4 Steps to Maintain High Yields Between Growing Seasons
by Wilks Wood, Ph.D. – Field Agronomist, Growers
Today’s seed hybrids lead to better harvests, but with these higher yields, more nutrients are removed from the soil. Due to low commodity prices, reducing input costs is critical for your bottom line. Many farmers are looking for a strategy to help maintain high yields and still keep input costs in check.
If you’re struggling to create a fall fertility program that will eliminate the guesswork in the application, you’re not alone. The good news is there are many strategies you can use to determine the ideal nutrient amounts to optimize your yield – on every acre.
Here are the four steps to maintain high yields in between the growing seasons.
Use the 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship on Your Farm
First and foremost, every fertility program should be based on the 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship:
- Right source: Matches fertilizer type to crop needs.
- Right rate: Matches the amount of fertilizer type crop needs.
- Right time: Makes nutrients available when crops need them.
- Right place: Keep nutrients where crops can use them.
There is no silver bullet for management strategy, and your nutrient management decisions must be specific to your fields and needs.
Fortunately, utilizing variable rate application of fertilizer allows you to put the ideal rate of nutrients in the correct location. This technology has the potential to both reduce nutrient inputs and increase nutrient use efficiency.
Step One: Stress Management
To ensure maximum yields each year, select the right genetics, and optimize your plant population and field conditions. Then, focus on eliminating stress, as it can lead to yield drag.
Stress management often begins with nutrient management, so the first step toward eliminating stress is to determine crop-available nutrient amounts. By soil testing regularly, you’ll know the available amounts of phosphorus and potassium, as well as soil pH.
Step Two: Correcting Soil pH
Another priority during fall fertility planning is remediating fields with soil pH that’s less than the desired range. While you can apply lime at any time, fall applications will decrease soil compaction and provide more time for the lime to neutralize soil acidity.
Utilizing precision variable rate equipment can significantly improve results for applying lime when variability of soil pH exists within a field. As opposed to using flat rate amounts, you can target specific areas with lower soil pH, and reduce the amount of lime necessary to treat a field.
Step Three: Finding the Perfect Time to Apply Fertilizer
Your fall fertility plans should also consider the best time to apply phosphorus and potassium. Fertilizing in the spring is likely the best option if you’re working in sandy soils. You reduce the likelihood of nutrients leaching during fall and winter rain before a crop can use them. Specifically, potassium application on coarse, sandy soil should not be done until spring, closer to the time of planting.
Fall fertilizer applications in other types of soil may provide more flexibility in the spring, particularly considering unpredictable spring weather. A wet spring may lead to late planting and limited time in the field. This year has been an excellent example of how short the planting window can be in some areas due to Mother Nature.
Additionally, if other farmers in your area delay fertilizer applications until the spring, it may be difficult for applicators to get fertilizer on all your fields. The window of opportunity for prime time application may be very small. For the most flexibility in the spring, consider making your fertilizer investment and application this fall.
Step 4: Creating Individualized Fertility Plans with Critical Nutrient Values
At Growers, we use Critical Nutrient Values (CNV) to determine the ideal nutrient amounts to optimize yield. We use data from your farm, including soil test results and past yield data to determine your CNV.
The calculated CNV value for each macro-nutrient guides the fertility prescriptions we create specifically for your farm, reducing input costs, optimizing yields, and ensuring over-application doesn’t occur.