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Sponsored: Starting Soybeans Off Right with Starter Fertilizers

While Mother Nature has been especially cruel to farmers across the Midwest this spring, planting season is still the one thing that is on every farmers’ mind. While the opportunity for early-planting (and the potential yield increase that could bring) is out the window, many farmers are still looking for ways to maximize their return on investment (ROI) and increase yields this season. This is especially true for farmers who may plan to capitalize on soybean crops this year with corn at the market price it’s at.

This had lead many producers in search of products that can offer an edge. One such product is a starter fertilizer. Starter fertilizers are typically a small amount of plant nutrients placed near the seeding during planting. The main goal is to apply a concentrated amount of nutrients in an area where young plants can easily reach them to promote early-season development. And while starter fertilizers are a common application on corn crops (you can read more about it here), most farmers have not considered the benefits such products could lend to their soybean crops. Because soybeans remove significant amounts of nutrients from the soil each season, they have the opportunity to benefit significantly from starter fertilizer applications applied on soils low in nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K).

It's important to note that soybean seed has a much lower tolerance to salt in the soil solution near germinating seeds compared to wheat, grain sorghum, and corn. Nitrogen and potassium (K2O) in starter fertilizers are the biggest contributors to salt index. The salt index is important to germinating seeds and seedlings since salt can make it difficult for seeds and young plants to extract soil water needed for normal germination and growth. In addition, dry soil conditions in the seed zone after planting can increase the risk of salt injury from an in-furrow starter fertilizer.

Specific sources of potassium, such as potassium chloride, are significantly larger contributors to salt index than potassium phosphate, potassium sulfate, and potassium hydroxide. Also, orthophosphate fertilizers typically use potassium phosphate as the raw material, while polyphosphates are usually synthesized from potassium chloride. Therefore, orthophosphate starter fertilizers have a lower salt index than polyphosphate products and pose less of a risk to germinating seeds and seedlings.

For many years, the most commonly used and affordable form of potassium for crop production has been potassium chloride. However, other potassium sources are being used today to produce starter fertilizers that can be safely applied in-furrow, even in soybeans.

Because of the potential negative impact on germination and early growth, most farmers with the ability to apply a liquid starter fertilizer in corn have not attempted to use a starter in soybeans. There are other possible reasons why farmers have not used starter fertilizers in soybeans. These may include the following:

  1. In a 2x2 or 2x2x2 placement system there is concern that soybean roots may not access the starter band soon enough due to its taproot, rather than a branching root structure like corn.
  2. Soybeans planted in row spacings less than 30 in. may require additional equipment to apply an in-furrow starter product.
  3. Additional time and labor is required for filling and/or re-filling the planter.

Despite the concerns mentioned above, there is significant interest in using liquid starter fertilizers in soybeans. Higher yield goals, greater nutrient removal including micronutrients, increased fertilizer efficiency from better placement, development of “low salt” products, new equipment technology such as the Furrow Jet™, and a potential increased ROI have all led to increased interest.

Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® has evaluated many in-furrow liquid starter fertilizers over the years. These products were applied with a Keeton seed firmer. In Beck’s three-year, multi-location study, 2 gal./A. of First Pass® (3-5-15) with 1 qt./A. of MicroCarb ZMB™ (0.75Zn, 0.5Mn, 0.1B, and fulvic acid) was the only treatment to earn the PFR Proven™ designation, providing an average yield advantage of 2.7 Bu./A. and an average positive ROI of $9.19/A.

4.17.18_Starter Fertilizer Chart

One important observation noted with this research is that even though treatments have been identified that resulted in a yield increase each year and an average positive ROI, there is a significant amount of variability in the data. Many significant early-season rainfall events in 2015 may have led to crop stress from lack of adequate nutrient uptake; thereby creating a greater response to an in-furrow starter fertilizer. It can be hypothesized that the differences in planting date, genetics, soil fertility levels, residue levels, organic matter content, and weather conditions may be contributing factors, leading to variable results. Similar to using a starter fertilizer in corn, getting a positive ROI from using a starter fertilizer in soybeans can be dependent upon many variables.

To see the regional results of this study, click the links below.

Contact your local Beck’s representative to help determine if using a starter fertilizer in soybeans is a good option for your operation. As always, please refer to product labels for rate recommendations and restrictions for your cropping system.

Beck’s PFR  is the largest source of unbiased, cutting-edge agronomic information in the industry. More than 500 studies were conducted in 2017, comparing over 150 products across multiple locations to learn how different management practices and new technologies perform in field environments. In evaluating agronomic practices and input products, not comparing seed products, Beck’s PFR aims to help farmers maximize their input dollars and increase their bottom line. To view more PFR studies click here  .


Practical Farm Research (PFR)® and PFR Proven™ are trademarks of Beck’s Superior Hybrids Inc.  Furrow Jet™ is a trademark of Precision Planting. First Pass® and MicroCarb ZMB™ are trademarks of The Andersons, Inc.


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