Making Choices

The Appropriate Nutrients For Your Crops

By John Leif, Field Agronomy Manager

Seed and crop protection selection has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, but crop nutrition planning is sometimes based on past history rather than on knowledge of the soil and needs of the crop (“it’s what I’ve always done”). The agricultural economy can make it tempting to take a few shortcuts and not purchase inputs or services that were purchased in the past. The challenge is making the best use of financial resources but not cutting inputs that will make money. As growers consider their crop nutrition needs it is tempting to forgo something as basic, and important, as soil testing.

Soil testing allows the grower to determine the current condition of the soil, including imbalances, deficiencies, and excesses. It also helps identify how much nutrition is already available in the soil so that fertilizer applications can be optimized. A multi-year testing program allows the grower to monitor changes in the soil over time.

Yes, soil testing does cost money – around $25 per sample for a complete test that includes soil characteristics, nutrient levels and base saturation. However, if one soil sample represents 20 acres in a field and the field is sampled every three years, the cost of soil sampling averages out to be about $0.41 per acre per year. Not a bad investment, considering the amount of information received from that test.

Nutrient levels in soil will change over time. Nutrient level reductions can be the result of crop removal, changes in fertilizer use, and loss through erosion or leaching. Nutrients that weren’t well managed 20 years ago, such as sulfur or micronutrients, have become more prominent as nutrients that can be limiting to yield. Soluble nutrients such as manganese and boron are difficult to build up in the soil, and higher crop yields of today take more crop nutrition than the yields of 20 – 30 years ago. “Free” sulfur from manufacturing and power generation facilities is not as available as it was before the Clean Air Act was implemented. Simply applying the same fertilizer mix you have always applied may not provide the best production or economic return.

The soil test report can be used to develop a complete nutrient management program for a field, including soil amendments to adjust nutrient imbalances as well as determine the fertilizer application needs for the crop. Using products that can be mixed to address the needs of a field will provide the best opportunity for economic return.

An excellent example of using soil test information to optimize crop nutrition choices is a field experiment conducted by MGS Farms (formerly AgroSpray Research Farm) near Innerkip, Ontario. The soil test report for the field showed low levels of both phosphorus and potassium. A common, standard program in the area is an application of 5 gallons/acre of 6-24-6 liquid fertilizer that provides phosphorus and a small amount of potassium. That treatment was compared to 2.5 gallons/acre of Pro-Germinator to meet the phosphorus need or 2.5 gallons per acre each of Pro-Germinator and Sure-K to meet the phosphorus and potassium need. Addressing the phosphorus and potassium need as indicated by the soil test provided higher yield and higher net return compared to either no phosphorus or phosphorus fertilizer alone.

In addition to selecting nutrients needed to grow the crop, a soil test report will show relationships among nutrients in the soil. If one nutrient is in excess, other nutrients may not be available to the crop, even if the values of those nutrients are high. An excellent example of this is manganese and iron. If the manganese level is higher than the iron level, there is a risk that iron will be less available to the crop and supplemental iron nutrition is recommended. Excess levels of calcium can reduce the availability of several nutrients, including phosphorus, potassium and manganese, among others. Mulder’s Chart graphically describes some of those relationships.

If you have any questions about soil testing and developing a crop nutrition program, contact your AgroLiquid representative.

Planting Straight Rows of Trees (LAND OF LIQUID Blog)

 So in previous episodes I’ve shown nice straight rows of trees in California.  There is a real increase of new plantings of trees, mainly almonds.  So how do they get those nice straight rows that line up no matter which way you look?  Well again Sales Account Manger Dylan was my source of answers.  In fact he has been part of tree planting operations in a previous job.  Well one way is to lay out a real long tape on top of the raised bed, and put in markers, or “straws” as they are called, where the tree will go.  For almonds that is around 14 foot spacing.  Then go to the next row and adjust the tape so that the straw is mid-way between the trees in the previous row.  That way you get maximum sunlight penetration.  And it looks really cool.  Here is an orchard that was probably planted last year.

recently planted orchard

Here is an almond orchard that was recently planted.  However instead of straws this grower used GPS guidance on a tractor or something with wheel spacing to match tree placement.  Then they built the raised rows and used the wheel tracks as placement guides.  This is lots faster than the tape and straw method.  This is pretty new to me, and I haven’t talked to enough almond growers to get the real scoop on what’s the most popular today.  But I would lean towards GPS.  But you have to really be careful to get it set exactly where the wheel track is.

how are orchards planted straight?

 Look how this tree is leaning.  In fact, they all are.  It seems that they plant on a slant facing Northwest, as that is the direction of the prevailing storm winds in the winter when trees can get blown over. So they lean them into the wind to make them better able to withstand the wind.  Then they will stake them to hold them in position.  Look at the top picture where stakes are on the trees.  I guess it’s worth the extra trouble as they will be there for many years.

newly planted orchard tree

There is a saying that I like (but don’t always follow) that fits here: If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?  (Do you know who said that?  Famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who is the GOAT with 10 championships in 12 years, including 7 in a row.)  He probably wasn’t talking about planting almond trees, but it applies.

The Phosphate Advantage

Phosphorus (P) is considered a primary crop nutrient, along with nitrogen and potassium. Phosphorus is involved in photosynthesis, respiration, energy storage and transfer and many other processes in the plant. Phosphorus improves the quality of fruit, vegetable, and grain crops, and is vital to seed formation. Phosphorus uptake is a continuous process during the active growth period of plants. Phosphorus is absorbed by plants throughout the growing season, with much of the plant’s phosphorus need occurring during periods of fast vegetative growth and fruit production.  Since phosphorus is needed at all stages of plant growth it is imperative that the nutrient be in a plant available form throughout the growing season.

Most phosphate fertilizers combine, or complex, with other minerals in the soil to create compounds that are not usable to plants. This can happen in as little as 4 to 8 days. Pro-Germinator™ contains both orthophosphate, which is immediately available to the plant, and long-chain polyphosphates that are protected by flavonol chelation technology resulting in season long phosphorus availability.

flavonol protects polyphosphate in Pro-Germinator from fixation loss

The combination of ortho- and polyphosphates, along with its flavonol chelation technology allows Pro-Germinator™ to provide more nutritional performance per gallon than conventional fertilizers.  That results in having excellent crop nutrition at lower application rates than other phosphate products.  When applied at recommended rates, Pro-Germinator™ is cost effective, on a per acre basis.  Pro-Germinator™ should be the backbone of all crop fertility programs, potentially providing the greatest return on phosphorus investment.

liquid starter comparison on corn

An experiment was conducted at the AgroLiquid North Central Research Station to determine phosphate availability of Pro-Germinator™ compared to other liquid phosphate fertilizers. Pro-Germinator™, 9-18-9 orthophosphate, and 10-34-0 ammonium polyphosphate were applied at 20 lb P2O5 per acre. Plant usable phosphorus in soil solution was measured at various times throughout the growing season.

plant usable phosphorus in solution comparison


Why Micro 500?

Micro 500 contains a balanced combination of five essential micronutrients: zinc, manganese, iron, copper, and boron. Each crop grown has minimum requirements of certain micronutrients in specific proportion to each other. Zinc affects the terminal growth areas of the plant. High yields are impossible without zinc due to its importance with growth. Iron is required for the formation of chlorophyll. It activates respiration and is essential for food production. Boron is essential for development of new cells in the process of cell division and differentiation. Copper catalyzes several plant reactions and is essential to chlorophyll formation. Manganese serves as an activator for enzymes involved in plant growth processes. It is needed for phosphorus and magnesium uptake. The formulation of Micro 500 is designed to fill those requirements.

Why Micro 500?

The five micronutrients in Micro 500 are formulated together using AgroLiquid’s Flavonol Polymer Technology so that they perform better than applying comparable rates of individual micronutrients. The formulation technology used in Micro 500 makes it easy for those nutrients to enter through the roots or leaves of the plant, making it an ideal micronutrient product for soil or foliar applications. Individual MicroLink micronutrients can be added to Micro 500 if specific nutrient deficiencies are present in the field.

Improving N Utilization

Nitrogen fertilizer is subject to losses due to volatilization, denitrification, and leaching.  The severity of loss is often dependent on soil moisture, temperature, and the placement of nitrogen in the soil.  Many liquid fertilizers contain three forms of nitrogen – urea ((NH2)2CO), ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3-).  Most plants can utilize the ammonium and nitrate forms of nitrogen, although the biological processes in the soil work to convert nitrogen to the nitrate form.  Nitrate is the most susceptible to loss through leaching.

nitrogen leaching

High NRG-N is an advanced technology nitrogen product containing stabilized urea, ammoniacal, and nitrate nitrogen.  The proprietary Flavanol technology used to formulate High NRG-N controls the conversion of urea to ammonium thus mitigating losses from leaching and volatilization.  The result is a controlled, steady supply of nitrogen to meet season long crop needs while using less volume than with conventional fertilizer sources.  High NRG-N does not inhibit biological activity in the soil.

eNhance is a nutritional supplement that amends the urea and ammonium portions of UAN solutions to reduce the amount of ammonium converted to nitrate.  That reduces volatility and denitrification, making nitrogen available to the plant as it is needed.  eNhance also works within the plant to aid in nutrient transport, making other nutrients that enter the plant more efficient.

Traditional nitrogen “stabilizers” are used to prevent nitrogen loss so their use can be considered an insurance policy.  If soil and environmental conditions are not conducive to nitrogen loss there would be no benefit to the addition of those stabilizers.  However, High NRG-N or eNhance improves the utilization of nitrogen in the plant and are not dependent on soil and environmental conditions.  Adding eNhance to UAN solution allows the user to reduce the rate of fertilizer and maintain yields, or use the full rate of fertilizer and have the potential for higher yields than achieved by UAN without eNhance.

nitrogen source effect on corn yield

In contrast, most nitrogen stabilizers on the market today inhibit the biological processes in the soil that convert nitrogen into the nitrate form.  Urease inhibitors, such as Agrotain® inhibit the enzyme urease that is produced by many soil bacteria, preventing the formation of ammonia (NH3).  Nitrification inhibitors such as N-Serve®, eNtrench®, Agrotain®Plus, and Instinct® inhibit the activity of the soil bacteria Nitrosomonas, preventing the conversion of NH4+ to NO3.

nitrification inhibitor

Unlike traditional nitrogen stabilizers that inhibit biological activity in the soil, eNhance works within the plant, fortifying the crop’s physiology to more efficiently utilize applied nitrogen.   eNhance is not a traditional nitrogen stabilizer, but as the name implies, it enhances UAN fertilizer performance.

Agrotain® and Agrotain®Plus is a registered trademark of Koch Fertilizers.

N-Serve®, eNtrench® and Instinct® are registered trademarks of Dow AgroScience.

Micronutrients’ Role

Of the essential nutrients plants must have to grow, eight are referred to as micronutrients. While plants use micronutrients in very small amounts, they are just as essential for plant growth as primary (N, P, and K) and secondary (S, Ca, and Mg) nutrients. Any one of them can limit growth and even cause plant death when deficient.

Micronutrient deficiencies can be difficult to recognize because they resemble other problems. For instance in corn, manganese deficiency produces yellowing, which can look like a sulfur deficiency or even be confused with nitrogen deficiency. Often tissue testing can determine the cause, but it is best to have a good soil test so any problems can be addressed ahead of seeing nutrient deficiency symptoms.

Why are micronutrient deficiencies increasingly being seen in the soil:

  • Increased yields due to various technologies means higher removal of micronutrients from the soil.
  • Some micronutrients are no longer contained in high analysis fertilizers and fertilizer materials.
  • Any type of land preparation which results in the removal of several inches of topsoil can result in a deficiency of certain micronutrients on the cut areas.
  • High phosphorus levels can induce micronutrient deficiencies.

(Midwest Laboratories Agronomy Handbook)

Micro 500™ is a precision balanced combination of five essential micronutrients: zinc, manganese, iron, copper and boron. Utilizing Flavonol Polymer Technology, Micro 500™ provides the benefit of a synergistic combination of micronutrients, and should be considered when a specific micronutrient deficiency has not been established. Each crop grown has minimum requirements of certain micronutrients in specific proportion to each other. The formulation of Micro 500™ is designed to fill those requirements and should be used in most cropping programs. These nutrients are synergistic. Growers get better uptake and response from a micronutrient in Micro 500 than if they apply an equal volume of a nutrient alone. In addition, having this combination available is helpful in pockets of a field where a grower might be unaware that a particular nutrient is lacking. Trials show that AgroLiquid micronutrients perform better than dry micros because applicators can place them in a root zone band (in furrow or near the seed). Micro 500 also offer better results compared with other conventional EDTA-chelated micronutrients.

fertilizer program results

fertilizer results micronutrient to corn

Check out AgroLiquid’s MicroLink family of products for all of your micronutrient needs. Do you have questions? Contact an AgroLiquid representative today!

Research 2017

Research Supports Future Growth is a series of videos highlighting crop nutrient research conducted by the North Central Research Station.

In the week 4 Research Supports Future Growth, Field Agronomy Research Manager, Stephanie Zelinko discusses long term fertility programs in corn and soybeans.

In this week’s Research Supports Future Growth, Dr. Jerry Wilhm discusses how a complete cotton crop nutrition program that enables extended nutrient feeding and will help realize better boll set and yield.

Field Agronomy Research Manager Tim Duckert discusses foliar applications on sugarbeets.

Field Agronomy Research Manager, Stephanie Zelinko, discusses C-TECH, an easy-to-use, precision solution designed to supply season-long nutrition while creating a biologically-active soil.
C-TECH is specially-formulated with specific microbes and BioActivites, combined with plant nutrients to help better hold nutrients in poor soil types, release nutrients within soil solution, promote biological activity and help increase overall plant health.

Salt Index

salt index

Is Salt Index a Good Predictor of Fertilizer Injury? NO!

If salt index isn’t a good predictor of fertilizer injury to many crops  — what should be considered when selecting a fertilizer?

There has been a lot of discussion about the term “salt index” and what it means with regard to crop safety for fertilizers. When synthetic fertilizers were first becoming prominent in the marketplace one of the concerns was the crop safety that each product provided and how that related to where a product should or shouldn’t be placed. The term “salt index” was used to help describe the relative safety of fertilizer products – both liquid and dry.  Over the years, the term salt index has been used for a variety of things, some that make sense, and some that were, perhaps, not technically accurate.

In order to understand salt index it is important to understand what is meant by the term “salt.” A salt is any chemical compound that is composed of a positively charged ion and a negatively charged ion. When most of us hear the word salt we tend to think of sodium chloride, or table salt. Sodium chloride is a salt, but it is not a common component of fertilizers.

The question is often asked about how much salt fertilizers have. In strict chemical terms fertilizers ARE salts. One of the more recognizable fertilizer formulas is K-Cl, or potassium chloride. That compound is 0-0-60 potash. The potassium component is a positive ion and the chloride component is a negative ion. That fertilizer, along with all others, are salts.

Why was the concept of salt index developed?  The original intent was to develop a scale, or index, of the potential for a fertilizer to cause crop injury. The actual numbers reported can be measured values using electrical conductance tests, or can be calculated values based on product components. It is easy to see how different analysis methods can give different index values, so comparing the salt index of various products is problematic unless the products were all measured (not calculated) using the exact same methods.

Is the salt index number of any value when describing the potential for fertilizer injury?  Not as much as it used to. Some literature suggests that fertilizers with salt indexes above 20 should not be applied near the seed of sensitive crops. Commodity fertilizer products such as potash or DAP are well known to cause crop injury when placed too close to a sensitive seed. Some liquid fertilizers, such as 10-34-0 or 6-18-6, can be applied in-furrow to certain crops but with significant rate restrictions. Newer technology products – including many AgroLiquid products – are safe for in-furrow application to many crops, including some products that have salt index values higher than 20.

If salt index is not a good predictor of fertilizer injury to many crops what should be considered when selecting a fertilizer? First and foremost, crop safety and performance of AgroLiquid products should be the focus of any discussion. AgroLiquid product crop safety and performance claims are backed up by over 20 years of research and field experiences, and don’t need to be justified by a laboratory value.

When selecting fertilizer products and application placement it is important to use the best agronomic practices for the product, crop, and row spacing. Corn and soybeans, for example, have different limitations on what rates certain AgroLiquid products can be applied in-furrow or as a foliar spray. Some of the vegetable crops, on the other hand, should not have in-furrow applications of AgroLiquid products at planting.  In addition to the product itself there are several environmental conditions that need to be taken into account when determining crop safety risks. Soil environmental conditions play a large role in crop response to fertilizer products, with colder, dryer soil conditions having a higher potential for adverse crop response compared to a warmer, moist soil. Foliar applications have additional issues to consider with regard to crop safety and performance. Crop growth stage is a very important factor in the safety and performance of foliar fertilizer applications.  Tank mix partners and surfactants may also play a role in safety and performance. When tank mixing with crop protection products it is important to READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS of the pesticides. Pay special attention to tank mix restrictions and compatibility testing instructions on the pesticide label.

Reminders about salt index

How it relates to AgroLiquid products:

Don’t worry about absolute numbers.  Methodology, test conditions, and the products tested all influence the index value that is reported. Also, don’t get caught up in salt index comparisons with other products.

Do consider the safety, flexibility and performance of AgroLiquid products, and the research plus field experiences that prove performance.

Do select and apply fertilizers based on sound agronomic practices. Consider what crops, application methods, tank mix partners, and environmental conditions are present when making fertilizer decisions.