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Since 2008 I have served as the Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist for Oklahoma State University. I work in Wheat, Corn, Sorghum, Cotton, Soybean, Canola, Sweet Sorghum, Sesame, Pasture/Hay. My work focuses on providing information and tools to producers that will lead to improved nutrient management practices and increased profitability of Oklahoma production agriculture

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Banding P as a band-aid for soil acidity, not so cheap now.

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.

Wheat Trial, Cimarron Valley Research Station

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

Soil Acidity and Cotton Production

Raedan Sharry, Precision Nutrient Management Ph.D. student
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist

Cotton production in Oklahoma has expanded the past decade into areas which other production systems such as continuous wheat may have traditionally dominated. Fields that have been managed for continuous wheat production may have become acidic in response to management practices, such as the use of ammoniacal nitrogen fertilizers. In response to the acidification of these soils it may be important to recognize and understand the potential impacts of soil acidification on cotton production.

To better document the impact of soil pH on cotton lint yield and quality a study was conducted over the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons at two locations: Stillwater, OK (EFAW farm) and Perkins, OK. Soil pH in these experiments were adjusted to a depth of approximately 6 inches using aluminum sulfate (acidifying) and hydrated lime (alkalinizing). All three locations were planted to two varieties; NexGen 3930 and Deltapine 1612 at a rate of approximately 35,000 seeds per acre, into plots with soils ranging in pH from 4.0 to 8.0.

In season measurements taken included stand count, plant height, node count and NDVI (normalized difference vegetative index. All four in season measurements demonstrated a significant critical threshold in which soil pH negatively impacted crop performance. Stand was significantly decreased at a soil pH of 5.3 or lower. This trend is displayed in Figure 1. Plant height and node count depicted in figures 2 and 3 respectively were both significantly decreased when soil pH dropped below 5.3 and 4.9, while NDVI began to deteriorate around a pH of 5.1 (Figure 4).  Response to soil pH level was also visually observable as shown by Figure 5 from the Perkins 2019 location.

Figure 1. Average plant stand per 10ft of row when all three sites of a soil pH and cotton experiment were combined.
Figure 2. Relationship between soil pH and plant height across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=5.3)
Figure 3. Relationship between soil pH and node count across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=4.9)
Figure 4. Relationship between soil pH and NDVI across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=5.1)
Figure 5. Side by side comparison of Deltapine 1612 and NextGen 3930 across a range of pH levels at the Perkins, OK 2019 site .

Yield levels across this experiment ranged from 0 to 1284 lbs. of lint per acre. In this work yield is reported as relative yield. To calculate relative yield the yield of each plot is normalized to the average of the three highest yields for that site. This method of reporting yield response allows this work to be applied across a range of yield environments.

Figure 6. Relationship between soil pH and relative yield across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=5.4)

When all sites and cultivars were combined relative yield reached a plateau at approximately 73% of yield with a critical threshold observed at a pH of 5.4. Below this critical threshold yield decreased at a rate of 37% per point of pH decline. This equates to 15% yield loss at a pH of 5.0, 33% yield loss at a pH of 4.5, and 52% yield loss at a pH of 4.5. This relationship is depicted in Figure 6. It is important to note that yield was 0 when pH was 4.3 in two plots. This represents the possibility for total crop failure when planting into very acidic conditions.

Differences in relative yield between cultivars were insignificant. However, further investigation may produce a significant difference. Critical threshold for the DP 1612 and NG 3930 cultivars were 6.1 and 5.2 respectively. This suggests that there may be value in further examining the influence of genetics on cotton response to soil acidity.

Figure 7. Relationship between soil pH and relative yield across all 3 sites and separated by cultivar in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical pH threshold: DP 1612=6.1, NG 3930=5.2)


              The influence of soil pH level on cotton productivity is confirmed by this study. All three sites evaluated provided a strong correlation between soil pH and lint yield, as well as the in-season growth parameters measured. While this study is likely to be expanded to another location to provide a more robust evaluation of the potential impact of soil acidity on cotton, the current dataset provides ample evidence to conclude that soil acidity is likely to be detrimental to cotton production in the southern plains. Soil pH levels below 5.5 appear to provide the greatest opportunity for yield loss as depicted above. Lint quality measurements taken in the study (micronaire, length, uniformity, and strength) showed no consistent trends in the relationship between quality parameters and soil pH suggesting that soil acidity had a limited influence on lint quality characteristics. Cotton response to soil pH is likely to be influenced by the environment of a specific location and growing season. This underlines the importance of understanding the soil properties that negatively impact productivity, such as the presence of toxic forms of aluminum or manganese. It is also important to highlight the possibility of acidic conditions significantly affecting the ability of the crop to access important nutrients such as phosphorus. Under acidic conditions cotton productivity is likely to be significantly decreased unless soils are neutralized using a soil amendment such as lime.

Project Supported by the
Oklahoma Cotton Council
Cotton Incorporated
Oklahoma Fertilizer Checkoff Program