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Soil fertility solution for nutrient fixation

New polymer technology increases phosphorus availability, boosts ROI.

Whitney Haigwood, Staff Writer

April 9, 2024

7 Min Read
Dedman, Whitaker and Helms
The polymer technology in NutriCharge enhances phosphorus availability in the soil to increase yield and boost ROI. Discussing their experience with NutriCharge were (from left), Arkansas Certified Crop Advisor, Robb Dedman; McGehee farmer, Jim Whitaker, and farmer and researcher, Ronnie Helms from Stuttgart. Whitney Haigwood

Referring to the “ties that bind” usually brings warm feelings of friendship or family bonding. That is not the case, however, for soil challenged by fertility issues and nutrient fixation that can impact a farmer’s bottom line.

When fixation occurs, nutrients like phosphorus get tied up in the soil making those nutrients unavailable to crops. The gravity of the problem depends on soil type, soil pH, and what is planted.

Fortunately, a new polymer technology shows promise to break those cation bonds in the soil to increase phosphorus availability to plants. The product is called NutriCharge, by AgroTechUSA, and it is making its way to the Midsouth where farmers are seeing a positive yield response and a boost in ROI in rice, corn, and soybean field trials.

In 2023, results were backed by research in a replicated small plot study using the technology in Arkansas rice. These study results along with firsthand testimonials were presented in early 2024 at the National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference.

On hand to discuss their experience with NutriCharge were Arkansas Certified Crop Advisor, Robb Dedman; fifth-generation farmer, Jim Whitaker from McGehee; and farmer and research agronomist, Ronnie Helms from Stuttgart.

Field testing sees yield response

Whitaker grows continuous rice in southeast Arkansas on all zero-grade fields. Phosphorus levels on his farm are low, running anywhere from 9 to 40 parts per million (ppm) on a variation of soil types.

Dedman is Whitaker’s long-time crop consultant. Throughout the years, Whitaker said they have tried hundreds of products along with soil fertility strategies. When it comes to phosphorus, Whitaker said, “We run about 15 tons of chicken liter each year. We variable rate our phosphorus. We grid sample and take soil tests. Even with all of that, my soil test P levels were not going up.”

His problem? Nutrient fixation. Put simply, Whitaker explained, “At a base saturation type environment, you will have one of your nutrients bullying the other ones, and something was being tied up in the soil.”

In his case it was phosphorus. Then three years ago, things changed when Dedman recommended the product, NutriCharge. Whitaker agreed to give it a try, but rather than treat his phosphorus application with NutriCharge, he treated a urea application instead.

He replaced AgroTain with NutriCharge on one fertilizer application and saw enough of a yield increase to try it again the next year. Whitaker reported similar results the second year, and even applied NutriCharge on corn in-furrow with good response.

He said, “With one application and we saw positive results, then every time we compounded it, we saw something going on in the soil.”

Last year, Whitaker decided to run the product wall to wall. NutriCharge went out on phosphorus, ammonia sulfate, and every shot of urea. He also tried NutriCharge as a seed treatment using his own seed treater.

Whitaker said, “We ran airplanes where we split fields and flagged them for field testing. We ran it through seed treaters on all our trucks. We saw good results. Every way it went out, even in the chemical application, showed a yield response.”

Other Arkansas farmers using the product also reported similar success, and Whitaker wanted to know more behind the science. He said, “I am a farmer. I would not take a farmer’s yield response as the gospel. That is why I wanted to see this scientifically replicated in a small plot study.”

The challenge with phosphorus

Dedman approached AgroTechUSA who agreed to fund the study to verify the results of NutriCharge. That is when Helms came into the picture with a goal of gathering as much data as possible in one year.

Helms, once the Extension rice specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, has spent his career in agricultural research and has studied fertilizer efficiency since his graduate work in the 1980s. At that time, Helms said fertilizer efficiency was only 10% to 30%.

Fast forward to today, and Helms reported little has changed, particularly for phosphorus. Fertilizer efficiency is still at 10% to 30% – a rate we would consider unacceptable for any herbicide or a seed treatment on the market.

Helms noted the challenges of predicting crop response to phosphorus in terms of rate and consistency of response, citing research findings that indicate soil tests only explain 17% of the variability in the optimum rate of phosphorus.

“If I got a 17% on a test in high school, that would be an F, but we are accepting this simply because that is the way it is,” Helms said. “There is so much variability in tracking solutions, correlations, and regression lines for phosphorus that we accept it. It is not due to anybody’s research. It is just what farmers are dealing with.”

Helms explained that soil test recommendations are complicated even more on zero-grade or regraded fields. He said, “Recommendations do not fit in these situations. Soil test numbers are not indicative of the availability of phosphorus when you are cutting the fields and pulling the samples.”

Replicating NutriCharge results

In Helms’s 2023 NutriCharge tests he looked at adding the product to phosphorus fertilizer applications in rice as well as using it as a seed treatment. The small plots were planted June 16, 2023, with Provisia PVL03.

For the fertilizer applications, four reduced rates of phosphorus were applied at a rate of 33 pounds per acre with and without a half-gallon of NutriCharge. At harvest, there was an 8 bushel per acre yield increase in the NutriCharge plots compared to the plots where only phosphorus was applied.

Following harvest, Helms put out a 100-pound rate of 0-46-0 phosphate with and without NutriCharge in addition to an untreated check. To investigate the differences in phosphorus levels, soil samples were pulled on all three treatments. Helms said the numbers were unique. Plots treated with NutriCharge had a 13-ppm increase of available phosphorus compared to those without Nutricharge and a 16.5-ppm increase compared to the untreated check.

For the NutriCharge seed treatment test, Helms treated rice seed with a NutriCharge formulation of 2 ounces per count weight. Those results were compared to untreated seed with tissue testing at boot stage. To his surprise, tissue tests revealed an increase in biomass by 700 pounds per acre in the plots treated with NutriCharge compared to the untreated plots.

The tissue tests also showed greater concentrations of phosphorus in plots with the NutriCharge seed treatments, up 1.9 pounds per acre compared to the untreated. Furthermore, soil test P levels were higher in the NutriCharge treated seed plots at 42.3 ppm compared to 34.5 ppm in the untreated.

In conclusion, Helms said the data provides significant evidence that NutriCharge is an enhanced efficiency technology with an undeniable relationship to phosphorus availability.

Utilizing your resources

While there is still more to discover in terms of the product’s impact on other soil nutrients, farmers are already taking advantage of the product’s efficiency and gains in ROI.

Dedman explained, “We are letting NutriCharge become the bully in the soil. It is a polymer with a negative charge so great that most of the cations are attracted to it, thereby breaking those bonds and making nutrients more available to the plants.”

For Whitaker, this meant a $21.16 ROI per acre in his rice crop. Dedman also reported in-furrow trials conducted by Lake City farmer, Casey Hook, where he applied NutriCharge at a 3.2 ounce per acre rate on corn and soybean. This resulted yield increases and an ROI of $40.25 and $20.25, respectively.

“There are people who say, statistically the yield numbers are not different, but economically these numbers are significantly different. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want an extra $40 per acre,” Dedman said.

A question came from the crowd to Whitaker. “You went whole hog with treatments last year. Are you going to do it again this year?”

Whitaker responded, “I am going whole hog again this year. We are moving fast and furious.”

He added, “If I can use this product, hold my phosphorus a little bit, cut out AGROTAIN, and help the environment – that is where my passion is. To see where we can push those envelopes.”

Whitaker encouraged attendees to at least consider NutriCharge and to get their land grant universities to study the product. For more information on NutriCharge, you can visit the AgroTechUSA website at or contact Robb Dedman by email at [email protected].

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Nutrient Management

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