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Starter fertilizer may boost corn yields 10 to 15 bushels per acre

Such responses have only occurred 50% of the time in 30 Purdue University trials.

Looking for some inexpensive risk protection? Starter fertilizer banded 2 inches across and 2 inches below the seed (in a 2×2 band) can boost corn yields 10 to 15 bushels per acre, according to Purdue University research.

However, it’s not a given. So far, favorable responses have occurred in just one half of 30 Purdue trials coordinated by Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension agronomist, and Jim Camberato, Purdue Extension soil fertility specialist.

When responses occur, though, banded starter fertilizer has boosted corn yields 10 to 15 bushels per acre. Nielsen reported on the research at this month’s Top Farmer Conference at Purdue.

In fields with adequate soil P levels, it appears the lion’s share of the response comes from nitrogen (N) in the starter fertilizer and not phosphorus (P).

“Starter can be a cheap form of crop insurance,” says Nielsen. 

Just remember to factor in that N used in the starter is part of a total N package, and not additional N, he says. If that’s the case, the extra 10- to 15-bushel-per-acre responses are “free” bushels, he says.

The kicker, though, is predicting under what conditions a starter response will occur. “So far, we have not been able to identify when starter will pay off," he says.  

There’s another benefit, even if a yield response doesn’t occur.

“In all 30 trials, we have seen a  reduction in grain moisture between 1 to 2 points,” says Nielsen. “For some reason, starter tends to speed up crop development. The corn goes through leaf stages and silks faster before reaching maturity and beginning drydown. In a year like 2019, that can help.”

No Pop-up Response

Pop-up fertilizer can also be applied at planting. It’s normally applied at rates like 3 to 5 gallons per acre of a starter like 10-34-0. Rates must be this low in order to prevent seed and/or seedling injury.

So far, though, pop-up fertilizer is shooting yield blanks in all 30 Purdue University trials.

“There has been some cosmetic response, but we see no yield response to the low rate placed with the seed,” says Nielsen.

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