Wallaces Farmer

Fight economic pressures with good nutrient management

Be careful cutting back on fertilizer application and crop protection products this year.

March 14, 2016

4 Min Read

Farmers and the entire ag industry are facing economic pressure. Commodity prices remain low, while fertilizer and other input prices remain steady. To cut costs, farmers might consider cutting back on fertilizer and crop protection products. However, will that help them save money in the long run?


Cutting down on extras like growth regulators, fertilizer, disease control products and insecticides might seem like an obvious way to save money on the front end, but it often comes at the sacrifice of plant health and yields. Placing a strong focus on soil fertility and crop protection at the start of the season is actually a smart way to have successful growth all season long, and see a high return on your investment after harvest. Crops need access to vital nutrients and protection from insects, fungi and weeds in their early growth stages and throughout the season to achieve full yield potential.

Early access to nutrients will get crops off to a strong start
That’s how Brian Kuehl, director of product development for West Central Distribution, sizes up the crop input decision-making situation for farmers this spring.

An important aspect of plant fertility programs is the access that plants have to nutrients already present in the soil, he points out. In regard to nutrient availability, growers continue to learn that it is important for crops to have early access to macro and micronutrients. Nutrient absorption is important in all stages of the growing cycle, but it’s especially critical during early plant growth. Early access to nutrients will get them off to a strong start and set the plants’ growth trajectory for the rest of the season

There’s more to nutrient management than ensuring you have the proper amount of the usual suspects like phosphorus or nitrogen. “Zinc, iron, manganese and copper are micronutrients that are vital to plant development,” says Kuehl. “You can have all the nitrogen in the world, but if you don’t have enough of one of these other nutrients, that one nutrient will be the limiting factor for the crop. If a grower is considering cutting costs, he or she needs to see how they can be more effective with their crop nutrients, by choosing fertilizers that help them maximize the nutrients in the fertilizer and in their soil rather than just cutting application rates trying to save money.”

Will the fertilizer nutrients you apply be available to your crop?
Growers know their plants need nutrients in order to grow. In some cases, they may already be applying fertilizer to their crops to provide these nutrients and think it is providing adequate support for the crops. However, they may not realize that some of these nutrients could be binding with other nutrients or particles in the soil, rendering the nutrients unavailable for plant uptake.

How can growers protect their fertility investment if they know crop nutrition is necessary, but are unsure if the nutrients they are adding will be available to their crop? “One way for growers to protect their fertilizer investment is to start using an in-furrow application system, and an effective ortho-ortho chelating agent with their fertilizer,” says Kuehl. “Levesol is an ortho-ortho chelating agent developed by West Central that helps keep phosphorus and micronutrients, such as zinc, copper, manganese and iron, from bonding with each other or with other charged ions in the soil.”

Look for a sustainable, long-term approach for best return
By placing a chelating agent and fertilizer in the furrow during planting, the seed and seedlings have immediate access to these nutrients, he says. Successful chelation allows the nutrients to be soluble for plant uptake, which sets crops up for quicker emergence, better health and overall yield.

Cutting back on crop nutrients without considering the implications to your crops and your soil is not a solution to deal with the financial stress in the current economic environment, sums up Kuehl. Growers should look for a sustainable, long-term approach, as they continue to strive for the best yields to achieve a solid return on investment at the end of the season. “Their results at harvest will be directly reflected in the efforts they put forth from the beginning,” he adds.

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