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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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In-furrow fertilizers for wheat

From Guest Author, Dr. Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist, Kansas State University

Wheat is considered a highly responsive crop to band-applied fertilizers, particularly phosphorus (P). Application of P as starter fertilizer can be an effective method for part or all the P needs. Wheat plants typically show a significant increase in fall tillers (Figure 1) and better root development with the use of starter fertilizer (P and N). Winterkill can also be reduced with the use of starter fertilizers, particularly in low P testing soils.

Figure 1. Effects on wheat tillering and early growth with in-furrow P fertilizer on soil testing low in P. Photo taken in 2020 in Manhattan, KS. Photo by Chris Weber, K-State Research and Extension.

In-furrow fertilizer application

Phosphorus fertilizer application can be done through the drill with the seed. In-furrow fertilizer can be applied, depending on the soil test and recommended application rate, either in addition to or instead of, any pre-plant P applications. The use of dry fertilizer sources with air seeders is a very popular and practical option. However, other P sources (including liquid) are agronomically equivalent and decisions should be based on cost and adaptability for each operation.

When applying fertilizer with the seed, rates should be limited to avoid potential toxicity to the seedling. When placing fertilizer in direct contact with wheat seed, producers should use the guidelines in Table 1.

Table 1. Suggested maximum rates of fertilizer to apply directly with the wheat seed

 Pounds N + K2O (No urea containing fertilizers)
Row spacing
soil textures
Course textures or dry soils

Air seeders that place the starter fertilizer and seed in a 1- to 2-inch band, rather than a narrow seed slot, provide some margin of safety because the concentration of the fertilizer and seed is lower in these diffuse bands. In this scenario, adding a little extra N fertilizer to the starter is less likely to injure the seed – but it is still a risk.

What about blending dry 18-46-0 (DAP) or 11-52-0 (MAP) directly with the seed in the hopper? Will the N in these products hurt the seed?

The N in these fertilizer products is in the ammonium-N form (NH4+), not the urea-N form, and is much less likely to injure the wheat seed, even though it is in direct seed contact. As for rates, guidelines provided in the table above should be used. If DAP or MAP is mixed with the seed, the mixture can safely be left in the seed hopper overnight without injuring the seed or gumming up the works.  However, it is important to keep the wheat mixed with MAP or DAP in a lower relative humidity.  A humidity greater than 70% will result in the fertilizer taking up moisture and will cause gumming or caking within the mixture.  

How long can you allow this mixture of seed and fertilizer to set together without seeing any negative effects to crop establishment and yield?

The effects of leaving DAP fertilizer left mixed with wheat seed for various amounts of time is shown in Figure 2. Little to no negative effect was observed (up to 12 days in the K-State study).

Figure 2. Effects on wheat yield from mixing P fertilizer with the seed. Study conducted in 2019 and 2020 at four sites. Graph by Chris Weber, K-State Research and Extension.

Although the wheat response to these in-furrow fertilizer products is primarily from the P, the small amount of N that is present in DAP, MAP, or 10-34-0 may also be important in some cases. If no pre-plant N was applied, and the soil has little or no carryover N from the previous crop, the N from these fertilizer products could benefit the wheat.

Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist

Chris Weber, former Graduate Research Assistant, Soil Fertility

Comparing Ortho/Poly-Phosphate Ratios for In-Furrow Seed Safe Starter Fertilizer

Guest Author, Dr. Jake Vossenkemper; Agronomy Lead, Liquid Grow Fertilizer

New Research Comparing Ortho/Poly-Phosphate Ratios for In-Furrow Seed Safe Starter Fertilizers

Article Summary

  • Ortho-phosphates are 100% plant available, but a high percentage of poly-phosphates in starter fertilizers convert to ortho-phosphate within just two days of application.
  • This quick conversion from poly- to ortho-phosphate suggests expensive “high” ortho starter fertilizers are not likely to result in increased corn yields compared to seed-safe fluid starters containing a higher percentage of poly-phosphate.
  • A field study conducted near Traer, IA in the 2016 growing season found less than 1 bu/ac yield difference between a 50/50 ortho:poly starter and high ortho-phosphate starter.
  • High ortho starters cost more per acer than 50/50 ortho:poly starters, but do not increase corn grain yields.

Poly-phosphates Rapidly Convert to Plant available Ortho-Phosphates

Given poly-phosphates are not immediately plant available and ortho-phosphates are immediately plant available, this gives the promoters of “high” ortho-phosphate starters ample opportunity to muddy the waters. Nevertheless, the facts are that poly-phosphates are rather rapidly hydrolyzed (converted to) into ortho-phosphates once applied to soils, and this hydrolysis process generally takes just 48 hours or so to complete.

In Sept. of 2015, I posted a blog discussing some of the more technical reasons why the ratio of ortho- to poly-phosphates in starter fertilizers should have no impact on corn yields. For those that are interested in those more technical details, I encourage you to follow this link to the Sept. 2015 blog post: https://www.liqui-grow.com/farm-journal/.

While I was relatively certain that the ratio of ortho- to poly-phosphates in liquid starters should have no effect on corn yields, I decide to “test” this idea with a field trial in the 2016 growing season conducted near Traer, IA.

How the Field Trial Was Conducted

In this field trial, we used two starter products applied in-furrow at 6 gal/ac. Each starter had an NPK nutrient analysis of 6-24-6. The only difference between these two starters was the ratio of ortho- to poly-phosphate. One of these starters contained 80% ortho-phosphate and the other contained just 50% ortho-phosphate with the remainder of the phosphorous source in each of these two starters being poly-phosphate. Each plot was planted with a 24-row planter (Picture 1) and plot lengths were nearly 2400 ft. long. In total, there were 5 side-by-side comparisons of the two starter fertilizers that contained different ratios of ortho- to poly-phosphates.

Field Trial Results

In general, there were no large differences in yield between the two starters in any of the 5 side-by-side comparisons, except for comparison number 5 (Figure 1). In comparison number 5, the 50% ortho/50% poly-phosphate starter actually yielded 6 bu/ac more than the high ortho starter. But averaged over the 5 side-by-side comparisons, there was less than 1 bu/ac yield difference between the high and low ortho starters (P=0.6712).

In addition to finding no differences in grain yield between these two starters, the high ortho starters generally cost about $1 more per gallon (so $6/ac at a 6 gal/ac rate) than the low ortho starters. So the more expensive high ortho starter clearly did not “pay” its way in our 2016 field trial.

More Trials Planned for 2017

While our findings agree with other research-comparing ortho- and poly-phosphate starter fertilizers (Frazen and Gerwing. 1997), we want to be absolutely certain that our fertilizer offerings are the most economically viable products on the market. Therefore, I have decided to run this same field trial at one location in northern Illinois in 2017, and at one location in central Iowa in 2017. Stay tuned for those research results this fall.

Picture 1
Planting starter fertilizer trials near Traer, IA in the growing season of 2016.










5 side-by-side comparisons of corn yield from two 6-24-6 starter fertilizers that contained either 50% ortho & 50% poly-phosphate or 80% ortho and 20% poly-phosphate. The field trial was conducted near Traer, IA in the growing season of 2016.















Franzen D. and J. Gerwing. 2007. Effectiveness of using low rates of plant nutrients. North Central regional research publication No. 341. http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/nutrient-management/fertilizer-management/docs/Feb-97-1.pdf (accessed 8 of Sept 2015).