Finely tuned nutrient management plans are helping farmers throughout the U.S. improve nutrient use efficiency, increase return on investment (ROI) from their fertilizer inputs, and proactively address environmental concerns about nutrient run-off.
First Farmers Coop, an innovative, privately owned agricultural retail operation that offers products and agronomy services across 11 counties in west-central Tennessee, is doing an exemplary job in implementing nutrient management plans. These plans help customers minimize run-off of nitrogen and phosphorus and help to provide maximum ROI from nutrient applications through reduced application rates and high yields.
“Our objective is to let return on investment drive our customers’ nutrient management programs, as well as keep our farmers proactive where environmental stewardship is concerned,” says Alan Sparkman, agronomy marketing manager for Tennessee Farmers Coop who works closely with the agronomy staff at First Farmers Coop. “We don’t apply any more nitrogen and phosphorus than what is needed for crop uptake – we want to lower the farmer’s production costs but keep yields high.”
To maximize plant uptake of applied nitrogen and phosphorus – as well as minimize nutrient loss to the environment – First Farmers Coop pre-treats 100 percent of its urea with NutriSphere-N Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager and 90% of its MAP and DAP with AVAIL Phosphorus Fertilizer Enhancer. The two products, from Verdesian Life Sciences, are popular with customers and included in just about all fertilizer applications.
“We seem to get a synergistic effect when we bundle the NutriSphere-N and the AVAIL together,” says P.R. Morris, a staff agronomist. “We impregnate them on dry bulk fertilizer and feel like these products address yield-limiting factors at the front of the growing season. They increase our chances of getting the most nitrogen and phosphorus into the plants.”
In the case of phosphorus, Morris says that nutrient gets tied up in the soil due to the positive and negative charge reaction between the phosphorus and soil elements such as calcium, magnesium, aluminum and iron. “Once the phosphorus binds to these elements, it becomes unavailable for plant uptake and may remain in that state for quite some time,” the agronomist explains. “Our soil tests often show high levels of phosphorus, yet tissue analysis will indicate phosphorus deficiency.”
In the case of nitrogen, which is usually applied in split applications at planting and then three to four weeks later when corn reaches the V-6 stage, up to 50% of this nutrient can be lost following application through volatilization, leaching and denitrification. “NutriSphere-N essentially provides protection of applied nitrogen against these environmental losses throughout the growing season,” Morris says. “This keeps more nitrogen available for plant uptake at the growth stages when corn needs it the most.”
Morris adds that most competing nitrogen managers only protect against volatilization, and for only a few weeks following application. NutriSphere-N, on the other hand, reduces volatilization of nitrogen, in addition to the leaching and denitrification that can lead to water quality issues and to nitrogen quickly moving out of the ammonium form that is best suited for plant uptake.
Jason Cherry is a coop customer as well as a corn and soybean grower. He farms nearly 4,000 acres with this father-in-law and brother-in-law under the name Essary and Cherry Farms near Milledgeville, Tennessee. They were early adopters in the use of NutriSphere-N and AVAIL. Much of the ground they farm is comprised of wet bottom land that is highly prone to all three forms of nitrogen loss. “Since I began using NutriSphere-N, I’ve been able to reduce my nitrogen rates by 5 to 10 percent,” Cherry says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that more of my applied nitrogen is going into the grain.”
The farmer also feels that AVAIL has greatly improved uptake of phosphorus: “The root masses are noticeably larger, and the corn and soybean growth is more vigorous,” he says. “Because the phosphorus I apply is getting into the plant and not being tied up in the soil, I’ve been able to reduce my rates of phosphorus by up to 15%. Between some very nice yield increases and being able to reduce fertilizer rates, the return on investment for these products is very good.”