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With the current conditions and input cost many wheat producers are considering cutting back on inputs. I can’t disagree with the plan, but I would caution against what you cut. If you have read any of my past blogs, or seen me speak, you should know I’m all for cutting back on pre-plant nitrogen (N). Based on some recent trials I would not argue cutting the potassium (K) side, but phosphorus (P) that’s another story that we will walk through in this blog.
First and foremost, soil testing is the key to P management. If your soil test is below the critical threshold for the test you use, 32.5 for Mehlich 3 (M3P), then you need to add phos. We have enough work that shows current recommendations work for P in wheat. Reeds paper Evaluation of incorporated phosphorus fertilizer recommendations on no-till managed winter wheat Link to Paper goes over soil test recommendations in no-till and the recent double crop soybean project Double Crop P and K Blog highlights the importance of P fertility, regardless of yield level. Also if your soil test is below a 5.5 and you haven’t limed (Liming is the best solution, Band-aids not so cheap Blog ), then the next best option is adding additional P to alleviate the aluminum toxicity Band-aids for low pH Blog. In-short if the fields soil test P and or pH is below optimum you should not forgo P application.
But the primary reason I am writing this blog is for those looking at fields with composite soil test that is right around the critical thresholds, and they are trying to make the call on to apply P or not to apply P. Even on fields with soil test values in the good level, I am usually in favor of banding in-furrow fertilizer wheat, but not because of the same reasons I am for corn. With corn you are planting in cool soils and the availability of nutrients like P is lower in cool wet soils. For wheat cold soil isn’t the concern until we reach the end of the planting window. It will serve as a bit of a “pop-up” as the crop comes out of dormancy in the spring. I have also seen little to no value of N applied in furrow. I see same response to DAP (18-46-0), MAP (11-52-0), and TSP (0-46-0) when all applied at same rate of P. Meaning it was the P not N making the difference.
For me the reason I still recommend getting a little phosphate out even when the soil test comes back is that the great majority of fields have a large range of variability. Looking at a set of 650 grid sampled fields across Oklahoma and Kansas it showed on average soil pH 6.0 and M3P was 34 ppm. Both pH and P are at adequate/optimum levels. However, the average is usually somewhere between the low and high point and in this data set and the range of soil pH was 1.8 units and the range in M3P was 67 ppm. That meant on average of the 648 field with pH values the average difference between low pH and high pH was 1.8 units and the difference between low P and high P was 64 ppm.
The field below is from Kingfisher county and was sampled at a resolution of 10 acres per sample. This is a fairly course resolution for grid sampling but provides a great view of how variable our soils can be. The field average pH is 5.3, which is below optimum but our aluminum tolerant wheats would be able to handle fairly well. For the P the average is 22 ppm which needs about 18 lbs of P2O5 to max yields. If the farmer applied a flat rate of 20 lbs there would be significant forage loss on about 65% of the field, for grain only about 45% of the field due to underapplication of P. Note that low P and low pH are not correlated well, meaning the areas low in pH are not always low in P.
Banding P makes it more efficient because it slows the rate of tie. However, we have plenty data that says broadcast applied P is still a great option, even after planting. So what are my take homes from this blog?
First: If you are grazing wheat get down 40-50 lbs of N pre. But I have plenty of data the pre-plant N on grain only wheat is not needed. I have the same amount of data that shows the only value of in-furrow N for grain only is that it forces you to plant more seeds, because it just lowers stand.
Second: When it comes to wheat pay attention to Phosphorus and soil pH. Even our acid tolerant wheats preform better in neutral soil pHs, especially forage wise.
Third: 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.
Fourth: If you can band P great, but if you cant broadcast is still a viable option. Do Not Skip P when soil test says there is a need.
Questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
Brian Arnall email@example.com
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist
Hunter Lovewell, Past PNM MS student.
Original Blog Name: Managing P and K in a wheat Double-crop Soybean System.
I planned to wait until the soybean yields came in to share the data from this project, but the wheat results are just too interesting this year.
So the trial posed the question, when is the best time to apply the phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) for the soybean crop in a wheat double crop soybean system, if any is needed above what is applied for the wheat crop. We applied the wheat’s P&K at establishment, but the soybeans P&K was applied either at wheat establishment, top-dress wheat timing, or post wheat harvest pre soybean planting. We used the sources of granular triple super phosphate (0-46-0) and potash (0-0-60) for all applications. We hypothesized the wheat crop would not benefit from the soybeans portion of P&K and that the top-dress application timing for the soybeans P&K would result in the greatest soybean yields.
So far, we have six site years with completed cycles with locations at the Eastern Research Station (ERS) near Haskell, Oklahoma, Ballagh Family Research Farm (BF) near Newkirk, Oklahoma, Skagg Family Farm (SF) near Lamont, Oklahoma, and Lake Carl Blackwell Research Farm (LCB) near Perry, Oklahoma. The research was conducted during the 2019-2020 growing season and the 2020-2021 growing season. For the 2021-2022 cycle we added two more locations one again on the Skagg Family farm and the second on a new cooperator, O’Neil Farms (OF) near Ponca City. For all locations no P or K was applied by the farmers at any point, but they did manage IPM. See location descriptions below.
The first two years of work is written up in Mr. Hunter Lovewell’s thesis titled “EFFECTS OF PHOSPHOROUS AND POTASSIUM APPLICATION TIMING ON A WHEAT DOUBLE-CROP SOYBEAN SYSTEM” which I can share with those interested. To be honest, Hunter had a couple tough seasons. Basically where wheat did well, beans typically failed and where you had good beans the previous wheat had failed. All the same he had some interesting results. What follows is pulled from his conclusions.
“While a significant response to the application of P and K was limited, the results show that there are environments in which the wheat crop can benefit from additional P and K fertilizer applied for the soybean crop. In the case of the soil (SF-SH) with low M3P and an acidic soil pH, the additional P applied during the winter wheat growing season, intended for soybeans, alleviated the aluminum toxicity issues with acidic pH, increasing wheat yields. Beyond the single location with low soil test P and pH no other significant response was found to the addition of and P. This may be explained in that most locations were only marginally deficient P and the majority of the varieties used in the study were considered to have acid soil tolerance. Penn and Arnall (2015) found that cultivars with aluminum tolerance had increased P use efficiency. The BF location showed a significant wheat grain yield response to the K fertilization, but the additional K applied for the soybean crop showed no benefit for the wheat crop. While there was no significant increase in soybean grain yield to the additional K fertilizer observations suggest that the application of K fertilizer for soybeans may be of benefit. As was mentioned before the double-crop system is susceptible to yield-limiting conditions, heat, and moisture, due to the maturity of the crop during the peak summer months. The soybean grain yields achieved in this study were all below the previous five-year yield average for all the locations. The low achieved yields and crop stress may have limited this study’s ability to identify a significant response to the application of fertilizer. “
So, one of the most interesting finding from the first six sites was that topdressing P increased yield of the wheat crop on the soil that had low pH and P. And since the P recs applied were only considering STP values and not soil pH, we had underapplied P for the wheat.
Now moving on to the 2021-22 season. Well as most of the famers know, this season has been a doozy. That said, we were not able to establish the treatments until February 1st. Therefor in the case of the 2021-22 wheat season the first application of P&K was made at top-dress timing and then the second application was made post wheat harvest. So, we are unable to say how a preplant wheat P&K application would have performed. But the wheat grain yield response to P&K was better than I could have ever imagined.
The rain post application (Feb 1st) was marginal but better than other areas in the central/southern Plains. There was about 1” of precipitation in February, almost 3” in March and under 0.2” in April. May rains for the OF site near Burbank aided in allowing the yields to climb, maxed out at 82 bushels per acre, while the SF-Nfld missed out on many of the late rains and yields topped out at 39 bushels.
At both sites there is a clear and distinct response to P fertilizer. Note the N and NK treatments significantly lower than all other treatments. The last column on each figure title NPK is the average of all other treatments that only received the wheats P&K rate and had yet had the soybeans P&K applications.
We were able to statistically analyze the locations together by calculating a relative yield for each location. This is done by dividing the yield of each plot by the yield of the N only treatment, we did this for each replication. We then ran a t-test to look at significant treatment difference, so below any treatments that has the letters above the columns, such as an ab and b, are not statistically different at a 95% level.
The relative yield data was able to confirm that across both locations an application of P in February significantly increased yields at a consistent level of 30-50%. It is interesting that while the NP+K+ treatment almost sorts out as being statistically the highest.
While I am not even close to suggesting that you should delay application of P fertilizer in wheat production, I am a big fan of in-furrow applications, this work does point to opportunities. Such as the ability to return to the field after the wheat is up and apply broadcast P if perhaps you could not at planting. But specifically, the potential for in-season Variable Rate phosphorus based upon crop response, maybe a P-Rich strip. What I can tell you this means is that I have more work to do. First, I need a better understand of when and where this is possible. Then it is time to figure out how to use this to our advantage to more efficiently use P fertilizer.
I do want to reiterate, I am not suggesting to move away from Preplant P nor in-furrow.
Keep an eye out for the soybean data because hopefully we catch a few good rains and find out if the timing of P&K will impact the double crop yields.
I want to send a big Thank you to all the cooperators who have put up with me and my time over years to get this data and the Oklahoma Soybean Board for their continued support of this project.
Feel free to send any questions for comments my way at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whoi Cho, PhD student Ag Economics advised by Dr. Wade Brorsen
Raedan Sharry, PhD Student Soil Science advised by Dr. Brian Arnall
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Extension.
In 2014 I wrote the blog Banding P as a Band-Aid for low-pH soils. Banding phosphate to alleviate soil acidity has been a long practiced approach in the southern Great Plains. The blog that follows is a summary of a recent publication that re-evaluated this practices economic viability.
Many Oklahoma wheat fields are impacted by soil acidity and the associated aluminum (Al) toxicity that comes with the low soil pH. The increased availability of the toxic AL3+ leads to reduced grain and forage yields by impacting the ability of the plant to reach important nutrients and moisture by inhibiting root growth. Aluminum can also tie up phosphorus in the soil, further intensifying the negative effects of soil acidity. More on the causes and implication of soil acidity can be found in factsheet PSS-2239 or here (https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/cause-and-effects-of-soil-acidity.html). The acidification of many of Oklahoma’s fields has left producers with important choices on how to best manage their fields to maximize profit.
Two specific management strategies are widely utilized in Oklahoma to counter the negative impacts of soil acidification: Lime application and banding phosphorus (P) fertilizer with seed. While banding P with seed ties up Al allowing the crop to grow, this effect is only temporary, and application will be required every year. The effects of liming are longer lasting and corrects soil acidity instead of just relieving Al toxicity. Historically banding P has been a popular alternative to liming largely due to the much lower initial cost of application. However, as P fertilizers continue to increase in cost the choice between banding P and liming needed to be reconsidered.
A recent study by Cho et al.,2020 compared the profitability of liming versus banding P in a continuous wheat system considering the impacts that lime cost, wheat price and yield goal has on the comparison. This work compared the net present value (NPV) of lime and banded P. The study considered yield goal level (40 and 60 bu/ac) as well as the price of P2O5 fertilizer and Ag Lime. The price of P2O5 used in this study was $0.43 lb-1 while lime price was dictated by distance from quarry, close to quarry being approximately $43 ton-1 and far being $81 ton-1. For all intents and purposes these lime values are equivalent to total lime cost including application. Wheat prices utilized in the study were $5.10 bu-1 and $7.91 bu-1. It is important to note that baseline yield level was not considered sustainable under banded P management in this analysis. This resulted in a decrease in yield of approximately 3.2 bu ac-1 per year. This is attributable to the expected continued decline in pH when banding P is the management technique of choice.
The analysis in this work showed that lime application is cost prohibitive in the short term (1 year) when compared with banding P regardless of lime cost, yield goal level, and wheat value (within the scope of this study). This same result can be seen over a two-year span when yield is at the lower level (40 bu ac-1). While in the short-term banding P was shown to be a viable alternative to liming, as producers are able to control ground longer lime application becomes the more appealing option, especially when producers can plan for more than 3 years of future production. In fact, under no set of circumstances did banding P provide greater economic return than liming regardless of crop value, yield, or liming cost when more than 3 years of production were considered and only under one scenario did banded P provide a higher NPV in a 3-year planning horizon.
While historically banding P was a profitable alternative to lime application for many wheat producers the situation has likely drastically changed. At the time of writing this blog (09/17/2021) Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) at the Two Rivers Cooperative was priced at $0.78 lb-1. of P2O5. This is a drastic increase in P cost over the last year or so since Cho et al. was published in 2020. With P fertilizer prices remaining high it will be important for producers to continue to consider the value of liming compared to banded P. This is particularly crucial for those producers who can make plans over a longer time frame, especially those more than 3 years.
Addendum: As fertilizer prices have continued to rise a quick analysis utilizing the $0.78 lb-1 of P2O5was completed to consider the higher P fertilizer cost. Under this analysis an estimated decrease in NPV of approximately $38 an acre for P banding occurred. When considering this change in NPV, lime application becomes the more profitable option for alleviation of soil acidity symptoms even in the short term (assuming lime price values are equivalent to the previous analysis). This underlines the fact that it is imperative to consider the impact on profitability of the liming vs. banding P decision in the current economic climate for agricultural inputs.
Link to the Open Access Peer Reviewed publication “Banding of phosphorus as an alternative to lime for wheat in acid soil” https://doi.org/10.1002/agg2.20071
From mid August through October, fertilizer applicators and grain drills are running across the southern great plains wheat ground. Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP 18-46-0) is maybe the most popular form of phosphorous (P) utilized in wheat production today. DAP delivers a high content of nitrogen (N) while efficiently binding the toxic aluminum (Al) ions low pH soils. However due to the flooding that occurred throughout the spring the Ports have been closed and DAP could be in short supply. I have heard that many companies and Co-ops have already sourced Mono-ammonium phosphate (MAP 11-52-0) to supplement the lack of DAP for our early planted wheat crop. With this happening, I wanted to share some points about the two sources. In a broadcast incorporated scenario I do not have much preference for one over the other. It is when producers are applying the fertilizer in-furrow or applying to alleviate Al toxicity that source can matter. As described in the post below, in a soil with a neutral pH DAP and MAP perform equally well. So in this scenario I give MAP a slight edge over DAP if the price is the same. I say this as you can run less material per acre with MAP and refill a little less often. Many worry about the drop in N delivered with MAP versus DAP but in my work I see that is the P in the starter that gives us a good response and not the N, which can be delivered with pre-plant or top-dress. However, DAP wins out in soils with a pH below 5.5. The original blog below shows the results when DAP and MAP are banded in acidic soils using the same rate of P per acre. The reason we see this happen is that when MAP dissolves it forms a slightly acidic solution (approx 4.0) while DAP will dissolve to form a slightly basic solution (approx 7.5). In our work BOTH DAP and MAP increased yield above the check in acidic soils, which goes to show MAP is an affect tool for short term remediation of aluminium toxicity (Band P for Al toxicity Blog). However it might require more MAP per acre to reach the equivalent results. Because of what we saw when comparing the two sources at equivalent rates of P, I would recommend increasing the rate of P2O5 from 30 lbs per acre to 35 or 40. This would be going from 65 lbs of DAP to 67-77 lbs of MAP per acre.
So the take home would be as this wheat season takes off and you find that DAP is hard to locate and you A) Have overall neutral (5.5+) pH levels do not hesitate using MAP. Run the normal amount of material getting a few extra lbs of P or apply less material to get the same amount of phosphate. B) Have a acidic situation and are banding to alleviate aluminum toxicity use the same amount of material or a little bit more. Keep in mind in acidic soils with a low soil test P level you have to apply enough phosphate to take care of the Al and enough to take care of the P deficiency. Note the results of the NPKS wheat response strip (NPKS BLOG)
Original Post Published July 18, 2016
DAP vs MAP, Source may matter!
Historically the two primary sources of phosphorus have had different homes in Oklahoma. In general terms MAP (11-52-0) sales was focused in Panhandle and south west, while DAP (18-46-0) dominated the central plains. Now I see the availability of MAP is increasing in central Oklahoma. For many this is great, with MAP more P can be applied with less material. which can over all reduce the cost per acre. There is a significant amount of good research that documents that source of phosphorus seldom matters. However this said, there is a fairly large subset of the area that needs to watch what they buy and where they apply it.
If you are operating under optimum soil conditions the research shows time and time again source does not matter especially for a starter. In a recent study just completed by OSU multiple sources (dry, liquid, ortho, poly ect ect) of P were evaluated. Regardless of source there was no significant difference in yield. With the exception of the low pH site. The reason DAP was so predominate in central Ok, soil acidity. See an older blog on Banding P in acidic soils.
Figure 1. The cover of an extension brochure distributed in Oklahoma during the 1980s.
When DAP is applied, the soil solution pH surrounding the granule will be alkaline with a pH of 7.8-8.2. This is a two fold win on soil acidity aka aluminum (Al) toxicity. The increase in pH around the prill reduces Al content and extends the life of P, and as the pH comes back down the P ties up Al and allows the plant to keep going. However, the initial pH around the MAP granule ranges from an acid pH of 3.5-4.2. There is short term pH change in the opposite direction of DAP, however the the Al right around the prill becomes more available and in theory ties up P even faster.
Below is a table showing the yield, relative to untreated check, of in-furrow DAP and MAP treatments in winter wheat. The N401 location had a ph 6.1 while Perk (green) has a pH of 4.8. At Perkins in the low pH, both forms of P significantly increased yield, almost 20 bushel on the average. DAP however was 5 bushel per acre better than MAP. At the N40 site the yield difference between the two sources was 1 bushel.
In general it can be said that in acid soils DAP will out preform MAP while in calcareous high pH soils MAP can out preform DAP. So regarding the earlier statement about the traditional sales area of MAP or DAP if you look at the soil pH of samples went into the Oklahoma State University Soil, Water, and Forage Analytical lab the distribution makes since.
Average soil pH of samples sent into OSU soil water forage analytical lab by county.
In the end game price point and accessibility drives the system. In soils with adequate soil pH levels, from about 5.7 to around 7.0, get the source which is cheapest per lbs of nutrient delivered and easiest to work with. But if you are banding phosphorus in row with your wheat crop because you have soil acidity, DAP should be your primary source.
For the last few years I have been challenging people to “Think Out Side the Box” when applying fertilizer. One of these application methods is to use a grain drill to put Nitrogen fertilizer into the soil. Just the act of getting N into the soil will immediately decrease the opportunity for losses. While it seems crazy many picked up on the idea of using grain drills for N applicators. The first year of a two-year study looking at documenting the practice is in the books. With data coming in from three locations, utilizing two drill types (double disk conventional and single disk no-till), the results are quite promising. The biggest take home from year one was a 2 parter: 1) if conditions are conducive to nitrogen loss from urea volatilization, applying urea with a grain drill in the spring improved efficiency. Conversely if loss potential was low, there was no difference. 2) in some soil conditions the double disk drill could not close the furrow and this reduced the positive impact of using the drill. The two tables below show the impact application and environment on yield. Each of the treatments had 60 lbs of nitrogen (as Urea) applied per acre. At Chickasha the first application was made while it was fairly dry and then it rained, but the second application was made during a period in which there was no rain but a fairly significant dew each morning. This can be seen as the small effect volatilization played on the yields of the first application timing. At Lahoma, it was the early applications that had a higher risk of loss with no difference seen later.
With the results from the first year of the top-dressed drilled nitrogen studies in the books, the interest has been increasing. One question keeps popping up: for grain drills without a fertilizer box, what do we put our grain box on to apply fertilizer. At one point the number of inquires hit a critical mass and I sent out my crew to find grain drills and create calibration curves for DAP (18-46-0) and Urea (46-0-0). The crew did just that.
Now please consider what is presented below is a general calibration. Much like the chart on your grain drills, it will hopefully get you close but the best-case scenario is that each drill is calibrate prior to running. As request are made we will try to add more drills to this list.
To create the following charts the guys located several different makes of drills around the OSU experiment stations. They were instructed to choose setting based on the manufacture seed rate charts in the range of 60, 90, 120 etc. For each setting they caught a couple of row units for both Urea (46-0-0) and DAP (18-46-0). They caught each setting multiple times to get a good average.
If you look at the tables you can see the Landol 5211, Great Plains 1006NT, and International 5100 are fairly similar, with the John Deere 1560 being a little lower and the John Deere 450 significantly lower at the lower rates. To use the tables below, consider what kind of grain drill you have and choose to follow one of the drills listed or the average of all five. If you use the average value I would expect most to find they applied a bit more than planned. To make it even simpler, but less accurate, you can use the % wheat value. To do this for DAP take your target rate and divide by .88, this value is what you want to set your drill to. For example for a target rate of 100 lbs DAP per acre use the following formula: 100/.88 = 114. Choose the manufacturer recommended settings 114 lbs wheat seed per acre. If you are wanting to apply Urea take your target rate of urea and divide by 0.71.
Again, I cannot state this enough, this is a general guide, each drill even of the same manufacture and model will likely be different. The only way to be certain of the rate applied is to calibrate each drill individually.
Questions or comments please email me at email@example.com or call 405.744.1722
Being educated in the realm of Soil Fertility at Oklahoma State University by the likes of Dr Gordon Johnson and Dr. Bill Raun, Brays Nutrient Mobility Concept and Mitscherlich’s Percent Sufficiency Concept are ingrained in my psyche. In class the concept of Build and Maintain for phosphorus fertilizer management was just briefly visited and not discussed as a viable option. For anyone in the corn belt, and some Okies, reading this that may seem unusual. But when I was in school on average in Oklahoma there was about 100-200 K acres of 100 120 bpa (bushel per acre) corn, 300-400 K acres of 40-50 bpa sorghum, and over 5 million acres of 20-30 bpa wheat. In a state with those average yields, replacing P removed by the crop was not a major concern.
But times are changing. There is more corn and soybean planted and the achievable yields of all crop are increasing. While the average winter wheat producer should not be worried about replacement rates of P there is a growing group of producers that should. This blog will discuss the scenarios in which sufficiency rates are best and those in which replacement should be considered. The OSU factsheet PSS-2266 goes in-depth on each of these methods.
Applying P based on sufficiency will increase soil test P levels in a low yielding environment. For example on a 20 bpa wheat field that starts out with a soil test P level of 0. Using the sufficiency recommendation each year the soil test value will reach 20 ppm (40 STP) in 20 years. A 30 bpa field would take 30 years. Yes that is a long time but the soil test value is increasing a little each year. The point of 20 ppm is important because at that level the crop is 95% sufficient, meaning if no P is added the crop will only reach 95% of the fields yield potential.
Using a mass balance approach we can determine at what point does the crop remove more than we can supply with in or near furrow starter fertilizer. Table 1 shows the values I am using for the discussion. The first column is just the average amount of P removed per bushel of grain, most of our grains fall in the .4 to .5 lbs P per bushel range. The second column is the soil test value at which P level is said to be at 90% sufficient. The reason this column is included is that the P2O5 reccomendation for this P level fits into the starter rate for all crops. The low high starter rates are the typical range of P2O5 that is delivered within the safe range (N based) and what I see as the common rates. These values may be above or below what you use.
Table 2 is pretty simple but it is the center point of this article. The one caveat I need to add is this assumes strip till or 2*2 / 3*2 is not being used. Table 2 is using the starter range and removal value to determine the yield level the starter can support. The first take on this table may provide some hint on why in a state with 5 million acres of wheat averaging 36 BPA the state soil fertility specialist didn’t focus on replacement rates. In fact for most for most the the wheat ground P application is higher than removal and P levels are slowly increasing. The big take home from this table should be is my yield level outside this window? If so do not immediately go out in crease your P rates but do take a close look at your system as a whole. Take a close look at your cropping system, not just one seasons but look at a three or four year cycle. Add up P applied and P removed, are you positive or negative net balance? If you are negative take a long hard look at your soil test over time. Some soils can supply a large amount of P even if you are removing more than you apply. Other soils will be rapidly drawn down. Regualr soil testing allows for producers to keep an eye on these values.
In the end even if the production warrants the use of replacement rates, the current market may not. For more on that read https://osunpk.com/2016/08/27/now-may-not-be-the-time-for-replacement/.
Speaking of market currently both soybeans and cotton are getting a lot of attention due to how the economics is penciling out. Soybean is a “heavy” P crop pulls .8 lbs per bpa while cotton removes 13 lbs per bales. Both of these crops are salt sensitive and the rate of inforrow is typically quite low providing only about 6 lbs when on 30″ rows. If you are growing beans or cotton make sure you account for their removal when you talley up your system.
Below is a table that I wanted to add, well because I like it. This table illustrates that buildup, and drawdown, rate is heavily impacted by existing soil test value. In short it takes a lot more fertilizer P to raise soil test p levels in a very low P testing field than it does when soil test P is closer to optimum, 19 lbs per 1 lb at STP of 10 and 5 lbs per lb when STP is 65. The exact rate changes by soil type and the same holds true to drawn down via crop removal.
Any questions or comments? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Progressive Forage http://www.progressiveforage.com/ 9.1.2016
First, let’s agree the term “precision” is relative. Forage is a diverse system with an even more diverse set of management strategies. Regardless, every manager should be constantly striving to improve the precision in which nutrients are managed. The ultimate goal of any precision nutrient management tool should be this: producing the highest quality output (in this case forage) with the least amount of input – ultimately, optimizing efficiencies and maximizing profits. Within this readership there are those who are soil sampling at a 1-acre resolution and others who have likely not pulled a soil sample in the past decade. For both spectrums we can make improvements – let’s start basic and move forward.
A soil sample should the basis for all nutrient management decisions. Is soil testing a perfected science? No, far from it. However, there must be a starting point. A soil sample is that first bit of information we can start with and the basic data collection for precision ag to make improved management decisions. When fertilizer is applied without a recent soil sample, it is done based upon pure guesswork. How many other management decisions are made on a farm or ranch by a guess?
The composite soil sample is a great start, but it is just that – a start. While there are some soils that are very uniform most are extremely variable. In a survey of 178 fields in the southern Great Plains on average the soil pH was 6.12; phosphorus (Mehlich 3 phosphorus [M3P] and Bray 1 phosphorus [B1P]) was 28 ppm while soil test potassium averaged 196 ppm. So on the average the primary components of soil fertility were okay. However, on average the 178 fields had a range in soil pH of 1.8 units, M3P and B1P both had range of a 52 ppm and STK had a range of 180 ppm.
Table 1 shows the minimum and maximum soil test values for the 178 fields.
This data helps support the concept that we should find ways to increase the resolution or decrease the number of acres represented by a single soil sample. Increasing soil sample resolution is typically done using one or two methods – zone or by grid.
The basis of a zone sample is creating a smaller field. The biggest question with zones is how to draw the lines. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of possible methods, each having their own reasons and benefits. My basic recommendation is that before lines are drawn goals have to be established. For example, if phosphorus or soil pH management is important, the basis for the lines should be soil based. This could be based on soils map, soil texture, slope and on and on. If the target is improved nitrogen management, then the reason for drawing lines should be yield based. This could be based on yield maps, aerial images, historic knowledge or many soil parameters.
Why does it matter? Two reasons: First, across the broad spectrum of soils and environments two nutrients are hardly spatially correlated, which means the zone that is best at describing phosphorus variability does an extremely poor job describing potassium variability. Second, more theoretically the demand for nutrients are driven by different factors. Phosphorus (a soil immobile nutrient) fertilizer need is driven by the soil P concentration (look up Brays Sufficiency Concept). Many use yield as a parameter for phosphorus application, but this is not a plant need or even a yield maximizing practice. Fertilizing based on removal is done to prevent nutrient mining. However, nitrogen (a nutrient mobile in the soil) fertilizer need is based on yield and crop removal. Hence, the common Land Grant University N and sulfur recommendations are yield goal based.
To be honest even the experts disagree on the hows, whys and ifs of grid sampling. I like data, therefore I naturally lean towards grid sampling if the field warrants it. For me, the biggest benefit of grid over zone sampling is that soils data from zone samples are biased to whatever parameter was set for the zone and therefore any resulting map for all nutrients must reflect the original zones. In a grid, each data point is independent therefore the maps of each nutrient can be independent, and (the science tells us) in most cases nutrients are independent of each other.
Ideally two pieces of information are available for determining whether a field is grid sampled or not. The first piece of information is a yield map from any previous crop. If yield is fairly uniform, I question the need for variable rate management, much less the expense of grid sampling. Regardless of the sampling method zone or grid, the discussion is moot if spatial variability does not exist across the field. However, many forage producers may not have access to this kind of data.
One of the most useful decision aid tools for grid sampling is the composite soil sample. The reason is simple statistics: A composite sample should be a representative average of the field. If the data is normally distributed, that means half of the field is above and half the field is below the sample average. So the optimum fields to grid are those in which an input falls at the point in which the benefit of applying is in question, because it suggests that approximately half the field needs the inputs while the other half likely does not. It is in this scenario that the return on investment can be greatest. As with pH, for example, fields with a very low value should have a flat broadcast application and should be sampled again at a later date. Fields with a composite pH well above 6.0 will unlikely have enough acres needing lime to warrant sending out an applicator.
Is grid sampling a lifelong activity? No. The initial activity of grid sampling will provide both an indicator of the variability level and overall needs of the field. From that point, decisions can be made and actions taken. Identify the greatest limiting factor in the field based on the samples, and focus on impacting change upon it. Zone sampling in subsequent years can be utilized to document change. When that issue is resolved, move to the next factor. It may require grid sampling again or using the original grid to develop new management zones. For instance, if the greatest issue first identified on the field is soil acidity then after the soil pH is neutralized the field should be grid sampled again. The reason is for this is that changing soil pH will influence many nutrients and the amount of change is not consistent but dependent upon many other factors.
In precision ag we tend to look at layers, yield, soil, etc. However, none of these tell the whole story independently. An area in a field may have moderate soil fertility and be under producing. Using the data collected the decision may be made to increase inputs; yet, the issue is a shallow restrictive layer limiting production. Therefore, the extra inputs will be of no benefit and could even further reduce production. It is at this point I like to bring out the importance of “getting dirty.” There is no technology that can take the place of “boots on the ground” agronomy.
For producers who have historically preformed intensive soil sampling there is still room for improvement. Soil testing and nutrient management is not an exact science; in fact, it was originally built for broad sweeping, statewide recommendations. As technology advances and inputs can be applied at sub-acre resolutions, all of the environment (weather, soil) by genotype inactions becomes more evident.
The next step in precision ag is to develop recommendations by upon site specific crop responses. This is where nutrient response strips can further improve nutrient use efficiencies and crop production. In Oklahoma, nitrogen-rich strips are applied across fields (grain and forage) to determine in-season nitrogen needs. Having a strip in the field with 50 to 100 extra units of N acts as a management tool which takes into account soil, environment and plant need. If the strip is visible the field or zone needs more N, if it is not visible then the crop is not deficient and at that point in the season does not need more N. Producers have taken this approach for N and adopted it for P and K with strips across the field with a zero and high rate of either nutrient. After a few seasons, responsive and non-responsive zones are developed and P and K applications are managed accordingly.
One misconception of precision ag is that the end result should be a field with uniform yield from one corner to the other. This is often not the case; in fact, in many cases the variability in production across the field can be increased. Theoretically, precision ag is applying inputs at the right rate in the right place. This means areas of the field which are yield limited due to underlying factors which cannot be managed have a reduction in inputs with no effect on yield. Other areas of the field have not been managed for maximum production therefore an increase inputs result in increasing yield widening the gap between the low and high yield levels.
Regardless of where a producer currently sets on the technology curve, there are potential ways to increase productivity and efficiency. There is nothing wrong with taking baby steps; it is often the simple things that lead to the greatest return.