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IN THE GROUND: Subsurface placement of nutrients is a movement in the right direction for growing healthy crops while being mindful of nutrient stewardship.

Place nutrients below surface

Ask a CCA: Old and new practices are both gaining traction.

By Logan Haake

As agriculture keeps changing, and terms like the 4R’s, sustainability, water quality and profitability are being emphasized more than ever, placement of nutrients is key to making this happen. Old and new practices are gaining traction for how we can place nutrients 2 to 6 inches below the soil surface.

How important is nutrient placement? Subsurface placement of nutrients is a movement for placement in the right direction for the right place and the right rate: the 4R’s of nutrient stewardship. Fertilizer, for the most part now, is broadcast on top and incorporated in conventional systems. In no-till systems, there are several different types of applications of product. Growers can broadcast on top in either fall or spring, which would not be incorporated in a true no-till operation, or nutrients are being applied on top of growing cover crops.

What are options for placement? Growers have been applying nutrients below the surface for years with their planter row starter, either 2-by-2 or in-furrow. So, looking at this subsurface application, it is not a new practice. Strip till is continuing to grow by placing the fertilizer in a band below the surface 4 to 6 inches and creating a strip to plant on in the spring. Another growing method is using shallow placement equipment. An example of that would be a JD2510H bar, which creates low soil disturbance and is placed 2 to 4 inches deep.

How can I make this easier? With these different pieces of equipment, opportunities exist for dual-product fertilizer bins to run variable-rate fertilizer on the fly while making subsurface placement. Along with variable-rate fertilizer, units can be equipped with an air seeder or spreader to make this a one-pass application.

As technology continues to grow — and not just technology in the cab — we can continue to find ways of applying fertilizer in the most efficient and effective way. The 4R’s are a good platform for economic and environmental sustainability, The right source, right rate, right place and right time are the fit for subsurface application equipment.

Haake is a certified crop adviser with Legacy Farmers Cooperative. Contact him at 419-423-2611 or


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