College News

Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Coping with Fertilizer Prices

Great Bend Tribune
Published January 9, 2022

As of January 4, from Barton County, including Barton, heading north, south, and east we are now in moderate drought.  East of Barton, it’s abnormally dry and the forecast isn’t promising.  The six to ten-day outlook (January 11 to 15) indicates we are predicted to have a 60 to 70% chance of above-normal temperatures and a leaning towards below-normal precipitation. The eight to fourteen-day outlook (January 13 to 19) indicates a 50% to 60% chance of above-normal temperatures and a 30% to 40% chance of above-normal precipitation.  Unfortunately, the recent snows, while welcome and serving to protect the wheat crop from cold, added little in the way of moisture.  We are only a few months away from the start of spring planting.  Producers are coping with a significant increase in input prices, especially fertilizer costs.  How can producers deal with this challenge?  First, what do we know?

  • No matter the cost, it takes “X” amount of each nutrient to produce a bushel of grain or oilseeds and a ton of feed.  The first item on a producers’ agenda is what they are going to plant where, and what their yield goal is.  Perhaps switch to soybeans where practical to save on nitrogen.  Switch from corn to grain sorghum, etc.  Once this is determined, how do producers optimize fertilizer inputs?
  • If ever there was a year to soil test, especially for N (nitrogen) and S (sulfur), this is it.  We will deal with N and S in a bit, and for now, focus on P (phosphorus) and K (potassium).  If you had a soil test from last year or even two years ago and know your yields, you can ballpark how much you have removed and what you have left.  Then if you have the yield goals you can determine how much you need and if you need to fertilize.  However, the best idea is to soil test and see what you have vs. what you think you will need.
  • You can cut back significantly on the amount of something like P, if you band it vs. broadcasting. This takes a bit more effort but you can obtain the same yield with much lower rates.  Also for P, more than for N, consider manures if available and reasonably priced.
  • For N and S, samples should be taken as close to application as practical to allow time for their release from decaying organic materials.  Also consider when following beans, the nitrogen credit you will get based on soybean yield.  Further know your organic matter levels as every percent organic matter will release 10 to 20 pounds or more of N/acre/year.
  • Naturally, there is more here.  Also of importance to optimize fertilizer efficiency is limiting stress from pests (insects, weeds, diseases), heat and drought, and overall in everything from planting date to residue cover.