By extension

As spring planting time nears, an often-asked question is, ?Do I need to be applying a starter fertilizer to my crop??

Starter fertilizers (liquid or dry) are placed with or near the seed at planting time and usually contain some nitrogen (N), and phosphate (P). Depending on the crop and need, starters may also contain potash (K), sulfur (S), and zinc (Zn). Starters are used to ensure early-season nutrient needs of the crop are met.

Phosphorus has been the nutrient most emphasized in starters over the years. Recent research suggests that N, K, and/or S and Zn may also need to be considered, depending on conditions.

Starter fertilizers can help overcome early-season stresses often encountered by spring planted crops, some of those conditions would be: early planting, conservation tillage-high levels of old crop residue, cold, wet or compacted soils, areas with herbicide carryover, areas with soil pH extremes and areas with low soil test levels.

The use of starter fertilizers under these conditions can ensure need amounts of nutrients are available for use by the emerging crop.

Caution should be exercised when applying starter fertilizers in direct seed contact. The drier the soil, the greater the risk of starter fertilizer injury to the seed if applied in direct contact. This applies to all crops.

For corn or grain sorghum, limit total N+K to 10 lb./acre or less (assumes 30-inch row spacing). Do not apply ammonium thiosulfate in direct seed contact.

Soybeans are more sensitive to soluble fertilizer salts and direct seed contact of starters on soybeans in 30 inch rows is not recommended. Soybeans drilled in 7.5 inch rows should not have more than 5 lbs./acre of N+K in direct seed contact. Use 2×2 (2 inches below and 2 inches to the side of the seed) band allows use of higher rates.

K-State research has shown up to 90 lbs. N/acre can be successfully applied in the 2×2 band to corn and sorghum.

Caution should be used when applying banded urea or urea containing materials on high pH soils due to possible seedling injury from free ammonia as the urea is hydrolyzed in the soil.

The disadvantage of using starter fertilizer is the slowing down of the planting operation. But many producers are willing to deal with this since they know the use of starters can provide the following benefits:

— early-season nutrient availability;

— more vigorous early crop growth;

— greater ability for the emerging crop to deal with stresses;

— quicker soil cover by the crop; hastened crop maturity;

— earlier harvest;

— increased yields.

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