Farmers are scurrying to figure out how to apply starter fertilizer if they haven't in the recent past. The concept is simple. While it was debatable whether starter fertilizer paid when corn was $2 per bushel, it's a no-brainer at $6-$7, even with higher fertilizer prices. Others are reevaluating claims that applying fungicides at early growth stages could increase yield a small amount, looking for every way possible to produce maximum bushels.
Meanwhile, Bob Nielsen and Jim Camberato, Purdue University Extension agronomist, point out that the same basic logic about nitrogen fertilizer that made sense at low corn prices still makes sense—you want to know where your possible maximum return is, and do your best to cut losses. It's just that the numbers in the game have changed.
Nitrogen makes up about 20% of the budget for planting corn, Camberato says. Seed makes up another 20%. But once it's up and growing, you're not going to lose the seed. The N on the other hand, is a different story. You have to anticipate and account for potential loses when determining N rates.
Due to extensive testing on university farms and private farms over the past three years, the Purdue pair believes they have a good handle on recommendations that make more sense than the old standard rate of figuring on 1.25 pounds of N per bushel of corn. Ironically, they've found that they can produce more corn on less nitrogen on the prairie-like soils of west-central Indiana, and less corn even with higher rates of N on the poorly drained, tight soils of east-central Indiana. Central Indiana falls in between. They are less decisive about southwestern and south central Indiana, and are still hoping to collect more data there to fine-tune their recommendations.
Recently, they updated recommendations for 2011 in a publication you can access online. Once it went live, Nielsen realized he made one omission, however. Considering the unbelievable price range corn is trading in these days, his decision chart only went to a high of $6 per bushel corn. Realistically, if someone has corn locked in at a higher price than that or believes the price will be higher, he would want to base his nitrogen application program on the idea that he will get more for each bushel than normal.
Instead of stopping at a maximum of $6 as a possible selection for per bushel price of corn to see how much N you could justify applying and still expect an economic return, Nielsen increased the chart through $9 corn. Ironically, $2 corn doesn't show on the chart. He begins the chart at $3 corn.
Find the new chart and the entire article explaining their recommendations and summarizing rates at: www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/timeless/NitrogenMgmt.pdf.