Looking at fertility programs for next year

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Hardin County Extension Service

As the weather has turned colder, harvest is concluded and winter chores are taking less time, so it is time to focus on planning for next year. Whether in a cropping or livestock enterprise, the basis of success begins with a good fertility program. Let’s look at some options that will help you be successful in 2012.
With rising fertilizer costs and uncertainty in prices for many fertilizer products going into the spring, many producers are asking where they can trim their fertilizer application for next year. While skimping on fertility never is recommended, there are some areas in which farmers can be a little more conservative.
First, be sure to soil test. You have no way of knowing what a crop needs without an accurate soil test, and without one, you could be over applying some nutrients, ultimately throwing away money.
Once you get the soil test results, sit down and take a close look at them. These results reflect how many pounds of nutrient need to be applied to build and maintain high soil test levels of the nutrient. Improved crop response only is seen when levels are in the low to low-medium range. Most agents review UK soil test results and make note of test levels that are in the low and low-medium ranges. (Personally, I circle levels in these ranges.) These noted recommendations cannot be reduced without expecting decreased plant performance. If soil test levels are in the high-medium to high ranges, nutrient applications can be reduced with little to no effect on plant performance in the coming year. Be extremely cautious if you do choose to be conservative on application of nutrients in these levels though. If you don’t put it on this year, you probably will have to apply that much and more next year. You can only mine fertility for so long before it catches up to you, and crop performance is affected.
Once you decide how much fertilizer to apply, it’s time to decide when to apply it. The simplest time to apply phosphorus and potassium for a corn or grass crop is in the spring when the nitrogen application is made. This saves a trip across the field, saving both fuel and time; however, this tactic only will work if your goal is maintaining an already high level of fertility. Phosphorus and potassium both take three to six months to become plant available in soil when applied through fertilizer, so if these nutrients are required to maintain plant performance, the best time to apply is in fall or winter. If you plan to apply fertilizer in winter, be sure the ground is either firm or frozen so the application equipment does not compact or make ruts in the field.
Take some time and plan your fertility program for 2012. Let’s prepare and hope for a bumper crop next year, so we can continue with the task of feeding a hungry world.
Matt Adams is a Hardin County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.