On the surface, developing fertilizer prescriptions appears simple. Scrutinize soil test numbers, churn out recommendations, watch the bushels multiply. In reality, good recommendations — the grower-driven, yield-generating, safe-for-the-environment type — go far beyond the numbers.
Pat Schaddel, division manager for BRANDT, says crop advisers need to have a clear set of goals in mind when making recommendations. “They need to consider the producer’s yield goal, previous crop, removal rates, nitrogen placement and timing, plant population, tillage methods and other constraints.”
“For the process to be effective, a strong grower-dealer relationship must exist, one based on trust and good communication,” says Troy Walker, GIS team leader at Ceres Solutions, LLP. “It begins with a conversation, one that is pngoing, so recommendations always match the growers’ needs. We also want to base our recommendations off of science, research and good information.”
Correct correlation and calibration are an important part of the science that backs up recommendations, according to Dave Mengel, professor of soil fertility and nutrient management at Kansas State University. “The whole objective of the process is to fine tune things and make them more efficient,” says Mengel. “Continuing education for dealers and crop advisers is critical to keep up with what is going on in the research community.”
Walker says one of his biggest obstacles in the recommendation process is getting growers to implement a soil-test program in the first place. Ceres Solutions recommends testing every four years and, if possible, more frequently on sandy soils.
“About 30% of our growers are involved in intensive soil testing,” Walker says. “That is a staggering number, even if you add another 10-15% for those who use other companies. My challenge is to figure out how to reach these growers and help them understand the importance of these tests for developing good recommendations and planning for the future.”
Despite the numerous factors and uncertainties involved with soil recommendations, retailers remain firm in their commitment to develop the fertilizer prescriptions that make the best agronomic sense for the grower.
The Future of Soil Recommendations
Good recommendations are only as strong as the data that backs them up. Collecting information from growers and other sources has been a major hurdle for retailers in the past. Recent and emerging technologies are simplifying this process. As retailers take advantage of better access to accurate information, the soil recommendation process may become smoother in the future.
- Cloud Technology makes it effortless to upload, store and share data, which improves communication between dealers and growers.
- GPS Systems map out a field and pinpoint sample locations. Growers and retailers access information from a smartphone or computer.
- Sensor Technology collects data in real time for analysis later. Its real potential may lie in improved nitrogen management.
- Reflectance Imagery provides the data to map soil properties in a short amount of time. More research and calibration are needed in this area to realize its full potential.
About The Series
The fertility program is at the heart of a comprehensive cropping plan, and at the center of influence in the relationship between ag retailers and grower-customers. The CropLife 100 Retailers survey data as compiled in 2012 reported that in aggregate, 55% of crop input and service revenue was generated from the sale of fertilizer.
Not surprisingly, the selling and application of fertilizer attracts the lion’s share of attention from retail management. Effective management of fertilizer on behalf of growers requires a full understanding of field and crop needs, as well as the many factors that drive top-level production. Retailers must also be cognizant of proper stewardship, working to ensure that every pound of nutrient applied is maximized, with as little waste as possible.
To highlight the important aspects of fertilizer management programs, CropLife magazine and sponsor PotashCorp are pleased to present the Seven Keys to Delivering Effective Fertility Programs.