Tips to improve crop nutrient efficiency

August 24, 2022
Sustained increases to fertilizer prices are forcing farmers to make tough crop nutrition decisions. Steve Carlsen, director of proprietary agronomy products for CHS, offers tips for improving ROI potential on fertility applications.

Farmers are facing tough crop nutrition decisions due to supply chain disruptions and rising fertilizer prices. Steve Carlsen, director of proprietary agronomy products for CHS, says thoughtful management is the key to maximizing return on investment potential for fertilizer applications in today’s market conditions.

Focus on small changes

Rising input costs don’t mean farmers must abandon their fertility plans completely, says Carlsen, adding that small changes can make a big difference in nutrient use efficiency.

“I encourage growers to focus on the 4Rs of nutrient management – right time, right place, right product and right source – to optimize their fertilizer applications. Choose plant-available nutrient products and apply them during critical windows when crops need them most.”

Optimizing application timing is one of the simplest ways to increase nutrient use efficiency, Carlsen explains. Applying nutrients ahead of key growth stages can ensure crops have the nutrients they need for maximum performance. Spoon-feeding crops also offers an opportunity to supply critical nutrients throughout the growing season and can help reduce losses due to leaching or volatilization.  

Manage phosphorus effectively

“Phosphorus is one of the toughest nutrients to manage because it doesn’t move much,” says Carlsen. “It’s not always getting to the root zone where crops can use it.” Instead of applying more phosphorus and hoping for the best, Carlsen says farmers need to get more strategic in their management. Choosing a plant-available phosphorus source and ensuring it gets to the root zone are critical steps for optimizing efficiency.

Replenish soil nutrients

In seasons when crop yields are strong, Carlsen encourages growers to replenish nutrients removed at harvest. “We know 85% of the applied phosphorus is taken off in the grain at harvest, so soils must be replenished with future yield goals in mind,” explains Carlsen. To improve nutrient availability and return on investment, he suggests applying chelated phosphorus products and using fertilizer additives that help prevent nutrient tie-up in the soil. “Products like Trivar® [a fertilizer additive used with dry phosphorus fertilizers] can do a great job maximizing nutrient efficiency to get the most out of every fertilizer application.”