How can you get more for your fertilizer buck?

June 22, 2021
Steve Carlsen, crop enhancement manager with CHS Agronomy, talks about how to get bigger ROI from crop inputs and why it pays to plan ahead.

Fertilizer is a major input cost that doesn’t always deliver on its full potential. Growers can take a few key steps to improve the return on their fertilizer investments .

“I look at a fertilizer investment as the building block of the season, helping farmers grow that crop successfully and meet their agronomic goals,” says Steve Carlsen, crop enhancement manager with CHS Agronomy. “It’s important to have a precise understanding of which nutrients crops need. Without soil testing, there’s no way to know how much of certain nutrients are needed to meet yield goals. The other factor to consider is making sure those nutrients are applied at a time when crops can access them in order to avoid losses.”

The final piece of the puzzle, says Carlsen, is efficiency. “Inputs can be lost for many reasons, including environmental factors, seasonal factors and runoff,” he says. “Protecting inputs as much as possible is a great way to maximize their benefits.”

Fickle phosphorus

Achieving optimal efficiency from phosphorus can be difficult. “When we talk about phosphates in general, about 80% of what we put out never really benefits the crop because it’s in an unavailable form,” says Carlsen. “If growers don’t use phosphorus properly, they’re leaving a big chunk of profit potential in the field.

“Nitrogen is mobile in the soil and in the plant. But phosphorus is generally immobile in the soil. It needs to be activated so plant roots can get it to the rest of the plant, whether that’s through overcoming soil conditions, using technologies like chelates or using more available forms of fertilizer. This is important because phosphorus is such a critical component of crop yield.”

Thinking ahead

Plan, plan, plan, says Carlsen. And the earlier the better. “Thinking about what you want to do and how you want to achieve it is important,” he says. “For me, it’s about managing up to the in-season needs of what the crop looks like today, where you want to take your crop and hedging your bets. It’s also important to work with your local crop nutrition dealer to discuss that strategy: What are your goals and what nutrients will it take to get there?

“Plan on the markets moving and fluctuating,” he continues. “Given the challenges of the last 18 months, it’s prudent to determine early on what you want to buy and when you want to buy it.”

To hear more from Carlsen and other CHS experts, join “Around the Table Live: Getting the most from your agronomic input dollar,” on June 24 at noon Central Time. Learn more and register at chsinc.com/owner-events.