can supply some of the phosphorus that I otherwise would have applied in the fall, and shifted a small portion of it over to spring in a starter application, there are two benefits.”

The first is one of efficiency, because the application is occurring when the plant actually needs it, matching the timing of the application with plant demand.

Secondly, because the phosphorus is going below the soil surface, it’s not subjected to erosive or runoff loses.

While starter fertilizer cannot replace the necessary broader phosphorus application later, it can offset a small portion of it.

“In the end, when you look at all the logistical, environmental and economic benefits, an investment in starter fertilizer can truly be a sound business decision,” Mullen says.

Mar 15 2016

Latest Research Reveals Declining Soil Test Levels in Fields Nationwide

Latest Research Reveals Declining Soil Test Levels in Fields Nationwide

To illustrate trends within the agriculture industry regarding fertilizer consumption, PotashCorp’s Director of Agronomy and eKonomics lead contributor Dr. Robert Mullen, has released an in-depth, state-by-state analysis of the 2015 soil test levels in North America issued by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI).

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The IPNI’s analysis is conducted every five years with data submitted from private and public laboratories to provide a snapshot of soil test levels across the North American continent. To further support farmers with insights that help guide their nutrient application and management plans, eKonomics has combined the IPNI data from 2005, 2010 and 2015 and presented it alongside nutrient balance data, which illustrates the trend of soil nutrient removal rates outpacing fertilizer application rates in most states.

This analysis focused on the declining nutrient balance levels of potassium and phosphorus, macronutrients that are essential to successful crop growth and yield maximization. Because farmers have achieved yield increases in recent years, harvests have removed a growing amount of nutrients from the soil — yet fertilizer application rates have not been increased at sufficient rates to fill this gap. Declining nutrient balance levels are the result.

From the IPNI data, the most significant decline in soil test levels for potassium was seen in the Midwest, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. as the median soil test levels for potassium have declined an average of 18 ppm in 26 states since 2010. For phosphorus, under-fertilization was more widespread geographically — the median soil test levels for 22 states declined an average of 9 ppm and the median soil test level for 21 states increased by an average of 8 ppm.

Regional Specifics

  • The Mid-Atlantic and the South both reflect a downward trend in both potassium and phosphorus critical levels with many southern states having 60 to 85 percent of the sampled soils testing below the critical level for both nutrients.
  • The “I” states in the Midwest are showing small improvements in rebuilding either potassium or phosphorus or in rebuilding both nutrients, but have a long way to go. On average, a state in the Midwest has 48 percent of its soils test below the critical level for phosphorus and 33 percent low on potassium.
  • In the Southwest, many states have made strides in improving their soils, as all states at some point in time since 2005 have had more than half of their soils testing below the critical for phosphorus.
  • States in the West such as Idaho, Oregon and Washington have made progress in improving their soil’s potassium conditions, but the region overall showed mixed results in 2015.

“If you happen to be a farmer producing crops on soils that have slipped below the established critical level, you are likely not producing as many bushels as you could, nor are you generating the maximum return from your farming operation,” says Dr. Mullen. “The best course of action is to reevaluate your fertility program and invest your dollars in those nutrients that are limiting your production potential.”

In addition, Dr. Mullen advises farmers to look beyond the soil test results and to consider the productivity levels they are experiencing. Shorting this year’s crop from necessary nutrients will mean lost revenue and a continued decline in soil test levels. Declining soil test levels translate into a greater fertilizer need down the road as the nutrient balance deficit continues to grow.

The 2015 IPNI soil test summary is the esteemed organization’s most extensive to date, including results from more than 7.5 million samples from U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

Share your thoughts on our analysis on Twitter @eKonomics_PCS

Feb 25 2016

Make rational decisions about P and K management

Environmental Stewardship and High-yield Agriculture: Integrating the Two to Feed a Growing Population

By 2050, the global population will exceed 9 billion and agriculture production will need to increase by 60% to provide adequate nutrition to meet growing demand.

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In most countries, there is little opportunity for farmland expansion and agriculture is tasked with significantly increasing yields without increasing finite land areas. One solution to this problem is high-yield agriculture, which has grown over past decades.

Environmental stewardship, which refers to the commitment to protecting the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices, is also receiving increased attention. Many factors affect the potential for agricultural systems to adversely affect the environment, including weather and application practices. Environmental stewardship and high-yielding agricultural systems may be perceived as being at odds with one another. However, it is necessary for the two areas to be utilized simultaneously to successfully feed a global population and conserve resources for future generations.

Tom Bruulsema, Phosphorus Program Director of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), and Lara Moody, Senior Director of Stewardship and Sustainability at The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), have extensive experience in this field and have shared their input with eKonomics to illustrate how the two practices can work together to ensure future success of the agriculture industry.

How can environmental stewardship and high-yield agriculture co-exist?

Tom: Achieving both a clean environment and high yields is challenging, but the connection between the two will prove critical in feeding a large and growing human population. Because farmers are continually challenged to get more out of the limited amount of land that is available to farm, nutrient application (sometimes above natural conditions) is required for high-yield agriculture. When these nutrients leak out of crop systems, they can disrupt natural ecosystems – harming the environmental stewardship cause. This is where careful nutrient management comes in – the practices of ensuring the right source of nutrients, at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place - the 4Rs.

Lara: The relationship between environmental stewardship and high-yield agriculture is not an either-or decision, but rather a collaborative partnership. The two areas of study work hand in hand to increase farmers’ ROI and protect the environment by focusing on ways to keep nutrients in the root zone where they are most beneficial to crops.

For farmers, high-yielding agricultural systems have a lot of associated costs and keeping nutrients in the root zone is key in maximizing ROI as they are getting more for their money. For the environment, keeping nutrients in the root zone means that fewer nutrients are being lost through waterways.

What are a few steps farmers can do achieve both?

Tom: Farmers can focus on placing nutrients where they are most available for the growing crop. Application of nutrients in bands below the soil surface and near the seed row puts these nutrients where the young seedling’s roots will most readily take them up as they grow. This allows the crop to begin capturing sunlight earlier in the season, increasing yield. It also protects the nutrients from losses to the air and water – limiting the nutrients that are lost to the environment.

Lara: Optimizing nutrient inputs for plant uptake is key. We need to focus on when and where the plant needs nutrients the most to achieve maximum use by the plant and limit loss.

It is important that all stakeholders realize that regardless of how well we optimize nutrient use, we’re going to lose something because there is one important factor that we have no control over – the weather. This is where mitigation comes into play. Both the 4R techniques and mitigation practices should be used in conjunction to minimize nutrient loss. Depending on a farmer’s location and their particular conservation needs, a variety of practices are available, including, but not limited to buffer strips, cover crops, terraces, controlled drainage.

How have you seen the agriculture community’s attitude towards environmental stewardship change?

Tom: In the last five to ten years, the agriculture community’s increasingly positive attitude towards environmental stewardship is evident on a regional level. For example, farmers in the Lake Erie watershed have become keenly aware of the connection between nutrients and algal blooms. Most farmers live near enough to the lake to appreciate its clean water for recreational purposes – they enjoy fishing, boating and swimming as much as everyone else. As a result, we have seen farmers ready to do their part to be part of the solution.

Lara: There has undoubtedly been increased awareness of environmental stewardship within the agriculture community as there has been growing attention placed on the issue from a variety of stakeholders. There is a difference between awareness and concern, however. While the larger community is aware of the problem, concern for the consequences of nutrient loss is not always present until there is a pending need in a particular community. Awareness of a need to pay greater attention to environmental stewardship can be dependent on where a grower is located geographically and within a watershed. There are many areas where we have seen growing interest in environmental stewardship efforts over the past few years. A few examples include increased focus on watersheds comprising the western Lake Erie basin, the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River basin and in parts of Illinois where regional discussions and the examination of phosphorus and nitrogen loss has necessitated growers to evaluate the environmental impact of their operations.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions /concerns farmers have about environmental stewardship and high-yield agriculture?

Tom: Owing to past experience, some farmers perceive environmental stewardship as cumbersome rules that inhibit their ability to grow crops successfully. Using a 4R approach, however, emphasizes regulating practices only when necessary, and making the most of voluntary practices aimed at achieving key goals. Some farmers may also perceive that high-yield agriculture requires more nutrients and other inputs than they can afford, but the reality is that high yields can be achieved with reasonable input levels and careful management of the agronomics, along with soil health. Strategies such as compaction avoidance, conservation tillage, sound crop rotations and cover crops can go a long way.

Lara: The notion that all environment and conservation groups are “out to get” the agriculture industry isn’t always the case. There are organizations who support what farmers are doing, opening doors for them and allowing the industry to have non-traditional partners, so the industry should keep an open mind in choosing which groups we engage with.

The 4R approach has been established as an important element for farmers looking to increase environmental protection, production and profitability. Are there any additional factors the ag community should be aware of surrounding environmental stewardship?

Tom: I think the ag community recognizes the importance of not only practicing sound environmental stewardship, but also communicating it. The stakeholders of agriculture – those who eat the food it produces, breathe the air and drink the water it impacts – need to be informed. They won't have time for all the detail, but emerging sustainability documentation systems can boil down the information and present a simple but accurate picture of what farmers are doing with regard to responsible management of plant nutrition.

Lara: Environmental stewardship will, and should, remain a component of discussions to achieve high-yielding agricultural systems. Working to minimize nutrient loss benefits both discussion topics. Because stakeholders in the environmental stewardship space are not always educated on agricultural systems, the practices we choose and the constraints in which we operate, it is crucial for the farm community to be engaged in those discussions. We can’t all assume someone else is watching out for agriculture’s best interest and having the conversations for us.

To benefit all stakeholders, including growers and those focused on environmental priorities, growers must acknowledge the potential impact nutrient losses have on the environment as they increase agricultural output. Those involved in the agriculture industry should recognize the importance of both high-yield agriculture and environmental stewardship, engage in these discussions and use these practices to influence their decisions moving forward.

Feb 18 2016

PotashCorp Field Reports - Winter 2016

Winter 2016 Field Reports

In this issue of Field Reports we explore two major PotashCorp facility updates that will be complete this year: an impressive warehouse in Hammond, Indiana which will help to provide customers with product this busy spring fertilizer season and the expansion at our nitrogen facility in Lima, Ohio to increase ammonia production.

In addition, we review the performance of the fertilizer market in 2015 and preview factors to watch in the coming year. We also highlight PotashCorp’s sales succession planning program — one of the many tactics the company uses to ensure outstanding service — and meet two sales professionals who have risen through the ranks. From an agronomic standpoint, Dr. Robert Mullen explains the importance of maintaining soil test levels to maximize economic return.

Click here to view the full Winter Field Reports.

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Feb 1 2016

Three Factors Leading To Declining Potassium Levels

Three Factors Leading To Declining Potassium Levels

On a daily basis, the lead agronomist for East-central Indiana’s Harvest Land Co-op, Steve Dlugosz, sees the kind of potassium-deficient soils that are evidenced in the eKonomics Nutrient Balance Analysis for his state.

Steve knows the reasons why and that the data doesn’t lie – there’s money to be made by testing the soil and fixing potassium deficiencies.

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From 2005 to 2010 alone, the percentage of soils that test below the critical level for potassium increased from 19 percent to 28 percent.

The state-specific data in eKonomics shows that, since 1975, the potassium balance in Indiana has declined 115 percent due to increasing nutrient removal trends and decreasing fertilizer use. This first-of-its-kind nutrient balance analysis uses USDA harvest records, manure application data and AAPFCO fertilizer consumption data.

“We continue to see a decline in soil potassium levels, some cases significantly, which is resulting in lower yields,” Dlugosz says. “Fewer bushels means decreased profitability.”

This continued decline in soil potassium levels, he says, can be traced back to three main factors.

Cash/Rent Operations Haven‘t Fully Tapped Into Potash‘s Economical Potential

“During the past several years as cash/rent agreements are changed, a lot of the ground will change hands quite rapidly over several different growers,” Dlugosz says. “Most of the time not leading to buildup in soil potassium levels, but actually depletion.”

He understands that renters think they’re managing costs and making the most profit they can in the years they have that acreage.

“But the reality is, they can do a lot better,” he says. “If we identify those yield-limiting areas of low potassium, in particular, and make improvements, that’s how the yields go up.“

Some feel that with the cost of cash rent, there’s no dollars left, Dlugosz says.

“But if we can get them to look at making some additional applications comparing it to the areas they don’t treat, many times they’ll see that bump in yield and it more than pays for itself.”

That’s just one place where Dlugosz finds the eKonomics ROI tools valuable. The website provides data that all farmers need regarding commodity prices, weather factors and the effect of optimal nutrient application.

Traditional Application Rates

Another factor leading to long term decline of soil potassium is a reliance on traditional application rates. There’s a feeling out there that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“When I say traditional application rates, I mean, ones that don’t reflect what the true yields and the true crop removal factors are,” Dlugosz says. “Traditional applications rates continue to be followed because guys are growing amazing yields right now.

A lot of guys will say to me I’m growing the best corn I’ve ever grown in my life and you’re telling me I need to do something different? And the answer is yes. If we find out that there still continue to be yield limiting areas that these traditional application rates are not keeping pace with the yields, I am going to suggest doing something different.”

When you make improvements, yields go up and profitability goes up.

“It’s really that simple,” he says.

When Times are Tough, Potash is Seen as Expendable

Although tight expenses might seem to require cost cutting, cut backs in your fertility program can be a mistake.

“You’ve got nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium,” Dlugosz says. “Most growers are hesitant at changing their nitrogen rate and probably for good reason because it’s a very important nutrient. The issue with that approach is you can put all the nitrogen on you want, but if you have critically low potassium you will not get the efficiency out of the nitrogen you need to maximize yields.”

The impact that K has on nitrogen uptake can have a significant impact on yields. And in years of stress, particularly drought, proper levels of potassium are also an important factor.

“So bottom line, whether you cash rent a lot of acres, or you’re a traditional farmer with traditional application rates, or you’re looking at managing expenses at a tough time, all the three scenarios need adequate potash,” he says.

Jan 04 2016

Timing is key for optimal nutrient application in fall

Don’t be Fooled by The Fantasy of Adequate Soil Fertility

Farmers and crop advisers face difficult economic decisions because of undesirable crop prices and lower-than-expected crop yields; due in part to unfavorable weather in 2015. Because soils with higher fertility levels are better able to supply plant nutrients during times of environmental stress and during peak crop uptake demand periods, soil fertility is a key area that farmers shouldn’t ignore. The latest edition of IPNI Plant Nutrition Today highlights some fundamentals farmers should keep in mind when developing management plans for the 2016 cropping season.

Nov 23 2015

Timing is key for optimal nutrient application in fall

Timing is Key for Optimal Nutrient Application in Fall

The past couple of years have illustrated how a condensed spring fertilizer application season can put significant pressure on the entire fertilizer supply chain. One way to reduce the risk of a short spring season is to apply your fertilizer requirements in the fall – fall application can be favorable with regards to time, labor availability and open fields. However, it is also important that farmers take into account the 4R principles when making fertilizer plans for the coming season. Check out this article on AgriNews that examines the environmental and economic benefits of waiting for the right time to apply anhydrous ammonia after harvest.

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Oct 29 2015

Make rational decisions about P and K management

Make Rational Decisions About P and K Management

Below is an excerpt of an article written by Antonio Mallarino, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. This article, originally published in Ag Professional, examines several key factors farmers should keep in mind if they are considering a reduction in application rates due to uncertainty in the industry. To view the full version of this article please click here.

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Crop prices have been declining and there is considerable uncertainty about the future. Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilizer prices have remained approximately constant or have declined slightly. Therefore, producers are thinking of reducing application rates.

Consider the following when making decisions with unfavorable crop/fertilizer price ratios:

  1. 1. Reducing fertilization rates across all conditions is not a rational or sound management decision. Do not reduce rates in low-testing soils, where yield increases and profits from fertilization are very likely, even with unfavorable prices. However, consider not fertilizing high-testing soils.

    Soil testing is not a perfect diagnostic tool, but is very useful and has become less expensive in recent years. Testing expenses are low compared to overall production costs and they are especially relevant with unfavorable crop prices. Soil analysis is only as good as the samples that are collected, so it is imperative that proper techniques be used to collect them.

    Crop yield increases from P and K fertilization are large and highly likely in very low and low-testing soils, but the size and likelihood of yield response decreases as soil test values increase and yield increase becomes very unlikely in high-testing soils.

    If your economic condition is particularly bad, you are unsure concerning field tenure, or unfavorable prices continue, you can temporarily reduce the removal-based rate to maintain optimum soil test levels or apply only starter. Keep in mind that this may increase profits in the short term, but higher rates will be needed in the future because soil test values will decline.

  2. 2. Use a good soil sampling method and variable-rate technology to vary, as needed, the P and K application rate within fields.

    Use of variable-rate P and K fertilization is a good option to improve P and K management in fields that have significant variation in soil test or yield levels. This technology can be used to target applications to the most deficient field areas to get the highest possible return when price ratios are unfavorable and also to improve maintenance fertilization by considering yield variability. Yield maps from the past two to four years (not just the last one) should be used together with soil test values to help define P and K application rates. Research suggests that either grid sampling or zone sampling methods are superior to the classic sampling by soil type method. With variable-rate application, the key is to follow the soil test interpretations.

  3. 3. Banding of P and K before planting or with the planter does not reduce the application rate needed to optimize crop yield no matter the tillage system.

    Research in Iowa soils and other soils of the humid Corn Belt has shown that banding of P and K fertilizer seldom is more efficient than broadcasting, even with no-till management. Therefore, cutting the fertilizer rate for low-testing soils when banding is used will increase the risk of yield loss and may reduce profits from crop production, and the need for future fertilization will increase.

    Deep placement of K fertilizer (about 5 to 6 inches deep) often is beneficial in ridge-till and sometimes in no-till or strip-till, but reducing the application rate is not recommended. In some conditions, starter P applied to the corn seed furrow or beside the seed can complement a primary broadcast application. This happens mainly when applying the P and K rate for one crop year in soils testing extremely low and/or with a thick residue cover or cool or wet soil in spring.

  4. 4. Give credit to P and K in animal manure.

    Iowa research has shown that manure is an excellent P and K source, when used in conjunction with manure analysis and careful application methods. The research results have been used to develop manure nutrient management guidelines as outlined in Using Manure Nutrients for Crop Production (PMR 1003). The K availability of all animal manure is 90 to 100% compared to fertilizer (and assuming otherwise similar conditions), whereas the P availability varies from 60 to 100% depending on the type of manure.

Oct 28 2015

Good Soil Health Can Be Compromised Without Good Soil Fertility

Good Soil Health Can Be Compromised Without Good Soil Fertility

Introductory soil science students have been taught, and wise farmers have observed, that productive soils are fertile soils; but not all fertile soils are productive. That is because poor soil physical and microbiological conditions can impair soil productivity and limit crop yields even in the presence of a good nutrient supply.

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Today, we are hearing the term “soil health” mentioned more and more frequently. The term implies many different things to different audiences... and different scientists. For example, the Soil Science Society of America has a formal definition of soil quality, but no current formal definition for soil health in its Glossary of Soil Science terms. This is in part because indices of soil health are not easily quantified for various regions, soils, and cropping systems. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service currently uses an operational definition of soil health: “The capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.”

Although there is a lack of a uniform definition – or scientific consensus on a national or regional standard index for soil health – there appears to be general agreement among scientists and crop production practitioners that good soil physical, biological and chemical conditions are equally important for sustainable crop production.

The Risk Of Lost Productivity

There is also strong agreement that neglected soil fertility results in lost productivity; an all-too common problem in parts of Africa and some developing nations, but also a concern right here at home in the U.S.

Consider for example, that summaries of more than 2.7 million soil samples in North America by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) showed that soil test phosphorus (P) levels had declined an average of 6 parts per million (ppm) from 2005 to 2010; mainly in the Corn Belt and the Central Great Plains. Those declines in soil test P could largely be explained by the cumulative crop harvest P removal exceeding P inputs. Similarly, median soil test potassium (K) levels declined an average of 4 ppm between 2005 and 2010; and indicated that 50% or more of the sampled areas likely needed K application to avoid crop yield losses, especially east of the Mississippi River and in the provinces of eastern Canada.

When P, K and other essential plant nutrients are below agronomic optimum levels, the result is poor or impaired crop growth, limited biomass production, and reduced return of crop residues to the soil. Continued declines in soil fertility, and neglect of appropriate fertilization and liming threaten good economic returns and soil health.

Wise fertilizer use and 4R nutrient management sustain soil fertility and help stimulate greater crop biomass production, and provide for increased crop residue return to the soil. Living organisms in the soil reflect soil biological health and diversity and require a steady supply of crop residues to help sustain and cycle soil organic matter. Proper soil fertility management, combined with other good soil conservation and cropping system management practices, leads to good soil biological activity.

Global Considerations

In the face of growing global food, fiber and biofuel demands, agriculture must strive to produce better harvested yields and crop quality, while also providing protective crop residues, and conditions that foster soil organic matter sustainability. Good soil organic matter levels – which vary by geographic region, soils, and climate – favor healthy soil biological conditions. Limited soil tillage, and avoidance of soil-compacting traffic in fields, helps sustain desirable soil physical and biological properties.

Increased soil organic matter, its stability, and maintenance are not achieved unless soil biology, soil physical conditions and soil fertility are optimized. Proper 4R soil fertility management is central to soil health, and within each farmer’s reach. Soil management knowledge and crop production technologies have increased in the past few years, but we have not yet achieved our very best. It’s through a team effort of the crop adviser and extension agent or conservationist with the farmer that the “sweet spot” of balance in soil physical, soil biological and soil chemical conditions can be achieved.

Remember — good soil health and profits are compromised without good soil fertility.

The above content is a selection from an article that originally appeared in CropLife. The original article can be accessed here.

Sep 29 2015

Plant nutrient analyses identifies yield-robbing shortages

Plant Nutrient Analyses Identifies Yield-robbing Shortages

In under-developed and developing countries, we might not be too surprised to frequently observe nutrient deficiency symptoms in major field crops.

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In North America, there is a perception among many urban dwellers, and even many in agricultural communities, that observance of nutrient deficiencies in leading field crops like corn, sorghum, soybean, wheat, cotton, and rice is relatively rare. Yet it is important to recognize, by the time plant nutrient deficiency symptoms are visually observed, significant crop yield has been lost and soil productivity has been compromised.

Summaries of more than 2.7 million soil samples in North America by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) showed that soil test phosphorus (P) levels had declined an average of 6 parts per million (ppm) from 2005 to 2010; mainly in the Corn Belt and the Central Great Plains. Those declines in soil test P could largely be explained by the cumulative crop harvest P removal exceeding P inputs. Similarly, median soil test potassium (K) levels declined an average of 4 ppm between 2005 and 2010; indicating 50% or more of the sampled areas likely needed K application to avoid crop yield losses, especially east of the Mississippi River and in the provinces of eastern Canada. When P and K are below agronomic optimum levels, poor crop growth and inefficient nitrogen (N) use can result. Inadequate secondary and micronutrient nutrition can also limit crop performance and N use efficiency.

Other factors like soil compaction, inadequate or excessive soil moisture, root injury by insects and pathogens and foliar diseases can also affect crop nutrition, and sometimes lead to inaccurate visual diagnoses. More farmers are using on-the-go crop greenness sensors or other aerial imagery – primarily in corn and wheat systems – to identify crop greenness as an indicator of the N nutrition status. Those greenness-sensing technologies work best when all other nutrients are at or above agronomic optimum levels. To be sure that crops have adequate nutrition in-season, and to avoid potential visual misdiagnoses, more growers and crop advisers should consider collecting representative plant tissue samples and performing plant tissue nutrient analyses. Plant tissue analysis can be used to accurately identify shortages and imbalances that short-change crop yield and quality, and which may leave plants more susceptible to attack by insects and diseases.

Make sure that crops in your fields are not experiencing “hidden hunger.” Collect representative plant tissue samples, and submit them to a reliable laboratory for nutrient analyses. Be sure to sample the right plant parts; and if you are uncertain which parts to sample, consult your laboratory, crop adviser, extension agent, or a reputable plant nutrition website for guidance.

Soil testing and plant analyses are like tandem axles under vehicles and trailers. You may be able to manage getting by with one for a short time, but to avoid the risk of damage and lost performance, it is best to rely on both. Consider plant tissue sampling “healthier” versus “unhealthy,” or better-performing” versus “under-performing” areas in your fields to learn if differences may be caused by inadequate plant nutrition. Don’t let “hidden hunger” act like a cancer, eating away your crop productivity and economic viability until it is too late. Use both soil testing and plant tissue analyses to evaluate and fine-tune your crop nutrition management.

Aug 18 2015

PotashCorp Field Reports - Fall 2015

Fall 2015 Field Reports

In this issue of Field Reports, see how construction of the PotashCorp rail yard and warehouse has progressed to improve customer service and reduce delivery times for customers across America. Exceptional customer service is one of PotashCorp’s key values and this issue features the team who is available 24/7 to assist with any problems customers may have. The latest edition also examines important fall fertilizer topics, including an explanation of liquid polyphosphates and how they can benefit agricultural operations, and an analysis of global potash demand and its potential effect on future consumption trends.

Click here to view the full Fall Field Reports.

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Jun 26 2015

Spring Nitrogen Management: Form and Timing

Spring Nitrogen Management: Form and Timing

Proper nitrogen applications are essential for healthy crop production and most farmers are able to see immediate benefits from meeting their crop’s requirements every planting season. The below article, originally published in CropLife magazine, explains the importance of paying close attention to both the form and timing of nitrogen application to ensure you are able to get the most from your nitrogen investment.

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Most corn producers have planned their spring nitrogen program for 2015, and many have already started to implement their program. Such plans might include fall ammonia application, early spring application of ammonia or another form of nitrogen, or plans to apply all of the nitrogen at or after planting, reports University of Illinois crop scientist Emerson Nafziger.

“In recent years, there has been a trend toward more applications per crop, and it’s not unusual today to have nitrogen applied three or four times on the same field,” Nafziger said.

In 2014 Nafziger and his team began a study, funded by the Illinois fertilizer checkoff program and administered by the Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC) board, with the goal of comparing yields from different nitrogen programs. These included a comparison of 15 ways to apply the same rate of nitrogen (150 lb per acre) in the spring at three U of I research centers.

June rainfall at the three sites where trials ran in 2014 ranged from 8 to 10 inches, or more than twice the normal amounts. “This might have meant above-normal nitrogen loss potential, though we did not have water standing on these plots,” Nafziger said. “Even so, most of the nitrogen forms and application times we compared produced similar yields when averaged across sites.”

Across the three sites, the highest-yielding treatment (urea plus Agrotain broadcast at planting) yielded statistically more than the five other treatments, but the second-best treatment (all of the nitrogen as UAN sidedressed at V5) yielded more than only the two lowest-yielding treatments.

“Having so few distinct differences was due to the fact that treatments changed rank so much from one site to another,” Nafziger said. “That lowered the predictive ability of the experiment because we have no way to predict how a treatment that did well at one site but not another will perform at either site (or across sites) in 2015 or 2016, or in a field this year or in future years.”

The 2014 results do raise the possibility that few if any of these nitrogen form and timing treatments may, in the end, stand out as being consistently better or worse than another. Nafziger said that this isn’t alarming, but it does provide a hint that the list of “acceptable” ways to apply nitrogen might turn out to be a little longer than was first thought.

“While we need to be cautious about any predictions, this also hints that some of the treatments that we reason should produce higher nitrogen use efficiency — such as sidedress or split nitrogen applications — might not always do so consistently,” he said. “What we saw it do well in 2014 can’t be considered the ‘best new’ way to apply nitrogen.”

Nafziger added that it’s dangerous to speculate about why a treatment might have done well at one site but not another based on weather differences between the two sites. “In part that’s because the weather among sites was reasonably consistent — and excellent – in 2014. It’s likely that the weather in 2015 will be different than in 2014, and that may well change how the different treatments perform,” he said.

Nafziger said most growers can take comfort in the fact that just about any method they choose for putting nitrogen on the corn crop is likely to work reasonably well, though no method is entirely safe from unusual weather or crop conditions. “We only need to look back to 2012 to find a year when no method of applying nitrogen worked very well. When lack of water becomes the main limitation for a crop, things like nitrogen management may make little difference,” he said.

“A sound nitrogen management program should take costs into account, though, and not just the costs of trips across the fields and of the fertilizer material, but also the indirect costs that include such things as the chance for yield loss or of more expensive forms or application methods we might need to use if we can’t get nitrogen on when we expected to,” Nafziger said.

“Most changes we are inclined to make in how we manage nitrogen today involve increasing the complexity, and this often comes at a cost in time, expense, or uncertainty. Such costs have to be covered by consistent improvement in yields,” he said.

Jun 25 2015

Plant Analysis for Testing Nutrient Levels in Corn

Plant Analysis for Testing Nutrient Levels in Corn

Plant analysis is an excellent “quality control” tool for growers interested in high-yield crop production. It can be especially valuable for managing secondary and micronutrients that don’t have high quality, reliable soil tests available, and for providing insight into how efficiently you are using applied nutrients.

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Plant analysis can be used by Kansas farmers in two basic ways: for diagnostic purposes, and for monitoring nutrient levels at a common growth stage. Diagnostics can be done any time, and is especially valuable early in the season when corrective actions can easily be taken. Monitoring is generally done at the beginning of reproductive growth.

Diagnostic sampling

Plant analysis is an excellent diagnostic tool to help understand some of the variation among corn plants in the field. When using plant analysis to diagnose field problems, try to take comparison samples from both good/normal areas of the field, and problem spots. Don't wait for tasseling or silking to sample.

When sampling for diagnostic purposes, collecting specific plant parts is less important than obtaining comparison samples from good and bad areas of the field. As a general rule, if plants are less than 12 inches tall, collect the whole plant. Cut off the plant at ground level. With plants more than 12 inches tall and until reproductive growth begins, collect the top fully developed leaves (those which show leaf collars). Once reproductive growth starts, collect the same plant parts indicated for monitoring purposes, described below.

Along with taking plant tissue samples, it is also helpful to collect a soil sample from both good and bad areas when doing diagnostics. Define your areas, and collect both soil and plant tissue from areas that represent good and bad areas of plant growth. Soil samples can help define why a problem may be occurring. The soil sample may find certain nutrient levels are very low in the soil, helping to explain why a deficiency is occurring. But other factors can also cause nutrient problems. Soil compaction, for example, often limits the uptake of nutrients, especially potassium, which are otherwise present in adequate amounts in the soil.

Plant analysis for nutrient monitoring

For general monitoring or quality control purposes, plant leaves should be collected as the plant enters reproductive growth. Sampling under stress conditions for monitoring purposes can give misleading results, and is not recommended.

Stresses such as drought will generally limit nutrient uptake, and result in a general reduction in nutrient content in the plant.

In the case of corn, 15-20 ear leaves, or the first leaf below and opposite the ear, should be collected at random from the field at silk emergence, before pollination, and before the silks turning brown.

Handling and shipping plant sample

How should you handle samples, and where should you send the samples? The collected leaves should be allowed to wilt over night to remove excess moisture, placed in a paper bag or mailing envelope, and shipped to a lab for analysis. Do not place the leaves in a plastic bag or other tightly sealed container, as the leaves will begin to rot and decompose during transport, and the sample won’t be usable. Most of the soil testing labs working in the region provide plant analysis services, including the K-State lab. Make sure to label things clearly for the lab.

What nutrients should be included in the analysis?

In Kansas nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), zinc (Zn), chloride (Cl), and iron (Fe) are the nutrients most likely to be deficient. Recently questions have been raised by consultants and others concerning copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), and molybdenum (Mo), though widespread deficiencies of those micronutrients have not been found in the state.

Many labs can analyze for these nutrients also. Normally the best values are the “bundles” or “packages” of tests offered through many of the labs. They can be as simple as N, P and K, or can be all of the 14 mineral elements considered essential to plants. K-State offers a package which includes N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Cu, Zn, and Mn for $23.75.

What will you get back from the lab?

The data returned from the lab will be reported as the concentration of nutrient elements, or potentially toxic elements, in the plants. Units reported will normally be in “percent” for the primary and secondary nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, and Cl) and “ppm,” or parts per million, for most of the micronutrients (Zn, Cu, Fe, Mn, B, Mo, and Al).

Most labs/agronomists compare plant nutrient concentrations to published sufficiency ranges. A sufficiency range is simply the range of concentrations normally found in healthy, productive plants during surveys. It can be thought of as the range of values optimum for plant growth. The medical profession uses a similar range of normal values to evaluate blood work. The sufficiency ranges change with plant age (generally being higher in young plants), vary between plant parts, and can differ between hybrids. So a value slightly below the sufficiency range does not always mean the plant is deficient in that nutrient. It is an indication that the nutrient is relatively low. Values on the low end of the range are common in extremely high-yielding crops. However, if that nutrient is significantly below the sufficiency range, you should ask some serious questions about the availability and supply of that nutrient.

Keep in mind also that any plant stress (drought, heat, soil compaction, etc.) can have a serious impact on nutrient uptake and plant tissue nutrient concentrations. So a low value of a nutrient in the plant doesn’t always mean the nutrient is low in the soil and the plant will respond to fertilizer. It may be that the nutrient is present in adequate amounts in the soil, but is either not available or not being taken up by the plant for a variety of reasons. Two examples are drought, which can reduce plant uptake of nutrients and cause low nutrient values in the plant; and high-pH soils, which can cause low iron availability.

On the other extreme, levels above “sufficiency” can also indicate problems. High values might indicate over-fertilization and luxury consumption of nutrients. Plants will also sometimes try to compensate for a shortage of one nutrient by loading up on another. This occurs at times with nutrients such as iron, zinc, and manganese. Plants will load up on iron at times in an attempt to compensate for low zinc. In some situations, very high levels of a required nutrient can lead to toxicity. Manganese is an example of an essential nutrient that can be toxic when present in excess. This can occur at low soil pH levels, generally well below 5.

Summary

In summary, plant analysis is a good tool to monitor the effectiveness of your fertilizer and lime program, and a very effective diagnostic tool. Consider adding this to your toolbox.

May 29 2015

Back to Basics: Details Matter for Productive Soils

Back to Basics: Details Matter for Productive Soils

When it comes to soil health, you might have to dig a little deeper, look at things from a different angle or make sure everything balances out to improve your dirt’s fertility.

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Certain things are known about Illinois soils, most importantly that they vary across the state. The key is to figure out what works best in your situation. And although soils vary, there are a few principles that most farmers can apply. All start with a soil test and end with patience.

“Illinois soybean farmers have a variety of options that can help improve their soil,” says Roger Windhorn, resource soil scientist for Illinois Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS).

Soil Tests Pay Dividends

Right now, with crop prices down and high input costs, farmers will really need to look at soil tests a lot closer for the next two crop years, says Chris Behl of Bloomington-based Pro-Ag Consulting LLC.

“For farmers whose soils tests are recent, it’s a huge advantage,” he says. “You know exactly what shape your soils are in, which ones are out of balance, which ones have acute shortages and where you can prioritize your dollars to achieve a profit.”

Soil tests are especially important on new ground. “You miss a lot just by windshielding it,” Behl says. “Information acquired from a soil test can be used to decide which crop and varieties to plant, which fertilizers to use, and what kind of tillage practices to implement.”

“The key to soil testing is how you use it. You have to follow up,” says Don Guinnip, soybean farmer from Marshall, Ill., and Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) Production Committee chair.

Soil testing can be done at various times of the year, but Behl prefers right after planting. Soil conditions are ideal, farmers have time to get data analyzed and have more options for fall. As crops get taller in the summer, it is more difficult to sample. Post-harvest sampling is limited by weather and turnaround time. Either way, the key is establishing and working from a base.

“At the end of the day, people want answers before spring,” says Behl, whose company provides soil and agronomy testing for Illinois farmers. “Everything else is predicated after that.”

Balance pH

The most important thing to improving soil is to get the pH right and to balance the elements that contribute to pH, says Kelly Robertson, a farmer and owner of Precision Crop Services, in Benton, Ill.

Soil pH is most important for nutrient availability and is the easiest and cheapest to correct, adds Behl. “It’s a building block you should look at very closely,” he says.

Soil pH varies across Illinois. Prairie areas with dark-colored soils generally have a higher pH because of nutrient cycling of calcium by the grass roots. Timber areas with light-colored soils generally have a lower, more acidic pH because of the presence of organic acids in the leaf litter that cause greater leaching of the soil, says Windhorn.

Applying limestone is necessary to adjust soil pH, and lime quality matters. So does application. Robertson finds that the cheapest lime may be coarse or not apply well due to an inconsistent grind. This also leads to a lime not breaking down well in the soil. Robertson says all lime is different, so invest the time to find the best one for your situation.

Organic Matter Matters

“One of the best things any Illinois farmer can do is to add or protect organic matter in their soil,” Windhorn says. Since residue quantities are minimal in soybeans, it is very important to keep what is there.

This is one reason Guinnip likes double-crop soybeans and cover crops. His timber soils are low in organic matter and high in clay.

The winter wheat and cover crops he plants improve the root systems for other crops, hold nutrients in place, stop erosion and increase the organic matter.

“It’s a lot of little things that add up and pay for the expense to plant the crop,” he says.

A good, healthy soil has a lot of organic residues that are breaking down and converting to organic matter, Robertson says. If farmers have access to manure, applying it can increase organic matter and add nutrients.

Large amounts of surface residue do not equal a large increase in soil organic matter. Building organic matter takes time, lots of time, Robertson notes. He says farmers can’t just plant a cover for a couple years and expect an increase in soil organic matter from two to three percent.

Organic matter, which is higher in Prairie soils, helps serve as a shock absorber, too. Low organic matter clay timber soils in southern Illinois tend to stick together more.

Soil Structure Is Foundation

Remember seeing soybeans standing in water last year? Odds are those beans took a yield hit.

Behl says when corn or beans don’t get off to a good start, it’s hard to come back from a high rainfall unless farmers get rid of the excess water.

Soil structure destroyed this year will contribute to yields next year, confirms Robertson. “Farmers want to make sure they don’t do anything to restrict root growth,” he says.

Good soil structure develops over long periods of time with freezing and thawing, wetting and drying, and is influenced by plant roots and microbes.

“We can and do alter structure, usually in a bad way, with over tillage, lack of cover crops, hard pan development and compaction,” Windhorn says.

Sometimes farmers can’t change the soil, but they can manage it by understanding it, Behl says. One practice that can help soil health and drainage is to have a plan to build and not destroy soil structure. Write the plan down and follow it. Know what fields flood, which tend to stay wet, how they should be tilled, which direction they should be planted and even where trucks should park during harvest, adds Robertson. Don’t do anything that would destroy good soil structure.

Fertility Counts

From a fertility standpoint, farmers really must monitor potash in southern Illinois, advises Robertson. Potash levels are easier to lose than gain. And in a soil testing program, potash may not change from year to year, even when potash is applied at higher rates.

This doesn’t mean farmers should ignore potash. “The tendency is to think that I can’t build it so I won’t put it on,” says Robertson. “But if you quit, test levels will go down faster than they come in.”

“As the economy changes and margins tighten, it is more important than ever to put the fertilizer investment where plants need it,” Guinnip says.

So if you haven’t had a soil test in four or five years, it’s probably time for a checkup. “Look at the crop removal each year,” Behl explains.

“We had an exceptional crop in 2014, but we haven’t seen the huge nutrient removal rates we thought were out there.”

Illinois farmers have seen a lot of variable rainfall the past few years, from droughts to floods, which Robertson says makes predicting nutrient removal rates challenging to predict.

Invest The Time

Investment in improving soil fertility, soil structure and soil health is a long-term commitment. Farmers are pressed for time but a lot of things they are dealing with, such as fertility, structure, organic matter and water, are things that previous generations of farmers also managed, only perhaps on a smaller scale, Robertson says.

Now we have technology that makes it easier to manage things like cover crops, Guinnip says.

“We all have to keep in mind, though, that because the soil is highly buffered, it slowly resists changes and sometimes a significant period of time is necessary before improvements become noticeable,” Windhorn says. “Patience is the key word.”

Mar 4 2015

Market Views – Factors to Watch in 2015

Market Views – Factors to Watch in 2015

Global market conditions can have a significant impact on a farmer’s profits and as a result, it is beneficial to stay up to speed on factors that may impact fertilizer markets around the globe. Jeff Holzman, Director, Market Research at PotashCorp, shares his predictions for the 2015 fertilizer industry, and what farmers must consider when making smart crop nutrient decisions.

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We enter 2015 with a moderated outlook for global commodity markets. Oil prices fell by more than 40 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 – a sudden drop that has wide-ranging economic and geopolitical implications. The key factors to consider for agriculture markets include the impact on crop production costs, biofuel markets and foreign currencies (the US dollar has strengthened against the currencies of many competing agriculture-exporting countries).

Consecutive years of record world crop production have resulted in some replenishment of grain and oilseed stocks and a more moderate pricing outlook. Despite a decline in crop prices compared to first-half 2014, we believe potash remains affordable at current levels and the need to replenish soil nutrients will be high after a record harvest.

Potash Outlook

Following an especially robust year, we expect potash deliveries to decline modestly given improved distributor inventory. However, global potash shipments are projected to remain at historically high levels ranging between 58-60 million tonnes.

North American potash producers are expected to have increased operational capability in 2015 (assuming no project ramp-up issues), while Russian capacity could be reduced due to reported brine inflow problems at Uralkali’s Solikamsk 2 mine.

Nitrogen Outlook

As in recent years, the key factors in the nitrogen market will be reliability of supply from major ammonia-exporting countries and the monthly distribution of Chinese urea exports. We do not expect a resolution to many of the supply-side issues that impacted the ammonia market in 2014 but could see some cost relief for producers with oil-linked natural gas prices.

Phosphate Outlook

Phosphate has been a difficult market to predict over the past year with significant seasonal price variability. We anticipate this pattern will continue in 2015 but potentially with less intense pricing changes assuming a more stable supply/demand balance. India’s diammonium phosphate (DAP) demand should increase as its inventories were drawn down in 2014.

For more information on the factors that could impact fertilizer markets in 2015 see PotashCorp’s Winter 2015 Field Reports.

Feb 4 2015

PotashCorp Field Reports - Winter 2015

Winter 2015 Field Reports

The newest edition of Field Reports highlights how PotashCorp has addressed critical issues customers face in winter months, including transportation and distribution challenges and the techniques necessary to transport Lomag in subfreezing temperatures. This winter, PotashCorp has focused on advancing rail capacity and operations to ensure reliable, timely delivery to customers across North America, even in the coldest conditions. This issue also explores factors that could impact the industry in the coming year and clarifies Liebig’s law of the minimum – an analogy frequently referenced when making fertilizer decisions.

Click here to view the full Winter Field Reports.

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Jan 16 2015

Potash Fertilizer: A True Necessity

The Economic Return to Soil Test Information

Variable grain prices, as witnessed towards the end of 2014, remind farmers of the importance of maximizing the return on their investment on each acre they farm. The following article, featured in AgProfessional, explains how producers can increase the return per acre by utilizing soil sampling and fertilizing based on management zones within a field or based on historical yield map data.

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By Dorivar Ruiz Diaz and Mykel Taylor, Kansas State University, November 17, 2014

Following harvest is an excellent time for soil sampling and testing. This year, with lower grain prices, many producers may be looking for places to cut costs. However, cutting back on soil testing could result in lowering profits.

Having accurate soil test information is critical to making the right decisions regarding fertilizer input. Fertilizer cost has remained steady while grain prices have dropped this fall. Therefore, making good use of fertilizer input becomes critical to maximize profits.

Previous research by former K-State agricultural economists Terry Kastens and Kevin Dhuyvetter simulated 10,000 observations from farm production fields to evaluate the economic value of accurate soil test information. Each field was assigned a random value for soil test P (STP) and soil test N (STN), and different scenarios for expected yields and prices for grain and fertilizer. The random values represent what a producer might guess the soil N or soil P level is without having results of a soil test for confirmation.

The resulting yields from nutrient rates applied based on the guesses made without accurate soil test information were compared with the yields obtained when applied nutrient rates were based on actual soil test levels of N and P. Results from this study show that when the guess on soil N and P levels turned out to be exactly correct, and equal to the actual levels, there was no effect on profit from having the actual soil test information – except for the cost of taking and analyzing the soil tests.

However, if the guess is not correct, and the actual soil N or P level is much lower or much higher than the initial guess, the producer would have lost a significant amount of money per acre. In other words, the overall return to accurate information on soil nutrient levels can be significant.

Considering other variables such as fertilizer and grain price, results show that returns to soil sampling are generally greater when grain prices are lower. This is because potential returns to inputs are tighter at lower crop prices.

Potash Fertilizer: A True Necessity

If actual soil test levels of N or P are higher than what you expect, producers can realize a significant savings by reducing or eliminating unnecessary nutrient applications. This situation is not uncommon for N, where some fields may have high levels of residual N from previous crops.

On the other hand, if producers overestimate how much N or P is in the soil and actual soil test levels are much lower than expected, yields and income could be increased by applying the higher, correct amount of nutrients needed. In this case, the difference in final income per acre will depend on the cost of the needed nutrients, the yield response from applying the needed nutrients, and crop prices.

If producers are applying a “farm-wide” uniform rate, they may be missing an opportunity to maximize profits for each field. Furthermore, by sampling and fertilizing based on management zones within a field, or based on historical yield map data, producers can further increase the return per area.

Jan 11 2015

Summer 2014 Can't-Miss Ag Events

Upcoming Ag Events 2015

As the busy spring planting season nears, farmers nationwide are making the most of their time by catching up on the latest agronomic tools, techniques and news. The months leading up to this busy season are the perfect time to connect with fellow farmers and agronomists and share valuable information to maximize this year’s ROI. Below are a few events we’re looking forward to; reach out to us on Twitter at @eKonomics_pcs and let us know what events you’ll be attending in 2015.

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Jan 6 2015

Potash Fertilizer: A True Necessity

Crop Rotation and Nutrient Management

Growing crops in rotation is not a new concept for production agriculture, but it is important to realize that crops grown in rotation have different nutrient requirements and may have different critical soil levels. In the US, crop rotation has averaged around 80 to 90 percent of acreage devoted to corn, soybeans and wheat since 1996.1

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Although a diverse crop rotation requires dedication to its management, the practice can provide numerous benefits to ultimately increase yield. Crop rotation can aid in pest management by breaking pest cycles, benefit soil structure due to the different root architectures of different crops and impact fertilization rates, specifically when a grass follows a legume.

The term ‘rotation effect’ has been used for decades to describe the increase in yield that occurs when crops are grown in rotation rather than monoculture. This yield increase is typically around 5 to 15 percent – an increase that can provide a significant boost to a farmer’s bottom line.

Crops in Rotation and Nutrient Requirements

When determining the crop rotation system that will be used, the first step is soil testing. Depending upon crop rotation, field history and the value of the crop, farmers should soil test every one to three years. Soil testing will aid in determining nutrient application needs for the particular crop being planted, as some crops remove more nutrients from the soil than others.

Alteration of crop rotation and the resulting impact on nutrient removal can be evaluated using nutrient removal calculation tools. Our eKonomics website has a nutrient removal calculator that will allow for easy calculation of nutrient removal (and nutrient uptake) based upon crop and yield level.

Realizing that different crops have different nutrient removal rates is a good way to maintain a fertilization strategy, but also note that different crops may have different soil critical levels. As an example, in the eastern Corn Belt (Indiana and Ohio), wheat has a higher critical level for soil test phosphorus than corn or soybeans. As a result, the phosphorus soil test level will need to be maintained at a higher level to ensure adequate nutrition for wheat in the rotation.

Rotating crops is a good way to increase productivity, but make sure to account for differences in nutrient requirements of the different crops when formulating a fertilization strategy to maximize profitability.

1 USDA. (2013). Soil Tillage and Crop Rotation.

Dec 14 2014

Potash Fertilizer: A True Necessity

Potash Fertilizer: A True Necessity

Below is an overview of an article originally published by Dr. Emerson Nafziger of University of Illinois Extension, countering claims that question whether K is truly necessary in soil. In his article, Nafziger focuses on the larger issues of supplying nutrients to crops to prevent deficiencies and crop yield loss.

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Can soils provide enough K without fertilizer?

It is important to recognize that clay minerals in soils contain huge amounts of K, measured in tons per acre. In contrast, plant-available K—that found in soil solution or bound to exchange sites on soil particles—is typically measured in (low) hundreds of pounds per acre. Although it is present, the K in minerals is part of their chemical structure, and becomes plant-available very slowly. Very low crop yields and K removal, or no crop removal (as was the case before Illinois soils were farmed) will result in plant-available K levels either not dropping or slowly increasing. This happens as crop roots pick up K from deeper soil layers and over time will bring K up to the soil surface, where it will be released when plants die.

The key to whether soils can supply enough K to meet crop needs is whether the crop removes K faster than the soil can free up K through the weathering process. Today, a corn-soybean rotation with good yields will remove as much as 100 lb. of K over a 2-year period. Most soils in Illinois can supply nowhere near these amounts, so K levels will drop if no K fertilizer is added. How long it will take for a deficiency to appear will depend on how much plant-available K is present.

Is the K soil test useful?

There is no question that measuring plant-available K in soils is difficult, and that soil-test K levels vary over time, often not very predictably. Part of this is a sampling issue – soil test K levels often change quickly over short distances, so samples show variability. Soil moisture affects K tieup in clay minerals, and even the way soils are dried before testing can affect the soil test level. Despite all this, low soil test K values are often predictive of crop deficiencies, and crop K deficiencies are rare (though possible, especially when soils around the roots are dry) when soil test levels are high. Yield increases from adding K fertilizer are much more common when soil test K levels are low than when they are high. So while it’s easy to find fault with the soil test for K, the test (if samples truly represent the soils in a field) does tell us whether soil K levels are high enough to support full yields or whether deficiency and yield reductions are likely without adding fertilizer K.

It is important for farmers to take into account numerous factors when deciding whether K fertilizer application is right for their farm. Although soil test levels can increase without fertilization, this is rarely the case when crops are removed. To maximize yields, farmers should pay close attention to soil test results on their individual farms and work with their ag retailer to determine the optimal nutrient application for their operation.

Dr. Emerson Nafziger is professor of crop production and Extension agronomist in the Crop Sciences Department at the University of Illinois, where he has worked for more than 32 years. He has degrees in agronomy from The Ohio State University, Purdue University, and the University of Illinois.

Nov 25 2014

Latest Technologies Promote Accuracy, Making Soil Sampling More Manageable

Latest Technologies Promote Accuracy, Making Soil Sampling More Manageable

Soil sampling, important for identifying and addressing nutrient needs, can be a labor intensive and time-consuming process. However, many new soil sampling and nutrient management technologies have been developed to aid farmers in getting an accurate representation of their fertilizer needs, creating opportunities for increasing efficiency in time and cost.

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The importance of soil sampling

The results of soil samples influence numerous decisions – and thus should be done consistently to ensure accurate results. Routine sampling allows farmers to determine soil pH, nutrient levels and if a nutrient application is needed to adequately support subsequent crops.

There are several factors to consider to achieve a representative soil sample. The first consideration is the timing of soil sample collection. While there is no ideal time between crops based upon calendar date (either spring or fall), there are considerations to be made for soil moisture status and crop residue degradation. Ideally, soil samples should be collected from moist soil and at a similar time relative to crop residue degradation every time samples are collected. Sampling a dry field can cause nutrient concentrations and soil pH to register different values than expected based upon soil test history. Sampling earlier than normal, relative to crop residue break down, can result in higher values than expected, especially for potassium. The frequency of soil sample collection depends upon cropping sequence and fertilization approach, but ideally samples should be collected at least once every four years.

Like sampling timing, how samples are collected should be consistent. Collecting samples at too shallow of a depth may cause nutrient concentrations to appear higher than what they really are, and sampling too deeply can cause nutrient concentrations to appear lower than what they really are. Numerous tools are available to aid the sampling process and ensure consistency of depth.

Collecting a representative number of soil samples

Regardless of whether manual or mechanized soil sampling takes place, basic guidelines like those found on eKonomics apply regardless of methods used. Another rule of thumb is that at least 15-20 cores should be taken to represent a composite sample for a given area. The importance of collecting a representative number of soil samples for a specific area can mean the difference between time wasted and time well spent.

Some automated tools can pull up to 2,500 quality cores per hour – significantly more than a human would be able to – and they are able to do so with a high degree of accuracy. More importantly however, is that use of this equipment be combined with best management practices of soil sampling so accurate and representative results can be obtained.

Maintaining consistent sampling in mechanized systems

Again, for an optimally representative sample, 15-20 core samples should be taken randomly within an area at consistent depths. When using a mechanized system, note the importance of not collecting samples in parallel with previous crop rows, as outlined by Dr. Fabian Fernandez in an article posted on eKonomics in June of 2014, “Broadcast or deep band? Strip-till or no-till? A soil P and K comparison.

With the advancement of innovative, mechanized soil sampling tools, farmers will be able to collect valuable information about their farming operation and do it in a more time efficient manner.

Nov 17 2014

Fertilizing Forage Crops: Fertilization of Pastures

Fertilizing Forage Crops: Fertilization of Pastures

This article is the second in our two-part series on the importance of soil nutrition to the production of forage crops. Though fertilization efforts are often focused on grain crops, it is equally important, and sometimes more so, that the nutrient content of soil used for growing forage crops receive adequate attention.

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The goal of pasture production is different than hay production. Weight gain of the foraging animal is what matters. Intuitively, the weight gain achieved is a function of forage yield (and quality) and concentration of animal units foraging. If forage yield is decreased due to inadequate soil nutrient status, then the concentration of animal units must decrease to maintain weight gain. Increasing forage yield can allow for increased animal unit concentration while maintaining weight gain of each animal.

Pastures are obviously different in their nutritional needs from hay fields. Because animals are grazing these fields actively rather than complete vegetative removal, nutrient application rates are usually lower. The caveat to the previous statement is the soil nutritional status. Depleted soils will require higher rates of fertilization to bring the soil back to a level that will support high productivity and carrying capacity. Soils that have good soil test levels can receive maintenance application rates that are substantially lower than hay fields.

Since the field is grazed, the animal actually reallocates much of the nutrient consumed through manure deposition. The reality is, however, that much of the manure deposition occurs near the water source, so grazing animals normally do a poor job of nutrient redistribution. Just like in hay production systems, soil testing is a good tool to monitor the nutrient status of the field, but visual assessment can also be effective. If “cow pox” starts to occur, it likely means that the field is inadequately fertilized. Cow pox is the formation of areas where forage growth is obviously better due to animal defecation. The manure nutrients are providing nutrition to the forage that the rest of the field is missing.

Pasture production systems do have different rules for fertilization from hay crops due to the presence of the foraging animal and their nutritional requirements. The most important time to be mindful of nitrogen and potassium application rates is typically early in the spring as crops break dormancy and resume growth. Excessive availability of nitrogen can promote rapid growth decreasing the plant’s ability to take up adequate magnesium while soils are still cool (slower diffusion rate within the soil). This causes the forage to be deficient in magnesium, which can cause grass tetany of the foraging animal (specific to ruminant animals). Excessive potassium fertilization can also induce magnesium deficient forage as potassium uptake can reduce magnesium concentration in the forage tissue. To avoid this potential issue keep early season application rates of both nitrogen and potassium lower until soil temperatures warm up. Providing magnesium supplementation can also decrease grass tetany incidence.

Forage production is an intensive cropping system that removes a considerable amount of potassium and phosphorus from the soil. To maintain productivity and profitability, pay close attention to yields and subsequent nutrient removal while keeping an eye on soil test levels.

Nov 10 2014

Fertilizing Forage Crops: Nutrient Removal and Fertilization of Hay Crops

Fertilizing Forage Crops: Nutrient Removal and Fertilization of Hay Crops

We often focus our attention on fertilizing grain crops and ensuring that they have adequate soil nutrients to achieve their maximum potential, but the concepts are just as important to forage crops. In fact, good soil nutrition can be more important for forage crops because of the amount of nutrients removed, especially in hay production. The importance of fertilization in hay production is expanded upon in the first of our two-part series on fertilizing forage crops.

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Hay crops remove substantial amounts of potassium and phosphorus from the soil because most of the vegetative growth is being harvested (Table 1). As an example, a 6 ton per acre alfalfa crop will remove 72 and 300 pounds of phosphorus and potassium per acre, respectively. Therefore, maintaining productivity can require fairly high rates of fertilization. Because of the nature of hay production, applications can and likely should be made multiple times throughout the year. Nitrogen (for grass crops) should be applied multiple times or after each cutting to increase efficiency of use. Phosphorus and potassium applications can be split between spring and fall applications.

As an example of how a good fall fertilization strategy can benefit your hay crop, consider alfalfa. After the last fall cutting of alfalfa is collected, fertilization with potassium should be considered if it is not already part of a fertilizer program.

Alfalfa that has adequate levels of potassium accumulates more carbohydrates in the root system, which improves its over-wintering ability and vigor early the next spring (especially in more northern latitudes). Fall fertilization should be done as soon as possible so that the plant can take advantage of the added nutrients before the onset of winter. Application can be split between fall and after the first harvest in the spring (applying half in the fall and half in the spring will minimize luxurious uptake of K by the crop early next year). Phosphorus applications can follow the same approach. Managing potassium and phosphorus fertilizers strategically can extend the life of the stand. Research has shown that one or perhaps two years of additional stand can be realized if a sound fertilizer program is followed.

Similar to grain crops, nutrient application rates are tied directly to yields achieved (and subsequent crop removal) or yield goals and soil test levels. Soils that have good soil test levels may allow for a straight maintenance approach to fertilization. With this approach, you are simply trying to resupply nutrients being removed by harvest. Using Table 1, you can easily get an idea of how much nutrient will be removed per ton of crop. To ensure that your fertilization approach is performing adequately, you can soil test every other year to check the status of your soil. One word of caution on soil testing, do not sample after a recent application of fertilizer. Collect the soil sample in the fall before the last cutting.

While you might be tempted to think that nutrient application is less important for hay crops than grain crops, think about fertilization from a pure economic perspective. If inadequate nutrition is limiting forage productivity then not only does your productivity and subsequent revenue go down, but the cost of producing a ton of forage can actually go up. Stated another way, decreasing fertilizer rate to “save” input costs that result in decreased forage yield can cause the cost of production on a per ton basis to increase.

Table 1. Potassium and phosphorus removal by hay crops typically grown in North America

CropPhosphorus removal
(P2O5)
Potassium removal
(K2O)
pounds per ton
Alfalfa1250
Orchardgrass1354
Fescue1254
Ryegrass1243
Red clover1242
Sorghum sudangrass1558
Bromegrass1046
Birdsfoot trefoil1142
Timothy1142

Oct 17 2014

4R Nutrient Stewardship

Mississippi State University Area Agronomist Reports on Potassium Deficient Crops in Central Mississippi

A recent article from the Delta Farm Press illustrates the importance of a solid potassium fertilization strategy. The grower in this related story ran out of potassium for one of their fields, and experienced severe potassium stress in areas that were not fertilized. The importance of potassium nutrition on the crops’ ability to deal with pest pressure should also be recognized.

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As we always mention on the eKonomics website, a soil test is a good place to start for your potassium nutrition.

Potash Related Crop Problems Return

Ernie Flint, Mississippi Regional Extension Agronomist | Delta Farms Press

Potash-related problems are certainly not new to crops in Mississippi, but this year we have had a reminder of how important this element is. There is no mystery to the story of potash nutrition, but many of us are questioning the reason for increased incidence of this problem in 2014.

During one of my visits to a farm in the southwest part of Mississippi I ran across an example of severe potash deficiency in soybeans. A field which had low soil test potash had received a fairly moderate rate of potash fertilizer at planting and the crop had responded well to it. Plants did not show deficiency symptoms for this element, except that in one field the grower had run out of potash and had not been able to complete the application on a portion of one field.

This area exhibited the worst potassium deficiency I had ever witnessed in soybeans with some plants almost dead as a result. Less than 5 feet away from severely affected plants were normal plants with good yield potential. This confirmed to me that in cases of potash deficiency, the element should be applied in spring rather than fall, especially on sandy or silt loam soils.

Another example of the importance of good potash fertilization has been the incidence of verticillium and fusarium wilts in cotton, along with high incidence of the common leaf blight diseases. These problems have been extremely common in cotton fields all over the region this year and in many cases can be linked to soil test potash levels that are less than ideal.

We have also witnessed the presence of another wilt-like disease in cotton that resembles verticillium but does not discolor the xylem tissue of the stems as in verticillium. With this disease the plants wilt and defoliate much like plants infected with verticillium, but when we do the customary stem splitting test for verticillium diagnosis, the stem is found to be free of any discoloration. In some fields where this condition has been found, other plants may show the symptoms of verticillium, suggesting that both this newcomer and verticillium may be present.

I understand that efforts are being made to determine the severity of this new disease that has contributed to early senescence and defoliation of several fields of cotton in this region, however, it would be premature to suggest that we know everything we need to know about it.

Personally, I feel that the extended period of frequent rainfall during the early portion of the growing season produced shallow rooting, thereby limiting the amount of soil accessed for potassium and other elements. Other issues that may limit the availability of micronutrients needed to combat disease may also be involved. Hopefully we will soon have a better handle on the reason for this problem so that we can plan to avoid it in the future.

For now, we need to concentrate on what we know. Fields that were affected should be sampled and tested, along with other fields that have not been tested recently. As I always say, if you guess about soil fertility you will sooner or later guess wrong.

Can you afford to be wrong?

Sep 10 2014

4R Nutrient Stewardship

Dealing with Spatial Variability in Nutrient Management

Growers nationwide continue to note the benefits of 4R nutrient stewardship. The 4Rs are based on selecting the ‘right’ fertilizer source and applying it at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. What is ‘right’ for a given field depends on site-specific factors, including the degree of spatial variability.

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Spatial variability describes a soil’s capacity to supply nutrients and how crop nutrient demand varies across a field. Failing to consider spatial variability when making nutrient management decisions can result in decreased fertilizer use efficiency and poor return on investment.

Productivity and profitability can be improved by applying fertilizer at the right rate and in the right place within the field. Understanding how requirements vary spatially in a field allows the grower to use variable-rate application technology to distribute fertilizer accordingly. This enables growers to avoid missing out on additional yield in under-fertilized areas and enhances profitability where fertilizer is less needed.

Managing nutrient inputs at smaller spatial scales across a field can also improve environmental quality and cropping system sustainability. Understanding variables that influence spatial variability – such as soil type, water and nutrient-holding capacity, slope and topsoil thickness – can aid growers and advisers in selecting appropriate best management practices (BMPs) for each field. These BMPs may go beyond nutrient inputs and impact a grower’s decisions such as seeding rate and perhaps even hybrid/variety.

Technology that takes spatial variability information to form an action plan is readily available. Harvest yield monitors, mapping software and variable-rate fertilizer applicators were all developed based on the premise that not all areas of a field possess the same yield potential or nutrient-supplying capacity. Therefore, the areas of a field do not necessarily have the same nutrient requirements.

Precision agriculture technology currently provides the tools needed to identify, diagnose and treat spatial variability. Continued investigation into the effects of variability on fertilizer management is leading to refined approaches and additional technological advances for enhancing a grower’s return on fertilizer investment.

Sep 4 2014

Advantages of Fall Fertilizer Application

The Importance of Granule Size When Blending Dry Fertilizers

Granular urea, monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and granular muriate of potash (MOP) are all products offered by PotashCorp that can be applied alone or blended with other products. Even if your daily activities do not include handling, blending or field-applying fertilizers, this is important information for those that use fertilizers in their operations.

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Notice the three segregated materials

As site-specific management and precision technologies manifest themselves further into farming operations, it is anticipated that increasing demand for specific fertilizer blends will prevail. Consequently, it will be more important to understand established quality standards and procedures for producing quality dry bulk blended fertilizers.

Taking an example from the above mentioned fertilizers, there are several types of potash in the PotashCorp granular MOP product line. Types are classified in different ways including granule size, shape and density. Different types of the same fertilizer exist because it is necessary to have all products in the blend be compatible in terms of size, shape and density. If products are not compatible, they will segregate (as seen in photo), making accurate and evenly dispersed field application virtually impossible.

Managing the quality and consistency of a dry blend should be a priority for all fertilizer manufacturers, retailers and farmers. There are negative agronomic consequences to improper management of product segregation (see accompanying table).

Agronomic consequences of segregated material:
  • Uneven nutrient spreading
  • Uneven nutrient distribution
  • Uneven crop growth (esp. w/nitrogen)
  • For impregnated materials, spread pattern is critical (esp. w/low rate chemicals)
  • Micronutrient uniformity may be significantly affected

Manufacturers and producers are initially responsible for supplying fertilizer that is properly sized and matched to nutrient content specifications. The Canadian Fertilizer Institute (CFI) has developed the Size Guide Number (SGN) concept to assist in the selection of compatible materials for blending by providing a common basis for size comparison. The Uniformity Index (UI) is an equally useful measure. Even within the same material, segregation does occur before blending. This makes it equally important for retailers to properly maintain blending equipment and follow best practices for determining the worthiness of a particular fertilizer in a blend. These procedures are necessary to maintain quality along the value chain.

Those needing additional information on this topic can refer to CFI’s 2013 Bulk Blend Quality Control Manual, which is available for purchase.

How do products segregate?
  • During transportation, handling, storage, on the way to the field and in the field
  • Takes place within individual materials before blending
  • Takes place among different materials after blending
    • for example, micros, urea, DAP and MOP
What it is:
  • The calculated diameter of the average particle
  • Represents the particle size that divides the mass of all particles into two equal halves; one having all of the larger particles and the other having all of the smaller particles
How it is measured:
  • By mathematical calculation using screen sizes of material
  • By measuring devices using a series of screens
What it is:
  • A mathematical expression of the ratio of the small particles to large particles
Why it is important:
  • Acceptable assured by using both the SGN and UI to set limits on variation
  • If a particle in a blend is within 10 percent of the average screen analysis of all materials in the blend, it will remain mixed when handled and applied properly

Aug 6 2014

Fall Fertilization - Preparing for Next Season

Fall Fertilization – Preparing for Next Season

As harvest season approaches, it is critical that farmers start thinking about fall fertilizer decisions for next year’s crop. When preparing for the fall and making fertilizer rate decisions, it’s important to pay attention to soil sampling basics and yield information to determine crop removal, a process detailed below.

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Crop Removal as a Guide

Crop production is essentially a process that removes nutrients from the soil, allocates those nutrients to plant development and directs some of those nutrients to harvestable material where they are removed from the field. This cycle will at some point require resupply of nutrients to maintain soil productivity, so it makes sense that assessing crop removal can be a good guideline for making nutrient rate decisions.

Crop removal is estimated by multiplying the yield achieved by the average nutrient concentration in pounds per unit of yield (see table). Yield achieved can be determined using weigh tickets from the grain terminal, weigh wagons in the field or combine yield monitors. If weigh tickets or weigh wagons are to be used, be sure to have a good estimate of the area that produced the total amount of grain if estimating yields of different areas within a field.

Assessing Yield of Row Crops

An often overlooked, but important, aspect of assessing nutrient removal of row crops from yield data is proper calibration of combine yield monitors. The information collected is only as good as the way it is collected, so a poorly calibrated yield monitor can result in questionable information. Spend some time prior to harvest ensuring that your yield monitor is properly calibrated.

Assessing Yield of Hay Crops

Yield can easily be measured for row crops, but the yield of hay crops should also be estimated to determine nutrient removal. In fact, hay crops remove substantially more potassium than grain crops because so little potassium is actually shuttled to the grain and harvested. Multiplying the total number of bales by their average weight is all that is required to determine total hay yield, which can then be multiplied by the crop removal coefficient. An alternative approach is to actually measure the nutrient content of the hay/straw by collecting random samples from the bales. If this approach is used, a minimum of 10 cores should be collected randomly to create a composite sample.

Combining Crop Removal and Soil Sampling Techniques

Allowing crop removal to direct fertilizer decisions is a good idea, but eventually a soil sample will be required to evaluate how well yield and nutrient removal are being estimated. Combining soil testing and crop removal estimates can help farmers make good fertilizer decisions and ensure good productivity from the crops they grow.

Table 1. Crop removal coefficients for the major crops produced in North America.

CropPhosphorus (P2O5) coefficientPotassium (K2O) coefficient
Corn0.38 pounds per bushel†0.27 pounds per bushel
Soybean0.80 pounds per bushel1.30 pounds per bushel
Wheat0.60 pounds per bushel0.30 pounds per bushel
Rice0.30 pounds per bushel0.16 pounds per bushel
Alfalfa12 pounds per ton49 pounds per ton

†- bushels for corn, soybean, wheat, and rice are 56, 60, 60, and 45 pounds per acre, respectively.

Crop removal coefficients exist for many agronomic crops (and horticultural crops), and PotashCorp has assembled average reported values for the major crops produced globally. The Crop Removal Tool can be accessed at http://www.potash-eKonomics.com/tools-to-calculate-fertilizer-needs/calculators/nutrient-removal/.

Aug 4 2014

Advantages of Fall Fertilizer Application

Advantages of Fall Fertilizer Application

The past couple of years have illustrated how a condensed spring fertilizer application season can put significant pressure on the entire fertilizer supply chain. One way to reduce the risk of a short spring season is to apply your fertilizer requirements in the fall.

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The primary reasons for making fertilizer applications in the fall are time, labor availability and open fields. Once crops are harvested, farmers generally have time to collect soil samples and retailers have time to communicate plans for the upcoming season. Fields tend to be relatively dry and available for fertilization, and tillage can be done to prepare the field for next spring’s planting.

Potassium and Phosphorus Application

From an agronomic standpoint in North America, there is generally little difference between fall and spring fertilization for potassium and phosphorus, though there are a few exceptions for certain soils, climates and crops. Coarse-textured, sandier soils should avoid fall potassium application – especially in higher rainfall environments because of the potential to leach. Crops that demand higher potassium during certain physiological periods (cotton is an example) can benefit from applications closer to uptake, especially in sandier soils. Fall fertilization of pasture/turf is advantageous because it allows these crops to develop strong root systems for over-wintering (see our Winter 2014 Field Reports).

When planning potassium and phosphorus fertilization, if at all possible, do not rely solely on a single soil test to determine your next crop’s fertilizer need. Instead, track soil test levels over time and incorporate estimates of crop removal as a guide to rate decisions. For this, you can use the Nutrient Removal Calculator on our eKonomics website.

Nitrogen Application

Fall nitrogen applications are subject to dramatically different rules. Nitrogen applications should be delayed until soil temperatures reach 50 degrees F. If applying anhydrous ammonia, the subsurface temperature (or zone where the nitrogen will be applied) should be at or below 50 degrees. The reason scientists recommend delaying application until soil temperatures cool is because of the ability of ammonium to be converted to nitrate.

Avoid fall application of nitrogen sources that contain nitrate, especially in higher rainfall environments. If using urea as your nitrogen source, ensure that the product is incorporated to minimize volatilization losses of ammonia. Also, consider using a nitrification inhibitor with fall nitrogen applications to further slow the conversion of ammonium to nitrate.

Fall is a great time to get fertilizer applied in preparation for next year’s crop. Pay attention to your soil test levels, be mindful of crop removal based upon this year’s yield and think about soil conditions at the time of application. Doing things right in the fall can alleviate some of the constraints faced during the busy spring season and help get your crop started on a solid footing next spring.

Jul 31 2014

PotashCorp Field Reports - Fall 2014

PotashCorp’s 2014 Fall Field Reports Now Available

As farmers prepare for the busy fall harvest season, the latest Fall Field Reports supports them with information on the advantages of fall fertilization and insight into the dynamic global potash market. This edition of Field Reports also marks several important milestones for PotashCorp as we celebrate 25 years of nourishing customer relationships and also welcome Jochen Tilk as our new President and CEO.

Click here to view the full Fall Field Reports.

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Jul 16 2014

Using Soil pH to Determine the Availability of Plant Nutrients

Using Soil pH to Determine the Availability of Plant Nutrients

Soil pH is a characteristic that describes the relative acidity or alkalinity of soil, and it greatly affects the availability of some plant nutrients. In planning nutrient applications you should aim for an ‘ideal’ soil pH, which is close to neutral (pure water is close to a neutral pH with a concentration of 7). Most nutrients are optimally available to plants within a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, as this range is generally very compatible with healthy plant root growth.

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How pH Affects Soil Health

Phosphorus (P) is directly impacted by soil pH, while nitrogen (N), potassium (K) and sulfur (S) are major nutrients that are affected to a lesser extent. At both acidic and alkaline pH levels, phosphate ions react with other minerals to form less soluble compounds and decrease the roots’ ability to absorb necessary nutrients. Most other nutrients, especially micronutrients, are optimally available at a slightly acidic pH such as 6.5 to 6.8.

Adjusting Soil pH

In some situations, materials are added to the soil to adjust the pH. On a field scale, the pH of acidic soil is commonly raised by applying and incorporating a liming material. Increased nutrient availability and improved crop growth can be achieved by adding liming material to excessively acidic soil. It is also possible to lower the soil pH by using a liquid acid solution or finely ground elemental sulfur, but this is rarely done because of the high cost.

Applying pH Principles in Your Fields

Soil pH values are a regular part of most, if not all, soil test protocols. Next time you take soil samples in your fields, take time to note the pH values in the results. It is useful to compare these values to previous soil test pH values and determine if there are any trends or changes. By monitoring the pH values regularly (every two to three years) in a field, you can take action to adjust the pH of the soil to optimize soil health, which in turn will your maximize yields.

Jul 9 2014

Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms...Don't Wait Until You See Them

Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms...Don’t Wait Until You See Them

Below is an International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) article detailing the importance of paying close attention to a variety of plant nutrition indicators - although visual nutrient deficiency cues are useful, they should not be used as the sole diagnostic tool.

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Symptoms of plant nutrient deficiency begin to appear when one of the essential nutrients is lacking. Sometimes deficiencies appear early in the growing season when soils are cold or wet, and when root activity is low. Deficiencies are also commonly observed later in the season when the soil cannot satisfy the high nutrient demand of a rapidly growing crop. Whether the deficiency is caused by poor root uptake or the low nutrient-supplying power of the soil, proper management practices can help alleviate these problems.

Deficient plants do not initially show any obvious symptoms of nutrient shortage other than slower growth, which can also be due to many factors. In the case of a mild deficiency, plants may never show visual symptoms beyond slow growth and reduced yield. For this reason, it is important to pay close attention to a variety of plant nutrition indicators.

Nutrient deficiency causes a disruption in any number of essential metabolic processes within the plant. Crops mature unevenly because deficiencies rarely occur uniformly across entire fields. This leads to lower yield, harvesting difficulties and lower crop quality. And, as mentioned, this can all occur without diagnostic symptoms appearing.

When deficiency symptoms become noticeable, severe stress is already occurring and steps should be taken to overcome the problem if practical. Knowing which nutrients are mobile or immobile within the plant will help pinpoint the cause of the deficiency. Diagnosing symptoms also requires an understanding of specific crop colors and markers, but it is worth noting that some crops are more susceptible to visible symptoms than others.

Pre-season soil testing should be part of a strategy for preventing nutrient shortages. In addition to helping avoid plant stress, a soil analysis allows decisions to be made to avoid over- or under-application of fertilizer, which can result in economic inefficiencies.

Once plants begin to grow, a useful tactic for diagnosing specific nutrient deficiencies is plant analysis (tissue testing). It is best to compare nutrient concentrations in deficient plants growing in problem areas with healthy plants to identify the differences between the two. It is also helpful to collect soil samples for analysis from the two areas at the same time the plant samples are collected.

Tissue testing is also valuable for monitoring plant health during the season to verify that nutrient concentrations do not drop below nor exceed established critical values. Guidelines have been developed for many crops on what the appropriate nutrient concentrations should be during various growth stages. Supplemental fertilization should be considered if the concentrations fall below these established thresholds.

While visual symptoms are often a convenient and cost-effective way to identify nutrient deficiencies, it is important to be aware of other techniques to identify deficiencies. When nutrient deficiency symptoms appear, first act quickly to diagnose the problem and then make plans to correct it and to avoid having a reoccurrence in the future.

The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) has a large database of nutrient deficiency images that is continually updated. Visit the website at: http://media.ipni.net.

Jul 2 2014

Nutrient Budgets Make Bigger Cash Budgets.

Nutrient Budgets Make Bigger Cash Budgets.

Just as you wouldn’t begin an operating year without a financial budget, it’s just as important that you establish a nutrient budget. Nutrient budgets offer insight into the balance between crop inputs and outputs. In short, they compare nutrients you apply to the soil to nutrients taken up by crops. This article describes what nutrient budgets are, how they work on the farm and how to implement them.

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Balanced Nutrients, Balanced Production

As the world’s population grows, farmers must make greater and more efficient use of mineral and organic nutrient sources.

Nutrient budgets help you do just that by helping clarify the balance between crop inputs and outputs. Inputs include fertilizers, nitrogen (N) fixation by legumes and applied manure, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Outputs, or crop nutrient removal, take the form of grains, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, fiber, hay and forage that are harvested. Additional outputs include erosion loss, leaching, volatilization and nitrate reduction.

What A Nutrient Budget Includes

A nutrient budget isn’t as exact as a financial statement. An assortment of variables affects each tract of land. For example, parcels near concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) may have had too much manure applied over time or it may have been unevenly distributed. Previous flooding could throw things off, too. It’s normal to incorporate limits and assumptions when compiling your budget.

A nutrient budget includes:

  • Soil test: This component is complementary to the budget and lets you know what nutrients are already available to crops and helps you plan input purchases. It is a critical best management practice (BMP) in the 4R strategy which emphasizes applying the right nutrient, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.
  • Yield history: By examining the historical yields of crops taken from specific fields, you can calculate nutrient removal over time. Yield history may also help better predict the amount of uptake that will occur with similar crops planted in the future.
  • Testing for N: A good estimate of N already in the soil, especially in the Great Plains and western states, will give you a basis to predict what will happen in terms of N carryover into the next season.
  • Previous applications: Knowing what’s been applied to the field in years past will offer insight into what may already be in the ground or what nutrients may no longer be present.
  • Water: Consider what kind of water has been applied to the field. Does irrigation water contain dissolved nutrients such as N, S or Cl? If so, it should be counted as input.
  • What’s around you: Consider water sources that could run into your field. Is there a CAFO nearby? A manufacturing facility? What makes up these water sources can impact how you plant.

Once you’ve gathered this information, you should work with your ag retailer to determine specific nutrient application rates for your crops and conditions. For more information on how you can help increase your yield and net profit with optimal P and K applications, visit our Nutrient ROI Calculator.

The above content is an excerpt from an article originally published by The Fertilizer Institute in collaboration with IPNI. The original article can be accessed here.

Jun 20 2014

Broadcast or deep band? Strip-till or no-till? A soil P and K comparison.

Broadcast or deep band? Strip-till or no-till? A soil P and K comparison.

Over the past 20 years, no-till corn and soybean production has become more widely accepted. Reasons for no-till include lower operating costs, plus the likelihood that crop residue conserves more soil and water than conventional tillage.

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These positives are balanced by the fact that residue can interfere with planting operations. Because the soil stays wet and cool longer, no-till can delay planting, germination, and early growth.

For these reasons, strip-till has emerged as best of both worlds for some farmers. It provides the soil and water conservation benefits of no-till, as well as the improved seed-bed conditions of conventional tillage. Strip-tilling also allows for simultaneous deep band fertilizer application.

Some researchers believe that compared to broadcast application, deep banding improves nutrient availability, nutrient efficiency and yield. They also believe it lowers the potential for environmental degradation from runoff.

However, deep banding might increase potential soil erosion due to soil disturbance. It also presents a challenge when soil sampling for P and K levels, due to the creation of “zones” of concentrated nutrients. Over time, fertilizer patterns can start to form.

In a recent study that appeared in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, researchers Dr. Fabian Fernandez and Daniel Schaefer compare the distribution of P and K between three systems: no-till broadcast (NTBC), strip-till broadcast (STBC), and strip-till deep band—fertilizer applied 6" below surface at row position (STDB). The study also suggests improved soil sampling procedures for these three systems.

The following are some of the study’s broad conclusions:

  1. While placement methods (broadcast vs. deep band) did have a large influence on soil P and K, tillage methods did not.
  2. While deep banding increased soil test levels in the subsurface, plant uptake decreased soil test levels in the surface.
  3. Deep banding created a pattern of high soil P and K test levels in row and lower levels between rows.
  4. Maintaining the same rows from year to year increased soil K test levels (but not P) within 4" of the row surface in all tillage/placement methods. This was likely due to nutrient recycling of K by crop residue.
  5. P and K fertilizer rates do not require adjustment based on tillage/placement methods, as changes in P and K were similar across different treatments.
  6. When the fertilizer band and the planting row are maintained in the same position year to year, sampling location is an important consideration.
  7. If the band is deeper than the recommended sampling depth, soil test levels can be underestimated.
  8. If the location of a banded nutrient (or in the case of K, the planting row) is maintained in the same position from year to year, avoiding these areas during sampling can cause soil test levels to be underestimated.
  9. If soil samples are only collected from the fertilizer band, overestimation of soil P and K levels can occur.
  10. When RTK satellite navigation is used to maintain fertilizer bands and planting rows constant, a ratio of 1:3 IR/BR (in row/between row) sampling procedure seems adequate to estimate soil fertility.

Jun 12 2014

Balanced Nutrients Increase Crop Yields and Aid in Environmental Protection

Balanced Nutrients Increase Crop Yields and Aid in Environmental Protection

The below article is a summary of an article written by the scientific staff of the IPNI on issues impacted by nutrient stewardship.

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Farmers are always looking for ways to achieve the perfect balance: Maximize production to feed the growing population while maintaining environmentally friendly practices. A key to achieving this balance is to utilize proper plant nutrition and best management practices, some of which are surprisingly easy and detailed below.

Before profiting from proper nutrient management, you should recognize that nutrients must exist in specific quantities. Plants require 17 nutrients for successful growth, 14 of which are mostly supplied through the soil. However, the relative amounts needed of each nutrient vary greatly. For example, there may be one million times more nitrogen (N) in a plant than there is molybdenum, but they are both equally essential for the plant to thrive. If just one of the nutrients is in short supply, none of the other nutrients can be properly used. Once appropriate nutrient quantities are established, farmers and the rest of us are able to realize the following benefits.

  • Balanced nutrient use results in increased water use efficiency by crops. Water use efficiency can improve as much as two-fold by simply supplying essential nutrients in the proper balance. Good nutrition promotes rapid ground cover and healthy plant canopies, which ensure crops will use water efficiently and produce more grain with the same amount of water.
  • Growing higher yielding and more efficient crops through balanced nutrition increases the capture of CO2 from the air, producing more biomass from the same area of land and storing more C in the soil. The increased soil C improves soil quality and the balanced nutrition produces healthy crops, which quickly develop a canopy that serves to protect the soil against rain and wind erosion. Extra surface residue left behind after harvest further protects against erosion and runoff.
  • Well-fertilized crops produce more yield from the same area, which frees up fragile land for other important uses, such as wildlife habitat and recreation. This is critical as the amount of farmable land per person in the world is shrinking as the global population is growing. Between 6 and 17 percent of greenhouse gas production is attributed to the clearing of forests and native lands for agriculture, meaning best management practices are critical in limiting additional emissions.

To ensure sufficient food supplies for generations to come, farmers must pay close attention to the ways they utilize the land available to them. Proper nutrient management will not only result in higher crop yields, increasing the potential for increased profits, but will also allow for maximum yield from limited amounts of land.

Jun 4 2014

The Importance of Phosphorus for Crop Production

The Importance of Phosphorus for Crop Production

Plants absorb the phosphorus they need for successful growth from the soil, making it essential that farmers pay close attention to phosphorus levels to ensure a healthy harvest.

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Plants need phosphorus to:

  • Act as the plant’s cellular energy supply, as plants deficient in phosphorus experience restricted growth and development.
  • Aid in the production of DNA and RNA, the genetic code needed to produce protein, seed and genetic transfer.
  • Promote root proliferation to increase root volume and improve soil nutrient exploration.
  • Improve fruit, forage, vegetable and grain quality of crops.

Plant roots remove phosphorus from the soil. In order to do this, available phosphorus is released via phosphorus-containing minerals dissolving into the soil solution. This resupplies solution phosphorus that will then move to the plant root via diffusion. Later, when crops are harvested, a portion of the phosphorus accumulated by the plant during the growing season is removed, decreasing the amount available in the soil for subsequent crops.

Soil testing determines just how much phosphorus will become available during the growing season. Soil test levels below a critical level are at risk for yield loss due to phosphorus deficiency. How much risk? It always depends upon growing conditions, but as much as 60 percent yield loss for corn (Kansas State University) and 50 percent yield loss for soybean (Iowa State University) have been documented by field research.

Crop removal of phosphorus from grain crop production is much higher than it is for potassium, as phosphorus is removed at significantly higher rates. Approximately 75 to 80 percent of the total phosphorus in the plant is removed with the harvested grain, so only a small amount of accumulated phosphorus is returned with the unharvested portion of the crop.

Phosphorus — Putting the Soil and Plant Together

Maintaining a good phosphorus supply through fertilization will increase the available phosphorus supply in the soil. Think of phosphorus this way: The soil has a high capacity to “fix” phosphorus present in the soil solution. Proper fertilization satisfies this fixation capacity. That said, be sure to avoid over-saturating a soil’s phosphorus fixing capacity because that can lead to potential environmental issues. Soil testing and sound agronomic decisions will minimize the risk of any environmental impact resulting from oversaturation.

Unfortunately, soil test trends indicate that phosphorus levels are declining just like potassium levels. This is because yields have increased while fertilizer application rates have remained relatively flat for more than 40 years. If this trend continues, phosphorus reserves will become increasingly depleted, and the productivity of the soil will be put at risk.

Your goal as a farmer is to position your crop for success. Identifying that your soil is deficient in phosphorus and applying an appropriate amount to eliminate the deficit will go a long way to ensuring the success of your crop production system, both in the short term and long term.

May 21 2014

Precision Ag: Site Specific Crop Management (SSCM) and Fertilizer ROI

Precision Ag: Site Specific Crop Management (SSCM) and Fertilizer ROI

This is the second in a two-part series on how to make the best of nutrient management in Precision Ag programs. In this article, we will provide an example of how the eKonomics Nutrient ROI calculator can be used to help evaluate nutrient profitability in a grid/zone.

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Grid/zone sampling generates soil nutrient data in high spatial detail. Having access to higher resolution data provides an opportunity to adjust application rates according to the variability in nutrient levels within a field. The size of the area that each sample represents will dictate how precise you can be with applying fertilizer. You cannot apply at a finer resolution than you sampled, but you can always apply at a coarser resolution than sampled. For example, if a soil sample represents a ten acre area, it is impossible to be able to manage your nutrient levels at a two or five acre resolution.

Whether a farmer uses Precision Ag grid/zone management techniques or other methods for soil sampling and fertilizer applications, eKonomics has tools and information that can help a variety of farming operations make better business decisions. If you’ve already taken the opportunity to explore the Nutrient ROI Calculator, you know that an approximate calculation can be made for what your return per acre could be with a specific fertilizer application for a variety of different crops.

Figure 1

Figure 1 provides a simple example of how grid/zone management can be used with data obtained from the Nutrient ROI Calculator. When performing the ROI calculation, grid/zone sample is the soil test level. In this example, there is a high degree of variability in soil K test level and the recommended application rate within the sample grid. It is not surprising that the estimated nutrient ROI increases as the soil K test level falls. Even though the average soil test K in this example is the same for both sampling methods, the difference in ROI is significant.

This article provides an example of how eKonomics can provide valuable insight for a variety of farming operations. Several other examples can be provided where nutrient variability within a field provides an opportunity to evaluate nutrient ROI at a higher resolution. We encourage you to try some examples yourself to see what benefits eKonomics could reveal for your operation.

May 20 2014

Precision Ag: Key Technology to Manage Your Farm

Precision Ag: Key Technology to Manage Your Farm

It’s no secret that Precision Ag technology is expanding and evolving quickly. The technology has created an opportunity to enhance farm management practices and improve environmental and economic performance. So the question is what role does Precision Ag have in your fertilizer program? In our two-part series on Precision Ag, we’ll discuss specifics like Nutrient ROI applications in soil grid sampling and the implications of Precision Ag on Nutrient Removal.

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It is important to remember a few things when exploring this subject for any farming operation:

  • Conditions vary from field to field and even within a given field, but we don’t have to venture too far to find the person who knows that field the best.
  • Today with Precision Ag, we can treat and observe each square yard of ground differently.
  • Have a good understanding of the role 4R Nutrient Stewardship can have with precision ag on your farm.
  • Meetings between retail agronomists and farmers can be helpful in unlocking the full value of data your Precision Ag system generates.

There’s a common misconception that Precision Ag technology understands things that farmers, agronomists, and retailers don’t. The truth is, a Precision Ag system is like an extra set of eyes that can report back to you, your tractor, and your agronomist so that future decisions can be made with greater accuracy and confidence.

How could you personally benefit from letting grid/zone soil sampling maps and combine yield monitor maps speak to you in unison? The information obtained should help identify areas of your farm that require special attention. Ensuring that nutrients are applied at the right rate and right place will go a long way in producing a healthier, higher yielding, and more profitable crop.

Guaranteed, there are areas in your field that hold great potential for maximizing fertilizer return on investment. The question is how can you unlock that value? Tools such as the Nutrient ROI Calculator and Nutrient Removal Calculator help identify that potential value. The following series of articles will provide examples of how eKonomics can be used to give you information on the value of nutrient management in the Precision Ag programs being used on your farm.

May 14 2014

Summer 2014 Can't-Miss Ag Events

Summer 2014 Can’t-Miss Ag Events

From events that address increasing food demands to those that show off the latest and greatest in nutrient application trends and technologies, this summer features numerous ag events to bring together the ag, research and farming communities. The season’s premier events are listed below; make sure to check back as the list is updated throughout the summer.

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May 7 2014

Is Potassium Fertilizer Really Necessary?

Is Potassium Fertilizer Really Necessary?

Below is an overview of IPNI Northcentral Director, Dr. T.S. Murrell’s examination of how soil fertility and plant nutrition science determines if or when K should be applied.

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It’s no secret that nutrient application can help farmers maximize crop yield and quality - but the reasons why certain nutrients are required and in what quantities isn’t always so obvious. Because plants extract certain nutrients, including K, that are needed for maximum growth from the soil, a basic question soil fertility and plant nutrition scientists have faced over the years is, “How much of a plant’s nutrient needs can be met by what’s already in the soil?”

Scientists can address this question with a soil or plant-based approach, both of which illustrate the same conclusion. To begin testing, they first apply incremental amounts of K to sample plants and measure the response. The researcher designates one sample to be used as a “check,” with zero K applied, which is then compared to the treated plants. If the plants that were treated with K additions have higher growth and yield, this indicates the soil supply alone is not sufficient to meet the plant’s requirements - the plant will benefit from additional K application.

Not to be overlooked when evaluating nutrient application strategies, the nutrient budget is a key component of soil testing. The nutrient budget reveals whether agricultural practices are depleting, enriching or maintaining the indigenous K supplies.

To calculate the nutrient budget, scientists identify a parcel of land and subtract the amount of K removed from the quantity that was originally applied. A positive result indicates K enrichment while a negative one signals K depletion.

Where supplies are low, enrichment is beneficial, while depletion is helpful where indigenous supplies are high, which primarily occurs in more arid agricultural areas. However, if depletion occurs long enough on soils with high amounts of K, the indigenous supply will eventually become inadequate for crops.

Conclusion

It is clear that plants require potassium. Not applying K on soils with low indigenous supplies will limit yields and production, and is considered a form of land degradation. On soils with high indigenous supplies, omitting K will not immediately reduce yields or production. However, successive crop harvests will result in continued withdrawal of K and eventually deplete indigenous supplies. Once this depletion reaches yield-limiting levels, as has been observed in numerous areas around the world, potassium fertilization is necessary to produce adequate yield.

To read the full IPNI article, visit http://www.ipni.net/article/IPNI-3348. And check out the eKonomics ROI Calculator to understand how proper crop nutrition can positively impact your bottom line.

Apr 17 2014

Get Your Crop “Started” Off Right

Get Your Crop “Started” Off Right

Getting your crop off to a good start early in the growing season is important to achieving maximum yield. That‘s why one of your first jobs is to determine which nutrients should be in your starter fertilizer.

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Consulting your ag retailer or agronomist will help ensure the most effective formulation is achieved through expert consideration of soil-test level, tillage system, soil type and crop history. Ag retailers are also a vital resource when it comes to addressing issues such as ammonia injury and salt stress prevention.

Below are some of the variables to consider when selecting your starter fertilizer:

  • Soils with low-soil-test phosphorus and potassium are prime soils for applying a complete macronutrient starter package.
  • Tillage is a major factor on selection, when using soil-test information to make starter-source decisions:
    • Conventional till fields with little surface residue and high-soil-test phosphorus levels are unlikely to show yield responses to starter phosphorus materials, and respond well to nitrogen starter fertilizer formulations only.
    • No-till or minimum-till fields with considerable residue levels and high-soil-test phosphorus levels might benefit from phosphorus and potassium in their starter fertilizer.
  • Starter formulations with sulfur and micronutrients are also an option. However, soil type is a major factor when considering this formulation. Both coarse-textured soil with low organic matter in high-rainfall environments and soils that have demonstrated sulfur deficiency in the past can be responsive to starters that contain sulfur.
  • Soils with high pH can respond well to starter fertilizers that contain zinc, manganese or other micronutrients.
  • Soils that produced nutrient-deficient crops in the past can benefit from starter fertilizer containing the deficient nutrient - whether or not the field meets the criteria listed above for soil-test level or soil type.
  • For farmers that rely primarily on sidedress nitrogen for the bulk of the nitrogen budget, starter materials with a good amount of nitrogen can go a long way toward ensuring adequate nitrogen nutrition until sidedress time. Care should be taken when applying higher rates of nitrogen in close proximity of the germinating seed (especially if using urea-based nitrogen sources).

The use of starter fertilizer materials is an important decision for your farming operation. Make certain your crop is getting the adequate nutrition early in the growing season to make high yields achievable.

Apr 15 2014

Get the Most From Your Nitrogen Investment

Get the Most From Your Nitrogen Investment

Nitrogen is a staple of the fertilizer plan for most farmers, but insufficient potassium levels in the soil can diminish the effectiveness of nitrogen applications.

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Proper nitrogen applications are essential for healthy crop production and most farmers see immediate benefits from meeting their crop‘s requirements every planting season.

As they do this, some overlook the fact that increasing potassium applications can increase the return on their nitrogen investment — especially in years when dry conditions create water deficiencies for their crops.

Nitrogen is the primary fuel for the plant and increases biomass and, consequently, achievable yield. Potassium allows the plant to more efficiently utilize water. This makes the marriage of nitrogen and potassium important to maximizing yields and to improving the return on your nitrogen investment. In some cases, improved potassium nutrition can even decrease the amount of nitrogen required for optimal yields.

The impact of proper potash application is critical when water is in short supply. In a year with reduced rainfall, applying potassium at a rate of 100 pounds per acre can increase yields by as much as 50 percent.

The data supporting the proper balance of potassium to nitrogen has been proven over decades, but is more relevant today than ever before because of the diminishing levels of potassium and phosphorus in soils across the country.

Testing Is Important

The key to getting the most out of your nitrogen application is regular soil testing.

According to data from the International Plant Nutrition Institute, almost two of every five farms in the Midwest now have P and K levels below the critical level. The numbers are even more dramatic in the Southeast, where 56 percent of farms have fallen below the critical point for both P and K.

The good news is that this situation can be fixed — and fixed quickly. Improvements in potash and phosphate applications can have an impact on crop yields in the first year of proper application.

If your levels are less than optimal, you can start to rebuild the fertility of your soil immediately. It‘s a good investment in the crop you‘re growing today and in your ability to optimize production in the years ahead.

Apr 14 2014

5 Tips for Spring Planting Season

Robert Mullen Offers Five Tips For Spring

Due to a prolonged winter with cold, wet conditions still plaguing much of the country, many farmers have been forced to delay spring planting until conditions improve. Delayed planting may cause a farmer to reconsider their options, and good decisions now can pay off at harvest time.

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5 Tips for Spring Planting Season

Dr. Robert Mullen, PotashCorp’s Director of Agronomy and eKonomics contributor, has prepared several tips to aid farmers in taking advantage of every potential opportunity to maximize their yield.

  • Don’t underestimate the value of starter fertilizer, especially in northern areas of the Corn Belt and in conservation tillage systems. Starter fertilizers help the crop get off to a fast start and reduce the risk associated with a short growing season.
  • Position yourself for success by implementing an effective fertility program regardless of planting date. Properly fertilize your crop initially and reap the benefits throughout the growing season, as the proper balance of nutrients will improve the potential for a healthy, profitable yield.
  • Don’t rush to plant in fields that aren’t ready. Although it is tempting to get seeds in the ground early, it is important to remember that planting in unsuitable conditions can lead to problems in a crop’s growth cycle, such as poor root development, which will ultimately decrease your yield.
  • Do not necessarily alter seeding rate. Data suggests that sticking with what you have previously planned is the best approach, but using a slightly lower seeding rate is acceptable if adjustments must be made, especially when soil temperatures have increased.
  • It is not necessary to change hybrid maturity or soybean variety to a shorter season option. This should only be considered at higher latitudes, or if the planting date is extremely late.

Mar 26 2014

The Farm Bill and Your Fertilizer Program

The Farm Bill and Your Fertilizer Program

This February, the White House signed into effect the long-awaited Farm Bill after years of negotiations. The new bill, which authorizes nearly $1 trillion over the next ten years, will promote US agricultural production, fund nutrition programs and support environmental and energy research.

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While the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill is not expected to directly affect decisions on farm fertilizer applications, it will be important to know how the new program will work from a cash flow standpoint.

A good piece of advice is to know what crop support will exist for your operation this year and next. This will help in budgeting and planning for 2015 as you look forward to 2014-2015 revenues, costs and overall cash flows. Your local farm consultant will be the best person to have a discussion with on how the county-level particulars of the bill will affect you.

With that in mind, below are a few key updates regarding the upcoming changes on the farm policy side:

The new bill ends a nearly 20-year-old direct payment program that costs approximately $5 billion per year and paid farmers and landowners regardless of farm income levels or cropping practices. Instead of this, farms will make a one-time choice between the two programs called Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). These programs are separate from crop insurance and contain revised caps and eligibility restrictions. This irreversible decision will be in effect until the next farm bill is passed.

  • Agriculture Risk Coverage: A revised version of the former ACRE program, which is a revenue-based safety net now calculated at the county level. Payments kick in whenever the actual county revenue for the crop year is below the County ARC revenue guarantee established by the USDA. The actual county revenue is calculated by multiplying the average county yield for the commodity in the current crop year by the higher of the Marketing Year Average (MYA) price for the commodity or the commodity’s loan rate ($1.95 for corn, $5.00 for soybeans).
  • Price Loss Coverage: Provides payments when crop prices fall below target levels set in the farm bill. Reference prices are set at $3.70/bushel for corn, $8.40/bushel for soybeans and $5.50/bushel for wheat.

Regarding crop insurance for 2014, there are no major changes from 2013. The Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) is a “shallow loss” insurance option included in the 2014 Farm Bill, but it won’t be available as an option until 2015. Farmers can keep crop insurance decisions from 2013 the same for 2014 if they want. The full details of the SCO haven’t been finalized, but will serve as optional supplemental coverage to the individual crop insurance that the farmer will already have. It works by mimicking the farm’s individual insurance. Get in contact with your insurance provider to find out about how this may apply to your farm for 2015.

For farmers everywhere, the goal of the bill is to provide a safety net in the event of adverse weather or challenging market conditions. In spite of all this, farmers will be looking at all options to maximize profits. Fertilizer is one investment that can improve returns and provide greater financial security. Maintaining adequate soil test levels is the ideal situation to be in regardless of what the markets, Mother Nature, or policy throws at us.

Tell us what you think of the recently passed Farm Bill on Twitter @eKonomics_PCS with the hashtag #eKonomics.

Jan 24 2014

PotashCorp Field Reports - Winter 2014

PotashCorp’s Winter 2014 Field Reports Newsletter Now Available on eKonomics

A recent Iowa State University research report revised potash application guidelines for various crops. Check out what that might mean for you. Click to view the full Winter 2014 Field Reports Newsletter from PotashCorp.

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Jan 7 2014

Three Steps to Achieving Financial Goals on the Farm

Three Steps to Achieving Financial Goals on the Farm

In every line of business, there’s some kind of metric or standard used to gauge performance. As we look ahead in 2014, what benchmark goals would you like to achieve for your ag business? These three steps can help you determine and ultimately achieve your financial goals on the farm this year.

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Step 1. Set a Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

In order to track progress, a goal has to be measureable. The first step toward achieving any goal is to decide on what you should measure and how you will measure it. Financial KPI examples for your farm may include operating profit, farm working expenses, operating return, return on equity, growth in equity and discretionary cash.

Step 2. Make the KPI known and relevant for your team.

Next, make sure your team is aware of each KPI and understands its importance to your business. Then, create specific tactics and actions that will help you to achieve those KPIs.

Step 3. Measure against the KPI and evaluate your performance.

Simply tracking a goal doesn’t provide you with a full picture. It’s important to evaluate and analyze your data, as it can help uncover opportunities for improvement. As we’ve said before, having better information enables you to make better decisions, and ultimately leads the way for a strong year in 2014.

Be sure to use several of the tools on this site, to help you achieve your financial and performance goals this year.

What Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are you planning to track on your farm in 2014? Send us a Tweet at @eKonomics_PCS to share!

Dec 9 2013

A Look Back at 2013 and What 2014 Holds for Growers

A Look Back at 2013 and What 2014 Holds for Growers

As the year draws to a close, let’s take a look at a few major trends that affected the markets in 2013 and explore the potential for next year’s crop.

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Looking Back

The outlook for North American crop production was similar to a roller coaster ride for much of this past growing season. Early in the 2013 growing season, concerns over late planting and the potential for large unplanted acres dominated ag conversations. With the benefit of modern equipment, some of those acreage concerns were alleviated and favorable weather early in the season supported crop production prospects.

An extended period of hot and dry weather in the U.S. Midwest starting in mid-August led to concerns that yields would fall well below trend. However, as harvest progressed it became evident that yield potential for corn and soybeans would surpass most expectations. USDA is projecting a record US corn crop and near-record soybean production this year. Timely rains and warmer weather late in the growing season have supported the potential for record Canadian grain and oilseed production. Consequently, crop prices have moved down from the historical highs achieved the previous crop year.

Looking Ahead

Despite lower crop prices, the combination of higher yields and lower input costs should provide the foundation for another year of strong returns for North American farmers.

The outlook for grain and oilseed end users is also more favorable following a year of short supply and high prices. US corn and soybean export commitments for the new crop year are up significantly from last year. While this pace is still below record levels achieved in the past, it does reflect an important recovery step. Ethanol margins reached 22-month highs in September 2013 due to tight supplies and lower feedstock prices. While margins for finishing livestock remain challenging, higher prices and lower input costs provide the potential for improved returns in 2014.

Use the eKonomics ROI tools when making your farm management decisions now, to set yourself up for a successful 2014.

Nov 26 2013

6 Ag Events You Need to Know

6 Ag Events You Need to Know

Industry events and conferences are a great way to connect with other ag professionals on matters that affect your business. Here’s a round-up of a few upcoming events to keep in mind as we head into the New Year. Check back often, as we’ll continue to update this list in the future.

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Nov 11 2013

eKonomics in Successful Farming Magazine

eKonomics in Successful Farming Magazine

As PotashCorp’s Director of Agronomy, Robert Mullen knows that soil testing is an important part of preparing for the coming crop year. So if you’re going to take the time to collect samples and pay for analysis, it only makes sense to do it right.

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With proper soil testing, producers take an important step toward setting themselves up for success.

In a recent interview with Successful Farming, Mullen shares some of his best tips for achieving better soil tests. Overall, Mullen says that consistency is the key to obtaining accurate samples. “Be consistent when you sample, and be consistent about when you collect,” he advises.

For more tips on achieving better soil tests this season, check out the full article from Successful Farming here.

Nov 4 2013

6 Secrets to Successful Social Media for Your Business

6 Secrets to Successful Social Media for Your Business

Are you currently using social media to enhance the success of your business? If not, it’s a valuable resource you may want to consider implementing.

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Today, farmers are increasingly using social media to share best practices, stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends, browse products and solutions, and draw personal connections with other farmers, businesses, experts and consumers.

Social media is all about establishing a relationship between your business and the rest of the world. It allows you to listen, react and promote faster and more efficiently to a greater customer base than ever before, according to the publication Agri-View.

By having a social media presence that is both engaging and engaged, it helps reassure consumers that your ag business is reputable and trustworthy. If you can capitalize on the nature of social media by providing great content and interacting with your audience in a way that builds a “community of interest,” then your farm business may see a greater return.

Whether you’re new to social media or have an active presence, here’s our take on Secrets to Successful Social Media for your ag business:

  1. 1. Pick Your Social Media Crops.

    In social media, it’s important to interact with customers and prospects in real-time. What’s right for your organization? Facebook? Linkedin? Twitter? A blog? YouTube? Take the time to understand where conversations relevant to you and your business are taking place and start there.

  2. 2. Plant Seeds.

    One of the main advantages of social media is that the content you create pays dividends over time. Every blog post, photo, video, Webinar and other content seed made by your organization and/or your fans will continue to generate page views and awareness into the future. Over time, the seeds of social media continue to grow.

  3. 3. Give it Time.

    Those expecting instant social media success will be disappointed. First, you have to listen to your community to determine norms, best practices, and current attitudes. The good news is that social media results are typically compounding. What you did well yesterday makes today more successful.

  4. 4. It Takes a Village.

    Be helpful. Help your customers. Help your fans. Help everyone that asks, and even those that don’t ask. Social media (both personally and corporately) rewards those that give more than they take.

  5. 5. Rotate Your Crops.

    If your social media efforts are too concentrated in one area, you may end up reducing your overall impact. Try participating in three or so social media outposts in earnest, but emphasizing a different one every quarter. The varying levels of effort will keep it fresh for fans and your internal team.

  6. 6. Don’t Count on Control.

    It’s unlikely that you’ll get in hot water with social media, but you’d be well-served to put together a social media crisis communication plan that dictates who would respond in your organization (and how) if a crisis ever occurs.

Are you active on social media? Engage with us on Twitter @eKonomics_PCS for more great tips and advice.

- Source: Agriview and Convince and Convert

Oct 7 2013

Three Ways to Expand Your Farm

Three Ways to Expand Your Farm

Adding more acres is often how you think about growing your farm. Just remember, there are other ways to grow. In a recent article from Successful Farming, industry players discuss a variety of ways to create growth opportunities for the future, with the land you have now.

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In addition to using a variety of ROI tools to help make smart fertilizer decisions, Successful Farming suggest three alternatives to grow without adding acres.

  1. 1. Diversify.

    Consider a broader set of business options, including acquisitions, partnerships or other arrangements. Be open to ideas that can provide growth opportunities.

  2. 2. Tap unused assets.

    Having a 16-row planter as opposed to an eight-row planter helps ensure timely planting in a spring interspersed by rain showers. In a normal year, though, large planters can represent excess machinery, particularly if you farm on a smaller scale. If that’s the case, custom farming may be one way to use excess capacity. Custom farming can also be an option if you have other implements with larger capacity than you need in most years, such as a sprayer or combine.

  3. 3. Use existing land more intensively.

    One expert recommends buying land with inherent productive ability and then upgrading it. Making an early investment can lead to a solid return in the future.

Growth is more than buying another farm. Beyond adding additional acres, think proactively about ways to grow your own farm operation.

Follow us on Twitter at eKonomics_PCS to share ways you’re expanding your farm using the hashtag #ekonomics.

- Source: Agriculture.com

Sep 11 2013

Top Agronomic Recommendations Ag Retailers Should Keep in Mind

Top Agronomic Recommendations Ag Retailers Should Keep in Mind

Better business decisions start with better information. And because we know how hectic your schedule can be, PotashCorp’s Agronomist Robert Mullen shares three key agronomic recommendations retailers should keep top-of-mind:

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  • Good fertilizer decisions start with a good soil test. Soil tests can help an ag retailer make sound recommendations for the best fertilizer type and rate application. Soil testing can also help identify and remove yield-limiting factors present in a production field.
  • Every field under a farmer’s management is different. Each should be monitored and treated individually to ensure the best decisions are made for each individual acre. Soil tests provide invaluable information about soil pH and resulting lime decisions, plant available phosphorus and exchangeable potassium.
  • Apply the right fertilizer at the right time. Doing so helps minimize loss potential and brings money back to the farmer’s bottom line. Any fertilizer lost from a field is a lost economic opportunity.

Sep 10 2013

4 Tips to Ensure Your Best Soil Sample Yet

4 Tips to Ensure Your Best Soil Sample Yet

Soil sampling to determine nutrient status is one of the most economical management practices for crop production. By understanding your crop nutrient status you can better determine how much P, K and lime should be applied this fall to prepare for a successful crop next year. However, the first step is conducting your soil sample the right way.

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Here are four simple tips you should follow to help ensure a good representative sample:

  1. 1.) Use Clean Tools:

    Make certain that soil probes and plastic buckets are clean prior to sample collection. Using contaminated equipment can alter soil test information.

  2. 2.) Collect Enough Cores:

    Collect a minimum of 15 random soil samples from a representative area to create a composite sample. Collecting too few samples can cause inaccurate information and poor repeatability in future years.

  3. 3.) Sample at Consistent Depths:

    Collecting samples at too shallow of a depth may cause nutrient concentrations to appear higher than what they really are, and sampling too deeply can cause nutrient concentrations to appear less than what they really are.

  4. 4.) Thoroughly Mix Cores:

    Thoroughly mix your samples in a clean bucket before collecting the grab sample that will be submitted to the lab. The total amount of soil that is actually analyzed is small, so a poorly mixed sample can cause significant variability.

For more on these tips, click here for a video from Agronomist Robert Mullen and Iowa State Professor Antonio Mallarino.

Sep 9 2013

More Than Just Yield: Good Fertility Enhances Quality, Maturity and Efficiency

More Than Just Yield: Good Fertility Enhances Quality, Maturity and Efficiency

While it can be easy to focus on yield, don’t overlook the many benefits that a good fertilizer program provides. Earlier harvest, faster dry-down, better quality and higher yields – it all adds up. Investing in crop nutrition can help grow your yields and your bottom line.

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An article from the National Fertilizer Solutions Association (NFSA) through the Fluid Fertilizer Foundation, reminds growers that good fertility enhances quality, maturity, and overall efficiency. Before harvest, watch for some of the other benefits that a well-designed fertility program brings at the end of the crop year.

Here are a few thoughts from the NFSA:

Improved Quality.

Late-season foliar applications of urea solution are used in England to increase protein concentration content of breadmaking wheat. Often, these sprays will also increase yields; but it is the enhancement of protein content that makes these applications economically attractive.

In corn, proper K nutrition promotes stalk strength, thereby reducing lodging at harvest. In soybeans, adequate K promotes improved seed size, oil and protein content, and better nodule development.

Advanced Maturity.

Crops furnished with adequate nutrition throughout their growth cycle will mature sooner than those that experience nutritional stress at one or more times during the growing season.

Researchers in Kansas found grain sorghum matured 8 to 10 days earlier with band applications of P rather than broadcast treatments. The results of a P placement experiment of grain sorghum published in 1990 inferred that banded P was more available and allowed the crop to mature sooner by better meeting the nutritional demands and promoting earlier flowering.

Disease Suppression.

According to USDA soil scientist Fred Rhoton, stem canker incidence in soybeans was reduced 16% to 45% by maintaining soil K at 250 lb/A. Potash has also been used to lessen the effects of stripe rust and take-all root rot in winter wheat.

Water Efficiency.

Good fertility makes the best use of available water. Proper fertilization allows growers to reduce irrigation inputs to achieve comparable yields, thereby improving water use efficiency.

According to the PPI publication titled “Fertilizer Improves Water Use Efficiency,” grain sorghum water use efficiency increased from 173 to 308 pounds of grain per acre inch of water used when the crop received adequate N an P. Proper fertility allows roots to explore a greater soil volume early in the crops’ development. Early season stress can be avoided with deeper and better-developed roots actively absorbing moisture and nutrients.

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