Fertilizer: Do you want to lower your fertilizer costs?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fertilizer: Do you want (and need) to lower your fertilizer costs?

And are you getting what you're paying for? Today I want to discuss a newer practice that I'm seeing that involves biologicals and dry fertilizer. Biologicals offer growers a way to free up nutrients in their soil and take their fertility to the next level. Below I will show you how to do more with less on your next fertilizer application.

Question: First, what nutrients are essential to the growth of plants?

Answer: There is a specific set of nutrients that are essential to plant life and must be available in the soil in order to get optimum results. These nutrients are broken up into three categories: Primary Macronutrients, Secondary Macronutrients and Micronutrients. These nutrient categories break down as follows:

Primary Macronutrients
- Nitrogen
- Phosphorus
- Potassium

Secondary Macronutrients
- Calcium
- Magnesium
- Sulfur

- Boron
- Chlorine
- Copper
- Iron
- Manganese
- Molybdenum
- Nickel
- Zinc

Each of these nutrients plays an important role in the overall health of the ecosystem of your soil. As you might guess, macronutrients are needed in large amounts. Micronutrients are needed in much smaller amounts. Too much of one nutrient and too little of another, or nutrients in the wrong form, can have a negative effect upon your plants and lead to nutrient deficiency.

Most soils today have a nutrient deficiency of one form or another. Especially ground that has been worked year in and year out. Creating the healthiest environment in your soil is one of the keys to raising a successful stand of any crop. And the strategy of just applying extra N-P-K isn't necessarily the most effective one. In fact, it's not effective at all.

Question: What's the problem here?

Answer: These nutrients within the soil regularly move back and forth between several chemical forms. They become dissolved in soil solutions as molecules (ions) that contain charges that are either positive (cations) or negative (anions). As these molecules move between their various forms, they develop an equilibrium based upon certain soil conditions, including pH, texture, aeration of the soil and the presence of other ions. This process often leads to nutrients that become bound into insoluble forms, making a portion of these nutrients unavailable to your plants. To be clear, the nutrients are still in the soil, but no longer in a form that can be used by your plants. At that point, it's nutrition that's "all dressed up with no place to go," and that's bad for you.

Question: What is the solution for freeing up bound nutrients in my soil?

Answer: The only solution to this problem is to incorporate ingredients that work at the ionic level to strip electrical charges from the binding elements in the soil. Those once bound-up nutrients, not available to the plant before, become freed up and available again.

Consider this... as a grower, you have been applying fertilizer to your ground for years and years. And every year you've added nutrition to the soil that became unavailable due to the binding process of these nutrients. What this means to you now is that you have fields full of unused nutrition. If you could "mine" that nutrition and release it back to your plants, you would be money ahead, and give your crops a boost that they've not likely ever experienced before.

Question: So, how can I unbind the nutrients in my soil?

Answer: One word... Biologicals.

You knew I was headed there, right? Biologicals have proven themselves to significantly impact the soil ecosystems and plant health. And what happens to healthier plants? They produce more seed!

There are a number of different biological (microbial) products on the market today that address the issue of nutrient unavailability. These microbial formulations, including the billions of colony forming units (bacteria) inside of them, have proven themselves to be effective at causing nutrients to be converted into a usable form again so that your plants can actually use them. So, if you're wanting to get value from fertilizer applications that you did last year or two years ago, biologicals are the way to do it.

Question: What do I need to do to get biologicals onto my field?

Answer: As I have written about in the past, biologicals are generally applied in three ways: As an in-furrow application at the time of planting, as a foliar application directly to the leaves or impregnated onto dry fertilizer that is then broadcast to the ground.

For this situation, broadcasting the biologicals to the ground along with your fertilizer is the most cost-effective way to go. The liquid biological solution first needs to be applied to the dry fertilizer granules. After that is ready to be broadcast upon your fields and start working. After, here's what you can expect:

1) The biological formulation dries on the granule and forms a coating that seals it and keeps it from breaking down in the truck. This means less fertilizer dust to stay behind in the truck and nothing to blow away in the wind.

2) The bacteria in the biological solution is available to immediately impact the fertilizer nutrients so that the current application never has a chance to become bound and unusable to your plants. Say goodbye to bound nutrients...

3) Once the fertilizer is on the ground, rain will begin to break those granules down. As it does, the biologicals will infiltrate your soil and go to work like an army of soldiers, breaking bonds and releasing nutrients.

Question: Can biologicals make for a more effective fertilizer program?

Answer: Most definitely! Advancements in agricultural sciences, like biologicals, are helping growers to create healthier plants. And, as I said earlier, healthier plants produce more seed. The data from both public and private yield trials continues to show positive results on crops because of the incorporation of biologicals. I've seen the results first hand and so have many of my customers.

There are a lot of benefits to growers when discussing biologicals. Next month I will cover a few more details about biologicals on fertilizer from an application stand point. Not only for growers, but for fertilizer dealers, as well. There is also the issue of the effectiveness of different biological formulations. Some are clearly better than others. Tune in later as I discuss some of the things you will want to look for as you implement this fertilizer strategy and "mine" the existing nutrition in your ground.

Contact John at johno@agteampro. com, or at MOF2, LLC - P.O. Box 401, Garden City, MO 64747. John can also be reached by phone at 816-773-6018.