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5 tips for nutrient management this fall and next spring

Make informed decisions on soil health and crop nutrition strategies.

The best advice Taylor Purucker, agronomist and crop nutrition lead at The Mosaic Company, has for farmers this fall: plan ahead.

“If we’ve learned anything from supply chains recently, it’s that it is really important to plan well in advance to ensure you’re set up for success,” he says. “This fall, consider soil testing, understand crop nutrient removal rates, and use that information to figure out what nutrients we need to replenish and apply to fields.”

This information, plus having conversations with your trusted advisers and retailers, will give you a head start on the 2022 growing season. 

Purucker shares five tips to help you make informed decisions for fall, spring, and in-season nutrient management.

1. Evaluate 2021 Yields

Environmental conditions across the United States have been variable this year, especially in terms of moisture. Purucker says one of the issues dry weather causes is nutrient deficiency in the crop, even if the soil has adequate nutrition.

“Plants need moisture for nutrient uptake,” Purucker explains. “Because it was so dry in some parts of the Upper Midwest this year, the crop roots couldn’t access some nutrients. It’s frustrating to visually see something is wrong but it’s even harder to manage when the environmental conditions don’t match up to what the plant needs.”

Given the variability in weather, Purucker says the best way to evaluate crop performance this year is to begin with yield.

“In some instances, yields are coming back a little bit higher than expected. That gives us a really good indication of what nutrients are removed from the soil and when we combine that with soil test data, that helps us plan crop nutrition programs for 2022,” he says.

During the growing season, if deficiency symptoms are present, Purucker recommends taking tissue samples or soil samples to help evaluate exactly what is going on in the soil. Take into account those results with the yield data to make adjustments to your programs.

2. Strategize Fall Fertilizer Applications

Understanding nutrient removal from the soil is key for fall fertilizer applications.

“We sometimes take for granted exactly how many nutrients are removed in the grain, especially nutrients like phosphorus, which is stored there in large portions,” Purucker says. “Research tells us exactly how many nutrients are removed for a bushel of corn, soybeans, or other crops, so with yield data, we can roughly estimate the amount of nutrients hauled away from the field.”

To bring it all together, take soil samples, which will serve as a guide to how much fertilizer is needed and the expected yield response to a fertilizer application. You’ll know which nutrients need to be replenished and what to apply to optimize nutrient levels in crop yields and maximize the return on investment to fertilizer applications.

3. Balance Crop Nutrition

“Crop nutrition accounts for up to 60% of crop yield,” Purucker says. “Seed technology, environment, herbicides, and fungicides all affect yield too, but that 60% indicates that crop nutrition is the foundation for high yield systems, inputs, and other management practices utilized throughout the growing season.”

Balanced nutrition up front allows you to capitalize on all of the work you do in-field to help the crop reach its full potential. And when combined with the 4R concept (applying the right fertilizer source at the right rate, right time, and in the right place), soil health improves.

4. Optimize Soil Health

Using different fertilizer technologies available on the market today along with the 4Rs can increase fertilizer efficiency and optimize soil health.

“We know that growers are successful when combining a technology like MicroEssentials, a phosphate-based fertilizer that has two forms of sulfur, with the 4Rs of nutrient management,” Purucker says. “We recently launched a dry phosphate product that is boosted with recycled organic materials – Sus-Terra – and when that is combined with MicroEssentials, growers can see higher yields and the benefit of healthier soils.”

Soil health remains a valuable, yet complicated space. Purucker recommends understanding how soil health systems work as a whole to determine what products may fit into your operation.

“Being able to collect data on the performance of soil health practices is key,” he says. “We’re on a journey and we want to walk alongside with growers and learn with them to provide the most value that we can.”

5. Manage Micronutrients

The three D’s of micronutrient management will help you maximize the benefits and overall impact on plant health.

Plants require 17 nutrients to complete their lifecycle. Purucker explains:

  1. Distribution. This refers to an even application of the micronutrients. Every plant needs a little bit of micronutrients, but because we apply such a small amount, sometimes it’s hard to distribute those evenly in the field. It’s really important that we solve this distribution flaw with micronutrient fertilizers to ensure that every plant gets exactly the amount of nutrients it needs.
  2. Duration of availability. Some of the newer corn hybrids and soybean varieties take up nutrients faster than they have in the past and even for a longer period of time. It’s important that we supply the micronutrients throughout the entire growing season, which supports higher yields.
  3. Daily uptake needs. Newer hybrids and varieties have a greater daily requirement of micronutrients to support higher yields. Be mindful of supplying the right amount of micronutrients to support those daily needs.
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