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What You Need to Know About In-Furrow Technology

Placing inputs at planting alleviates plant stress. Benefits, though, depend on soil nutrient levels.

In-furrow technology can protect and nourish the seed in its most vulnerable emergence stage. So, are in-furrow options like starter fertilizer, micronutrients, seed treatments, fungicides, nitrogen stabilizer, and fertilizer-compatible insecticides worth the money? 

They can alleviate plant stress that clips yield potential. “You never want your crop to have a bad day,” says Fred Below, University of Illinois crop physiologist. His research finds that combining targeted crop inputs can deliver more yield than the sum of their parts used individually. 

“Top corn genetics have the potential for 600 bushels per acre. Yet, the U.S. corn yield average is around 170,” Below says.

READ MORE: Test plot challenge teaches how to wisely spend fertilizer dollars

Should I Buy Them?

Agronomically, “the advisability of in-furrow technology depends on soil test recommendations,” says Dan Kaiser, University of Minnesota nutrient management specialist. “If your soils already have high nutrient levels, in-furrow technology may not deliver an advantage. In poorly drained or cold soils, you may see an advantage. Of course, there’s not just one way to farm. Each situation is different.”

Financially, it’s a tough time to be adding any input costs, says Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois farm management specialist. 

“We advocate that you cut $100 per acre in costs to break even, assuming you don’t increase yields,” says Schnitkey. “If you make that investment in in-furrow technology, you have to get yield from it. Do the math.”

Lift Package

One major provider of in-furrow technology is West Central Distribution, a Willmar, Minnesota, wholesale distributor of crop protection and production inputs. It offers the Leaders of In-Furrow Technology (LIFT) package to retailers in 23 Corn Belt states. 

“Against the backdrop of lower commodity prices and the intensified focus on production techniques, LIFT capitalizes on new findings in nutrient-efficiency management and delivery technology,” says Dean Hendrickson, LIFT vice president of marketing.

LIFT partners with BASF, FMC, Dow’s N Serve, and Nufarm customized seed treatments for one-pass planting and input delivery. 

“You choose from among the best products, at the best time, delivered in the furrow at planting, to preserve seeds’ maximum theoretical yield,” says Hendrickson. “Quick, even seedling emergence, along with disease and pest protection, should lower plant stress and capture the most growing-degree days.” 

In-furrow Components

Here’s a closer look at LIFT’s individual component options. 

  • FMC’s Ethos XB combines an insecticide and biofungicide for early pest and disease control, extending seed treatments’ protection, says FMC’s Rick Ekins. “The biofungicide forms a lipopeptide biofilm that grows with the roots to fight pathogens, including Fusarium, Pythium, and Phytophthora.”
  • FMC’s Capture LFR at-plant insecticide improves seedling stands and addresses corn rootworm Bt-resistance concerns. “Capture LFR provides a zone of protection in our patented LFR formulation that stays in suspension with liquid pop-up fertilizers,” says Ekins. “It protects against corn rootworm, wireworm, cutworm, grubs, armyworm, seed corn maggot, and stalk borer. 
  • FMC’s new 3RIVE 3D application system combines patent-pending formulations, active ingredients, and in-furrow delivery systems to maximize acres planted per day, he says. “It’s compact, fits on all major planter brands, and allows you to plant and protect up to 500 acres on a single fill.”
  • BASF’s in-furrow fungicides (like Xanthion) fight early-season stressors like Rhizoctonia and Fusarium and also suppress Pythium species, says BASF’s Scott Stout.
    “With one chemical and one biological product, it enhances root growth, seedling vigor, and cold tolerance. The Headline portion has shown proven control of key soilborne diseases while enhancing root growth and seedling vigor. The biological portion colonizes roots, providing longer protection through the growing season,” Stout says. “BASF’s in-furrow direct-injection kit pump (10-gallon tank and pump) mounts on the planter and operates off your starter fertilizer’s volume flow to agitate the two Xanthion fungicide components for even dispersion.”  
  • Nufarm’s seed treatments “protect seedlings from disease and insects to improve emergence, to provide even stands, and to improve yield,” says Nufarm’s Nathan Wright. “These custom-formulated seed treatments for varied environments, seedling disease, and insect pressure are your best insurance to get your crop off to the right start.”
  • Dow’s N-Serve and Instinct II  N stabilizers secure your anhydrous, urea, manure, and UAN nitrogen in the more stable ammonium form to reduce nitrate leaching and denitrification, says Dow’s Jason Moulin. “Otherwise, your N is susceptible to potential leaching and denitrification loss,” he says. (Up to 70% of N loss could be from denitrification and leaching.) “Heavy soils can lose 15 to 30 pounds per year N per acre nitrate in tile line flows, and 1 inch of rain can move nitrates 1 foot through sandy soils’ profile,” he says. “Five days of saturated soils can cost you 30% of your N if it’s not stabilized. Stabilizers also reduce greenhouse gas loss by 45% to 50%.”

READ MORE: 5 nutrient deficiencies to watch 

Unlocking Nutrients  

Looking to unlock nutrients from soils and make them available to your crops? That’s the premise behind chelated micronutrient mixes and chelating agents. 

One such product that frees up tightly bound nutrient ions is Levesol, says Brian Kuehl, West Central director of product development. “It releases zinc (ZN), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), and P (phosphorus) ions and keeps them in soluble, plant-available form,” he says. 

“Levesol is the highest concentration of ortho-ortho EDDHA, a stable formula that protects very specific positively charged nutrients,” says Steve Roehl, Leaders of In-Furrow Technology (LIFT) research data analyst and plant scientist. “It makes them soluble for plant uptake while preventing them from bonding with soil components and other negatively charged plant nutrients, thus, increasing their plant availability.”

Other Levesol-containing product options include:

  • Soygreen iron chelate. “It frees up iron, preventing soybean iron deficiency chlorosis by keeping Fe2+ in solution,” Roehl says. 
  • Redline concentrated starter fertilizer. Chelated with Levesol, this product delivers N, P, potassium (K), Fe, Cu, Mn, and Zn in-furrow to get seedlings off to a strong start, Kuehl says. About 25% of U.S. acres use liquid fertilizer in-furrow, according to West Central market research.
  • Copper-field N-base chelate. Chelated nutrient products’ efficiency depends on how strongly they hold the ions (charged nutrient particles), says Dan Kaiser, University of Minnesota nutrient management specialist. Some are held more strongly by the soil than others. Kaiser’s 2014 Levesol trials found that the product increased early corn growth “that did not translate into yield,” he says. “The growth response may have been a positive reaction to in-furrow starter P. I have not seen the full set of Levesol data.”

Kansas State University Levesol 2014 trials also found no yield results from its use in corn. “We measured more P in corn tissue and grain; that’s an indication that it’s putting more P in the plant,” says Dorivar Ruiz-Diaz, who did the research. He is KSU’s Extension soil fertility and nutrient management specialist. “With just one year’s data, I cannot say you will see a yield increase, because we need more data, but it’s getting the P into the plant tissue and grain,” he says.

Levesol and related products are being or have been tested by 41 researchers in 29 states, including land-grant universities. “Starter treatments cost more per unit, so account for early-applied nutrients in later application rates to avoid waste,” says Kaiser. “The likelihood of a yield benefit to starter fertilizer is fairly rare, maybe one year out of 10, like in a wet spring. Broadcasting nutrients isn’t a horrible way to go.”

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