When evaluating your fertilizer needs for the upcoming crop year, always consider the agronomic practices and sources needed to meet your goals.

Higher Yields Equals Increased Nutrient Removal

We’re coming off a record-setting, high-yielding crop year; in some areas of the country, this marks the third highly productive year in a row. As we focus on soil fertilitySoil FertilityIncreasing (and maintaining) yields requires a full-system approach built from the ground up. That starts with a strong understanding of what your soil is capable of today, so you can improve it for tomorrow.
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fundamentals, higher yields equate to higher nutrient removalNutrient RemovalA solid fertilizer strategy starts with an understanding of which nutrients are taken from the soil every time a crop is grown, and incorporating best management practices to replenish those nutrients.
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. Harvesting a crop removes nitrogenNitrogenNitrogen (N) is an essential nutrient for plant growth, development and reproduction. Despite nitrogen being one of the most abundant elements on earth, nitrogen deficiency is probably the most common nutritional problem affecting plants worldwide – nitrogen from the atmosphere and earth's crust is not directly available to plants.
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(N), phosphorusPhosphorusOne of three primary nutrients, phosphorus (P) is essential for plant growth, and a plant must access it to complete its normal production cycle. Plants absorb P from the soil as primary and secondary orthophosphates (H2PO4- and HPO42-).
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(P), potassiumPotassiumPotassium (K) is one of the essential nutrients and is taken up in significant amounts by crops. Potassium is vital to photosynthesis, protein synthesis and many other functions in plants. It’s classified as a macronutrient, as are nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). Plants take up K in its ionic form (K+).
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(K), and other macro- and micronutrientsMicronutrientsIn farming, big improvements often come in small packages. Supporting macro- and secondary nutrients with a sound approach to micronutrients is essential to plant growth and can play a profitable role in increasing yields.
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from the field which require replenishment to maintain soil productivity for subsequent cropping seasons.

The December World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report from the USDA indicated a 15.2-billion- bushel corn crop and a 175.3-bushel- per-acre average for 2016. That equates to an estimated 61 pounds of phosphate (P2O5) removed from every acre. The same report indicated a soybean harvest of 4.36 billion bushels, averaging 52.5 bushels/acre, which will remove 63 pounds/acre of potassium oxide (K2O) from U.S. soils.

Infographic of phosphate removed per acre of corn and soybeans

Unfortunately, regardless of how much a crop is worth per bushel, it’s still pulling just as many nutrients from the ground. For some, this will be the third straight year of very difficult decisions related to input costs. Those who have cut back on fertilizer costs may find themselves in a situation that’s very hard to rebound from if they don’t adjust their plans to address the effects of record yield.

Create a Crop Nutrition Plan

One way to shift your focus toward fertilizer fundamentals is by creating a crop nutrition plan for your operation. A major component of that includes soil testingSoil TestThe purpose of soil testing in high-yield farming is to determine the relative ability of soil to supply crop nutrients during a particular growing season.
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. A soil test provides a starting point for your field that becomes the baseline for developing a well-thought- out plan. Best practices for soil tests consist of the following:

Best practices for soil tests consist of the following:

  • Use a quality soil sample probe rather than a spade.
  • Pull a minimum of 8 to 12 cores to produce a representative sample of each area of interest (e.g., entire field, management zone, etc.). Pulling six to eight cores per area in grid-sampling situations is common.
  • Core samples should always be pulled from a consistent depth. Standard topsoil depths include 6, 8 and 10 inches.
  • Do not angle sample probe when collecting cores. The probe should be placed at a 90° angle to the ground.
  • Mix sample cores in a clean plastic bucket (galvanized can affect results), and place in a properly labeled soil test bag — one for each sample. Write down the crop, a realistic yield goal and other pertinent information as requested by your soil test laboratory.
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A soil test provides a starting point for your field that becomes the baseline for developing a well-thought-out plan.

A soil test provides a starting point for your field that becomes the baseline for developing a well-thought-out plan.

When you have updated soil test data, build a plan that gives your crop the best chance to succeed. Mosaic premium products enable the retailer and grower to build a proper crop nutrition plan starting off with a foundational granular fertilizer that ensures the nutrient will be available when the crop needs it. Nutrient sources like MicroEssentials®, Aspire® or K-Mag®, are great tools to use when building your crop nutrition plan. Working with a crop advisor or your retailer can help you explore ways to supplement these products depending on your soil nutrient needs.

The Importance of Phosphorus and Potassium in Addition to Other Nutrients

After a soil test is complete, a crop nutrition plan is in place, and a yield goal is established for the crop year, take a deeper dive into the fundamental fertilizer products. It’s important to keep in mind that when crop margins are tight, only investing in N and reducing P and K isn’t the most effective way to achieve your goals and have a successful year. Choosing to reduce your P and K rates or not applying any this year can prevent crops from reaching their most profitable yield level.

MicroEssentialsMicroEssentialsLearn More, AspireAspireLearn More and K-MagK-MagLearn More deliver essential nutrients that your fields need. In addition to P and K, MicroEssentials supplies the plant with elemental (S0) and sulfate sulfur (SO42-), which creates an available sulfur supply from planting to maturity. Both Aspire and K-Mag deliver an adequate supply of potassium (K2O) and other secondary macro – and micronutrients including magnesium, sulfur and boron to the soil.

Heavily manured or fertilized fields rich in P and K may only require supplemental N. However, if you have a field that is very low in P and K, only adding more N without supplying adequate P and K will likely not maximize production and the return on that Nitrogen investment. According to the International Plant Nutrition Institute, this is due to the fact that N will not be taken up by the plant sufficiently without an adequate supply of P and K. MicroEssentials provides the soil with both P and N, and because of its formulation, has been proven to increase P uptake in corn. Growers should be applying P and K to help balance their crop nutrition, and it’s important to note that it’s not all about utilizing just one nutrient to achieve the best results.

Evaluate Your Crop Nutrition Plan for Every Acre, Every Field and Every Year

After setting your crop nutrition plan into play, remember to continue to monitor crop growth and development on every acre, every field and every year. Evaluating your field throughout the year is a good way to learn more about your soil’s fertility levels and often will help solve nutrient deficiency concerns. You can monitor the nutrient status of your crop by tissue testing.

Proactive testing may allow those needs to be addressed in-season, or at the very least, will prove valuable as you review your crop nutrition plan for subsequent growing seasons Using the crop to tell you if it is short on nutrients is a great way to evaluate the effectiveness of your crop nutrition plan. View a crop nutrition plan as a living document which should be reviewed annually based on in-season tissue test, soil test, and yield information to maximize return on fertilizer investments.

Growers can be confident in the performance of every product from The Mosaic CompanyThe Mosaic CompanyThe world's leader in crop nutrition, dedicated to exploring and advancing crop nutrition knowledge and practices.
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. In addition to the more traditional granular P and K nutrient sources, our line of premium fertilizers offer balanced crop nutrition and uniform nutrient distribution demonstrated by years of proven research. Given the current agricultural market conditions, maximizing nutrient recovery and return on fertilizer investment are keys to improving yield, reducing cost of production, and increasing overall profit.

For more information about Aspire, K-Mag or MicroEssentials, talk to your local retailer or visit AspirePotash.com, KMag.com and MicroEssentials.com.

©2017 The Mosaic Company. All rights reserved. Aspire, K-Mag and MicroEssentials are registered trademarks of The Mosaic Company.

by Kyle Freeman

Dr. Kyle Freeman is director of New Product Development for The Mosaic Company. He is responsible for leading all product development, agronomy and research efforts worldwide. Dr. Freeman and his team manage over 500 small-plot research trials around the world, as well as a commercial trial program with more than 100 locations, annually. Additionally, Freeman leads a global team of agronomists who deliver fertility and crop nutrition expertise to Mosaic and its customers.

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