Home » Fertilizer » Did in-furrow starter products increase yields?

Did in-furrow starter products increase yields?

Bronc Finch, Precision Nutrient Management Post-Doctorial Scientist.
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Specialist.

As winter wheat planting time approaches this question arises often when fertilizer decisions are being made. There are several products that have been marketed to wheat producers that contain combinations of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) as well as some plant essential micro-nutrients. These products are designed to be placed with the seed as an in-furrow application at planting and provide nutrients earlier in the season than traditional dry spreading methods. While the state of Oklahoma macro-nutrient deficiencies are often corrected with traditional fertilizing methods and micro-nutrient deficiencies are not commonly witnessed in winter wheat; these products are often sold with the expectation yield increases can still occur. This has led to the question can these fertilizer products improve winter wheat yield production regardless of soil analysis results? To answer this Oklahoma State University developed a study evaluating eleven different starter fertilizer options available to producers (Table 1). Of these eleven fertilizer options three are commonly available fertilizers, and eight of them are products available through specific companies. The study was carried out at three locations a year for two years.

Table 1. Winter wheat starter fertilizer treatment structure, guaranteed analysis in percent of nutrient, rate of product and nutrients applied in lb/ac unless otherwise noted.

To compare the ability of these products to increase yield beyond the recommendation of soil test results, pre-plant soil samples were collected to a 6-inch depth at each of these research sites. Soil analysis of the five-site years used in this evaluation (Table 2) reported no deficiency at the Lake Carl Blackwell research farm. Deficient concentrations of P (< 32.5 ppm) was recorded at the North 40 research site and Perkins research station, along with a low pH (4.8) at the Perkins research station. Acidic soils are of concern for crop production having many detrimental impacts to root production, however there is also influence on nutrient availability. Aluminum concentrations are often higher in low pH soils which will result in root pruning and the binding of applied P, increasing the concerns when soil analysis P concentrations are already deficient. 

Table 2. Pre-plant soil test analysis results for all site years, taken as 0-6 inch composites

Evaluation of these commercially available products at non-nutrient deficient sites show no influence of any in-furrow placed fertilizer product on winter wheat grain yield compared to an unfertilized check, yielding an average of 52 bu ac-1 in 2014-2015, and 93 bu ac-1 in 2015-2016 (Figure 1). Figure 1, along with the following figures, show the mean and variability of winter wheat grain yield of each of the commercially available starter fertilizer product treatments, as well as the check treatment which received no fertilizer application. The column for each treatment represents the grain yield in bu ac-1 which is the average of three replications the variability of grain yield at an individual treatment can be observed by the error bars which depict the range of grain yields within a specific treatment. The larger the error bar the less consistent the yield and the harder it is to separate out statistical differences in yield.

Figure 1. Winter wheat grain yield (Bu ac-1) at 12.5% grain moisture at the Lake Carl Blackwell location for 2014 – 2015 (top) and 2015 – 2016 (bottom). Error bars depict one standard error of the mean, and the dashed line represents the mean of the check to which all treatments were compared.

When the soil test P level was below 32.5 ppm, some P containing starter fertilizers where able to increase winter wheat grain yield in 2014-2015 growing season at North 40. Products containing 40 – 52% P; MAP, DAP + Awaken and MES-Z, improved grain yield by up to 14 bu ac-1 compared to the check. At the North 40 locations APP did not show the same increase in yields as DAP and MAP. The addition of micro-nutrients by Awaken combined with DAP yielded a 20 bu ac-1 increase over Awaken used alone, but no increase compared to DAP or MAP used alone. Similarly, the addition of Zinc by MES-Z yielded similar to the base product, MAP.

Figure 2. Winter wheat grain yield (Bu ac-1) at 12.5% grain moisture at the North 40 location for 2014 – 2015 (top) and 2015 – 2016 (bottom). Error bars depict one standard error of the mean and the dashed line represents the mean of the check to which all treatments were compared to

When P deficiency was compounded by a low pH such as observed at Perkins there was response to more in-furrow products. Compared to the check, increases up to 32 bu ac-1 in winter wheat grain yield was found by DAP, MES-10, MES-Z, Nachurs + CornGrow, and DAP + Awaken. Further investigation revealed the source of P fertilizer (DAP, MAP, and APP) reported no difference in yield averaging 55 bu ac-1. The addition of S and K by Nachurs was not different from APP, which is a similar liquid fertilizer, averaging 52 bu ac-1. Micro-nutrient additions by Awaken combined with DAP (56 bu ac-1), and by CornGrow combined with Nachurs (56 bu ac-1) did not increase winter wheat grain yield compared to each other or their respective base products of DAP (59 bu ac-1) and Nachurs (53 bu ac-1). Similarly, additions of S by MES-10 and S and Zn by MES-Z yielded similar to one another with 65 and 72 bu ac-1respectively but produced 14 bu ac-1 more yield on average than the base product MAP. At Perkins, which is a well-drained sandy loam soil, we often see a yield response to S when yield levels so seeing a response to the products that added 7 lbs of S, was not un-expected.

Figure 3. Winter wheat grain yield (Bu ac-1) at 12.5% grain moisture at the Perkins location for 2015 – 2016. Error bars depict one standard error of the mean and the dashed line represents the mean of the control to which all treatments were compared

With these results in mind and the current cost of fertilizers, the addition of fertilizer products on non-limiting soils is not expected to result in an increase in winter wheat grain yield. Also, many of these products contain micro-nutrients that are rarely found to be at deficient levels for much of the winter wheat production region in Oklahoma. Therefore, the use of these products on non-nutrient limiting soils would unnecessarily increase the cost of production and decrease the return on investment. However, that is not to say these products should be avoided completely, in the event of a nutrient limiting soils some products show potential benefit for correct soil deficiencies. As observed some P containing products were able to provide adequate P concentrations for increasing yields and overcoming low pH conditions. This work along with previous work evaluating efficient fertilizer management suggest the correction of a nutrient deficient soil to be more important than the source of the nutrients and supports the need for soil testing and following recommendations.   

This blog is a summation of Mr. Jonathon Williams thesis which was published in the Journal of Agricultural Sciences. Impact of in-furrow fertilizer on winter wheat grain yield and mineral concentration https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021859622000557


So we do small plot research to me in control of as many variables as possible. But all farmers and consultants know that fields are are variable and the results of small plots do not always translate well. I get that 100%, but for me as a scientist I need to understand the little things so that I can apply the knowledge on a large scale. Just last month I wrote a blog about cutting phosphorus rates BLOG. The third major take home of the blog was:
A composite soil sample is an AVERAGE of the field. If your average is right at the ok level (pH of 5.6ish and M3P of 30 ppm), then half of your field is below optimum and will benefit from P.
That applies to what we learned from the above study. We found if soil test said nutrient was adequate we did not see a response of adding more. However if we combine the two blogs, if your composite soil test comes back just at the optimum level, there is a good chance at least 45% of field is below optimum and may respond.

So guess what my recommendation is. Soil SAMPLE, do it right (proper method and core numbers) and do it at the highest resolution you can afford, at least once.
Finally Do Not Skip on Nutrients when soil test says there is a need.

Any questions or comments feel free to contact me. b.arnall@okstate.edu

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