While off in the timing and location a bit, meteorologists were correct about the storm last weekend. Hopefully as you read this everyone’s power has been restored. This storm was unusual for the area as icing this heavy isn’t typical and for the amount of precipitation. Typically in January the area receives less than an inch of liquid precipitation. Typical reports here and towards Southwest Kanas were well over an inch and in many cases well over two inches. This is valuable moisture for the wheat crop and the drought ratings should ease significantly. Last week’s column discussed soil testing and correcting acid soils to improve efficiency. This week, what are the possible benefits of soil testing for fertilizers?
• The most obvious efficiency is not spending money on fertilizer that isn’t needed. And making sure fertility is adequate for the yield goal. If you have developed a soil map for a given nutrient, say phosphorus (P), you can variably apply through precision application that P to where it is needed and not where supplies are adequate. If you take it a step further, you can identify through yield mapping the high yielding areas of fields and those that no matter what you do possess limited yield capacity so additional fertilizer is a waste of money. You can then focus fertilizer dollars where they will do the most good.
• Low crop prices are the result of more supply than demand. Even so, a way to improve revenue and optimize the value of input costs is to optimize yields per acre. The greater the per acre yield for a level of total input costs, the less your per bushel costs are. This is where paying attention to nutrients like sulfur and micronutrients is important. A few pounds per acre of Zinc Chelate can mean the difference between 200 bu per acre corn and 220 bushel per acre corn. A sulfur application can dramatically increase wheat yield and wheat protein levels.
• Plant health is optimized through proper plant nutrition. Plants are more vigorous and unstressed plants are better able to compete with weeds and resist other pest pressure such as diseases and insects. Additional the right fertilizer program aids crops in overcoming environmental factors such as drought and high temperatures. Crops with proper fertility mature properly, not early or not late. They possess the best test weight possible given the environment.
And there are other benefits including protecting the environment. Soil testing isn’t necessarily cheap but a proper soil testing program more than pays for itself both in terms of input costs and revenue.