With today's technology comes the opportunity for increased input ROI. Here's how better utilizing data available from your acres can help you affordably increase yields this season.
As precision agriculture and variable-rate application equipment have become more "precise," farmers are finding themselves managing fields in zones of ever-decreasing dimensions, all in an effort to maximize the output and return from a finite area of land and available inputs. In some cases, nutrient management decisions are being made on a "square meter" basis, a field resolution that is uncommon to traditional fertilizer application equipment and methods.
"Growers are increasingly finding the need to apply micronutrients with their traditional applications of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium," says Curt Woolfolk, Mosaic's senior agronomist for Western North America. "Secondary macronutrients like sulfur that are needed in lesser amounts than the big 3 [N,P,K] and micronutrients like zinc that are needed by the crop in ounces per acre rather than pounds per acre, are difficult to spread in a uniform manner with traditional fertilizer blends and spinner equipment.
"In a typical bulk blend of NPK fertilizers with micronutrients added, there will be 'hot spots' of micronutrients during the application, and nearby areas that remain largely deficient," Woolfolk explains. "In today's high-yield management systems, which call for increased plant populations, this variability makes a uniform uptake of the nutrients impossible for the majority of plants in the field. Some plants will have an excess amount of zinc or sulfur, while nearby plants will encounter next to none."
And, he says, the higher the plant population in such a scenario, the higher will be the percentage of poorly nourished plants in the field.
"That's the beauty of Mosaic's premium products, such as MicroEssentials® SZ™," he notes. "In that product, there are four nutrients in every granule — nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc. Once MicroEssentials SZ is exposed to soil moisture, rain or dew, it begins forming an even blanket of nutrients across the entire application path, providing uniform availability of nutrients to the root zone of all crops."
The result is a more uniform crop stand, better plant vigor through the critical seedling stage, and improved overall yields across management zones and fields.
In northeastern South Dakota, near Aberdeen, cooperative agronomist Jay Barnett says he sees results to the tune of 5—10 bushels per acre more corn production on fields where MicroEssentials SZ is used, compared with traditional fertilizer blends.
"It's not replicated plot data, but in side-by-side fields where the only significant difference in management is the use of traditional bulk fertilizer and micronutrient blends in the hopper versus MicroEssentials SZ, we sometimes see upward of 10- to 15-bushels-per-acre increases in corn yields, but 5 is a good conservative estimate," Barnett observes.
He says uniform nutrient distribution is particularly important in his state because growers there have a tough time providing sufficient zinc and sulfur for top yields.
Barnett says MicroEssentials SZ is also simplifying starter solution applications at planting.
"Liquid zinc can be very expensive if you try to solve the zinc deficiency through the planter," he says. "Now, however, instead of increasing the zinc rate at planting, I stick with the quart per acre we've been using, and then rely on Mosaic's MicroEssentials SZ to help supplement the zinc issue. That way, we get adequate micronutrients and equal distribution in the field.
"To meet sulfur needs, we've had to add ammonium sulfate to our fertilizer blend of 11-52-0 and urea, and with a two-bin variable-rate applicator, something had to be blended. Now I can use MicroEssentials SZ, which is already blended, and I can run my existing equipment."
Timing and environmental concerns are other issues that, Barnett says, MicroEssentials SZ is helping growers in his area with.
"Because there is elemental sulfur in MicroEssentials SZ, and elemental sulfur is slower to convert in the soil, the prilled product is allowing growers to make a fall application when soil temperatures are falling, and be confident their sulfur is not going to leach before spring," he points out. "The combination of a slower chemical conversion in the soil and the low soil temperatures significantly prevents sulfur from leaching away during the winter."
The agronomist adds that he and his counterparts at South Dakota Wheat Growers, which tends to 2.6 million acres of cropland in South Dakota and parts of North Dakota, are also seeing yield increases in soybean fields of 5—7 bushels per acre where MicroEssentials SZ is used, compared with traditional bulk fertilizer—blended products.
Woolfolk says the analysis for Mosaic's popular MicroEssentials SZ is 12-40-0-10S-1Zn.
"An exciting new premium potash product is Aspire®, which is a potassium-and-boron granule pellet with an analysis of 0-0-58-.5B," he says. "Boron is critical for cell wall structure within the plant and those reproductive structures such as tassels and silks.
"As we push plant populations upward, we automatically increase stress on the crop. Soil-applied boron can really add bushels as plants undergo the stresses of today's high-yield management systems, which require plants to perform in a much smaller space in the field."
Woolfolk says balanced crop nutrition and adding micronutrients like boron into a grower's soil fertility program help decrease lodging by providing the crucial nutrients needed for adequate cell wall strength.
"Precision agriculture also encompasses a set of tools that allow us to optimize our return on investment with crop inputs in a manner by which we can preserve our natural resources," Woolfolk continues. "Fertilizer products such as MicroEssentials and Aspire are valuable tools in helping precision agriculture farmers provide their crops with balanced crop nutrition while practicing 4R Nutrient Stewardship [Right source, Right rate, Right time and in the Right place).
"The uniform nutrient distribution of micronutrients within these premium products really highlights the 'Right source and Right place' half of that popular four-piece rule of thumb," he explains.
Mosaic offers a portfolio of premium fertilizer products to add value for the farmer and fertilizer retailer, including MicroEssentials®, Aspire®, K-Mag® and Pegasus®.