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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.
Calcium is the third most important element in a plant. And, calcium is the fifth most abundant element on the planet. It makes sense that traditionally, growers don’t apply much calcium, because they assume the plant will get what they need from the soil. But, calcium is usually found in a form that is not easily taken up by plants.
In an apple tree, the leaves, new shoots, and fruit all take calcium and the nutrient will be found in the tissues and the root, but, the fruit cannot compete with the other parts of the plant hence why the fruit often doesn’t get enough calcium. That is why calcium deficiencies are evidenced on the fruit, rather than the rest of the tree. In apples, a calcium deficiency causes a disorder known as bitter pit. Bitter pit is a physiological breakdown of the cell walls in the fruit that occur below the skin of the fruit. For that reason, when scouting for calcium deficiencies, it is important to test the fruit, rather than relying solely on leaf or soil tests.
In this particular trial, Horticulturists were testing for fruit firmness, how many apples produced on each tree, and how much the fruit weighs. At the North Central Research Station High-Density Apple Orchard, researchers test approximately 10 apples per experimental plot for firmness. They use a pentameter, which measures the pressure needed to break the cell part inside the apple. They test four spots on each apple, as research has shown there is a difference in firmness between the side of the apple exposed to sun, versus the shade-side. The average fruit firmness is reported.
A trial of the effects of LiberateCa™ in 2015 at the NCRS High-density Apple Orchard in Michigan showed that the apples treated with LiberateCa™ fall close to the preferred range of 14.5 lb – 17.5 lb for fruit firmness, while the untreated trees’ fruit firmness was significantly higher than desired. In addition, the treated trees had more apples per tree, and overall yield per tree increased as well. These trees were planted at 3 ½ feet between trees, 11 feet between rows, with a planting density of 1,100 trees per acre.
“If you can hang two more apples per tree, with 1,100 trees, you have 2,200 more apples – and that means more money in your pocket.” Horticulturist Jacob Emling
Senior Research Manager, Dr. Jerry Wilhm discusses how and why the lower applied rates of AgroLiquid nutrients are sustainable and more efficient in feeding the plant the nutrients it needs to thrive. In this short video, Dr. Wilhm further demonstrates this through a four-year sustainability study from the North Central Research Station (NCRS).
In grapes, a combination of variety, management, and training system dictates how much quality fruit the plant can produce. One of the best options is using fertilizer applied in the spring that can be easily taken up by the vine. Over the last four years, we have been looking at what AgroLiquid products can do on grapes. All fertilizer is soil applied in the spring underneath the vines.
Conventional Program: 12 gallons of 28%UAN + 12.9 gallons of 10-34-0 + 100 lbs. of sulfate of potash.
In the newest, installment of video from the North Central Research Station, Dr. Jerry Wilhm provides a comprehensive harvest re-cap, giving a glimpse into the harvest process that make AgroLiquid plot work possible.
Dr. Brian Levene also makes an appearance. Brian addresses grower questions from George McDonald of Catesa Farms in Riddleton, TN. Catesa Farms is a producer of high quality plasticulture strawberries and George is looking for the best step-by-step fertility program to bring sweet, firm berries with a good shelf life to market.
AgroLiquid North Central Research Station Assistant Tim Brussel would have been happy with even one ribbon-worthy giant watermelon, but the 2014 growing season was good to him and Brussel placed first in not just one giant watermelon competition, but two. “I probably could have taken first with the third watermelon in another competition, too,” said Brussel, “They were all pretty big, but I decided to stay home that weekend.” The largest of the three melons, all grown with AgroLiquid fertilizers, weighed in at 224 pounds in early October. AgroLiquid Senior Research Manager and Live From the NCRS blog author Dr. Jerry Wilhm teasingly says Brussel is now know as the “Watermelon King” in all of Michigan.
(Note: The Fall issue of the AgroLiquid Quarterly Newsletter just came out. However there was an error in my article where for some reason the correct picture was not included in the article. So my descriptions in the article are not clear for the pictures that were printed. So here is the article in its original form for those that don’t know what I am talking about. Which is a common occurrence, but this time I had an excuse.)
The recently completed Research Field Days showed AgroLiquid fertilizers in action. Well maybe action is a little strong, but results of the use of AgroLiquid were clearly on display in many venues. Take, for instance, one of the research plot stops on Farm 7. Several different corn fertilizer applications were on display. There were full rate conventional fertilizer programs for potash/10-34-0/28% plus an all dry treatment. There was the comparable AgroLiquid treatment along with a treatment with conventional fertilizers, but at a greatly reduced rate of application to closely match that of the AgroLiquid program. And then there was a nitrogen only treatment, so that the effects of the P and K fertilizers could be measured. The same treatments were applied last year in this experiment as well, but in the adjacent test to enable a corn-soybean rotation. On the field day itself, I went into the border rows for these treatments and pulled three adjacent ears as well as some roots that were dug. They are on display in the picture, along with the yields from 2013 and then the pounds of N-P2O5-K2O for each treatment. (Note: in the conventional treatments, two years worth of potash is applied after the previous soybean crop for the next year of corn and then the following soybean crop.)
There is certainly a visual difference in the ears. The full rate conventional and AgroLiquid ears are all larger than those of the N only treatment (4). Furthermore, the ears of the AgroLiquid treatment (5) are also much larger than the low rate conventional treatment (1), even though virtually the same rates of fertility was applied. So I guess the adage: It’s nutrients, not numbers rings true here. The nutrient technology used to make AgroLiquid more efficient is clearly seen. The roots also showed the Liquid advantage for a larger root system to better explore the soil. Furthermore, the yield in 2013 with AgroLiquid was greater with AgroLiquid vs all programs, but especially vs the equal rate of conventional. So let advanced nutrient technology be your guide in 2015. Higher yields with lower rates (more acres planted between fill-ups) and planter applied P and K to save trips. Of course the plot harvest coming up later will complete the story. But indications are strong for AgroLiquid. So when making decisions for next year, don’t cut what is research-proven for higher yield.
So I was back in Oklahoma last week. By chance, there was a farmer tour that I was able to attend at a place that helped to steer me down the road of crop research. It was at the Caddo Research Station near Ft. Cobb in SW OK. As an undergraduate college student at Oklahoma State University, I got a job at the OSU Agronomy Farm in the Weed Science department helping with field plots. One of the farms where we established replicated plots for herbicide evaluations in peanuts was this one right here. It’s a couple of hours drive here from OSU in Stillwater, but I was down here frequently back in the day. So it was fun to be back on the farm for the first time in….well, many years.
One memory I have of the place is the time I was driving here and turned on the radio and they were playing all of these Elvis Presley songs. I remember thinking “did Elvis die or something?” And sure enough as I drove down this lane to the station, the announcer said that Elvis had in fact, died that day. It was August 16, 1977. So I remember that moment 37 years ago, but admittedly this morning is a little fuzzy.
Actually, AgroLiquid was one of the sponsors of this tour, being the farming community boosters that we are. I was accompanied by Area Sales Manager Ed Granger who lives nearby, and field agronomist Reid. Here we see Ed and Reid pulling each other’s leg, although don’t pull Reid’s too hard right now. (You know, that’s another one of those odd sayings. I like to joke around, but really have no desire to actually pull someone’s leg. Who knows where it’s been? There’s probably some strange origin of that. I’ll let you know if there is.)
One stop was to see some of the new genetics in cotton for dicamba tolerance, which is the XtendFlex trait. Dicamba is the active ingredient in the herbicide Banvel, or Clarity as it is now. Well dicamba can drift and even small amounts are pretty harsh on cotton. But they have incorporated dicamba tolerance now to go along with glyphosate (Roundup) and glufosinate (Liberty) tolerance. So this gives other options for weed control where resistance could be an issue. These were from Deltapine and Americot seeds, and it will be several years till wide-spread sales. But I wonder how smooth the transition will be. Everyone probably has a dicamba story, but I remember spraying Banvel on corn at the NCRS years ago. We had poly (polyethylene) tanks on the sprayer then. We then cleaned the tank, thoroughly we thought, to spray something else. Well we sprayed two tanks of something else on corn, and then loaded up a tank of Roundup to spray some soybeans, and later saw some dicamba injury on those beans! After that we converted to stainless steel sprayer tanks. So we will see how the transition goes. I forgot to say that since this is still under development, they had it all roped off and you had to sign your name in order to view the plots. It was similar to the Enlist trait in soybeans for 2,4-D tolerance that I reported on from the Ag Ph.D field day in July.
Another stop was to look at different peanut varieties being tested, both established and experimental. They also had some stops for cotton and peanut weed control. But sadly nothing being researched on fertility. Hmmm.
We also stopped to see our replicated plot research at a facility in Hinton. That’s Area Sales Manager Parker Christian on the right with Reid. (He proudly wears his Aggie hat everywhere. Nice to see that in Oklahoma. Not.) It looks like something has caught Reid’s eye.
Yikes. On the underside of a milo leaf there is an explosion of what looks like aphids. Well Parker and Reid informed me that they are Sugarcane Aphids. Well I had never heard of these and they are new this year to Oklahoma. I did a little reading and it seems that they blew up from Texas this year, having moved over from Sugarcane in Louisiana over a decade ago. But they haven’t really been much of a problem in Texas sorghum until last year. And now here they are in OK. Although you can’t see it from here, they are all female, and produce asexually (what?). They actually give live birth to 8 to 20 baby aphids. That’s why you see different sizes in the pic. And so many. Well they aren’t babies for long as they reproduce again in only 2 to 7 days after they are born themselves. So no boys, no prom….no fun. See those black things? Those are Ladybug larvae eating them. But they are definitely not keeping up. If you see 40% of plants infested, then it suggested to spray. Dimethoate is effective. But infested plants decline in growth and grain production, especially with early infestation. These were likely recently attacked.
Here is another problem. The leaves underneath the infested leaves become all wet with aphid Honeydew.(Can’t believe in ancient times they drank this stuff.) Well this can clog up a combine at harvest if there are too many infested plants.
Fortunately our plants were below threshold and harvest isn’t that far off anyway. But if they are able to overwinter up here, then look out next year. (Note: the lighter leaves on the right half are that way in the pic due to the sun angle, not from aphids or treatment differences. Now some underhanded researchers may say it’s a treatment difference, but we’re too honest. No, really.)
Well I learned some things on this trip, although I could have done without the aphid education. Farming is tough enough already. Tomorrow I will show some more Oklahoma adventures in real farmer fields. Tune in again. You’ll be glad you did, and no pests will be mentioned. Well besides Reid that is.