If your nutrient application isn’t uniform, then you really don’t know how much food your crops have at their root tips. Uniform distribution of fertilizer application can be the difference that gets the plants to bountiful production and ensures the farmer’s return on investment.
Dr. Ross Bender, senior agronomist for Eastern North America, The Mosaic Company, has developed a handy ‘C.H.E.C.K.’ list to help retailers and farmers manage their fertilizer applications, to ensure uniformity and create a foundation of crop nutrition that leads to successful farming.
“Each letter conveys a key aspect of uniform nutrient distribution,” Bender explains.
“The most popular, cost-effective application method is broadcast spreaders,” Bender says. “I would encourage retailers to do calibrations on fertilizer sources they run through their bulk spreaders. The ability to efficiently apply nutrients in a broadcast spreader depends on the density, the granule size and the fertilizer blends that you have put together.”
“Good handling practices maintain fertilizer integrity,” Bender says. “It’s imperative that fertilizer is stored in a clean and dry place. You have to have a good roof, a clean floor. You don’t want to be driving over the top of the fertilizer. Oftentimes, fertilizer is stored in commodity-type sheds, and they have barriers between fertilizers. It’s important that those barriers are impermeable, that they don’t allow fertilizer to become mixed together.”
“There are a lot of different applications necessary to achieve and ensure uniform nutrient distribution,” Bender points out. “There are also various band and strip-till technologies. It really depends on the time and equipment retailers have, and whether or not the practice can adapt to an individual farmer's operation. Those two factors will determine what equipment is best to make these applications. There is a lot of variability from an equipment standpoint. The goal is, if you can supply that nutrient when the crop needs it, in a way that it can take it up through the roots, you are going to have a better chance of improving efficiency and getting a return on that fertilizer dollar.”
“Confirm that your nutrients have been applied uniformly,” Bender says. “Even though we did calibrations up front, visually inspect the field after you have made the actual application. Look for uniform application. Most importantly, however, right after germination and during early-season crop growth, check to see that the plants look even in their development, in their growth stage and consider a plant tissue test if concerns of nutrient deficiency exist.”
“I am referring to two different things,” Bender says. “First is research. There is a lot of research that goes into uniform nutrient application. New advancements, new technologies arrive every season that allow broadcast spreaders to make uniform applications faster, and more accurately, than ever before. You have to continually update your own knowledge of the technological advancements that are out there.”
The second piece to nutrient application ‘Knowledge’ is to be aware of innovative products.
“There have been some major advancements that make application of micronutrients today easier and less prone to errors,” Bender says, pointing to Mosaic’s line of groundbreaking fertilizer technologies: “MicroEssentials® SZ™, for example, has sulfur and zinc integrated into every single granule, using Fusion® technology. If you do the math and compare applying conventional zinc sulfate versus the zinc in MicroEssentials SZ, you will see that the number of receptor points, or contact points between the roots with the fertilizer granules in the soil, is 12 to 15 times greater using MicroEssentials SZ versus the conventional fertilizer. The result, our research trials have shown, is that zinc uptake efficiency has increased by threefold.”
“Another great innovation is Aspire® with Boron, which, through Nutriform® technology, combines potassium and boron at the levels that maximize growth,” Dr. Bender adds. “This is really important for boron, because it is an essential plant nutrient, but it has a narrow window between toxicity and deficiency. The use of conventional fertilizers may inadvertently cause deficient and toxic areas in the field, which had nothing to do with the application, but rather the fertilizer source. The boron in Aspire helps to ensure uniform distribution to all plants.