Precision Fertilizer Recommendations From Nebraska

Kurt LawtonConservation, Corn, Education, Fertilizer, sustainability, Variable rate

Fertilizer production costs will be substantially higher in 2011 than they’ve been for the past couple of years. When you look at the numbers, remember that commodity prices also have increased significantly.

If you are a shrewd marketer, you have taken advantage of crop pricing opportunities that will help offset the higher production costs. You may still be able to find a few holiday bargains for pre-paid fertilizer, however, most of the good deals ended in November. Following these tips can help you achieve a profitable fertilizer program for 2011

10 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Fertilizer Investment

  • Follow a good soil testing program to know macro and micronutrient levels.
  • Use the most efficient methods to apply phosphorus (starter or strip-till application) and timing options/methods/sources for nitrogen.
  • Take deep soil samples for residual nitrate to fine-tune N rates.
  • Set realistic yield goals. Expected yield is the major factor in determining the nitrogen rate for corn. Use a proven five-year average corn yield plus 5% (to account for hybrid and management improvements).
  • Credit N from previous crop residue or legume crops. Soil tests will not show legume or crop residue credits as the residue or nodules must break down during the growing season. Credit N for corn after soybean, sugar beet, alfalfa, and dry beans.
  • Value and use manure sources properly. Manure is an excellent nutrient source for nitrogen, phosphorus, and micronutrients.
  • Not all fertilizer recommendations are the same. UNL fertilizer recommendations may seem conservative compared to some commercial labs. UNL suggestions are based on research and on-farm verification. They are generally the most economical rates, even for high yield situations.
  • Consider replicated strip trials to determine the effect of lower or higher rates on yield. Fine-tuning fertilizer use needs to be an on-going process.
  • Comparison shop. Look at different products and do your “fertilizer arithmetic” to compare the actual cost per pound of nutrients.
  • Work with a reputable dealer who can provide quality product, price assurances, timely delivery, and well-maintained equipment. Remember, service after the sale is also important.

Gary Hergert, Extension Soils Specialist
Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff

See more recommendations for surviving high input costs.