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Starter Fertilizer for Corn

Strong, early growth helps corn reach pollination before summer heat.

Corn emergingThroughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, planting corn early comes with risk. Cold temperatures and wet soils often slow germination and root exploration as well as nutrient movement to roots, all of which are needed for vigorous root development and early plant growth. Starter and pop-up fertilizers address the issue of early season nutrient availability by placing fertilizer in the soil near or with the seed.

Getting corn off to a fast start is very important to help the crop reach pollination by the last week in June before July heat grips the countryside.

Early fertilization has many proven benefits, and it just might prove to be the right tool for your operation. Especially when you consider, nine out of ten years, corn pollinated in June will out yield later-planted fields that reach pollination during July.

Applying Corn Starter Fertilizer

There are two ways to apply starter fertilizer: side-by-side and pop-up in furrow.


Side-by-side, the more traditional starter fertilizer application method, places the fertilizer in a band 2 inches below and 2 inches to the side of seed. This method is often used with dry granular fertilizers but caution must be taken when using products such as Diammonium phosphate (DAP; 18-46-0) and urea (46-0-0). Both of these materials produce free ammonia (NH3) in the soil, which can harm germinating seeds and seedlings by burning tissues and inhibiting root growth. At lower rates and with appropriate placement, these products can be used in starter fertilizer.

Typical side-by-side application is 60 to 70 pounds per acre of a dry product or 20 to 30 gallons per acre of liquid fertilizer. A side-by-side application delivers more nutrients per acre, but it requires higher amounts of product per acre compared to a pop-up starter.

Pop-Up in Furrow

Pop-up fertilizer has gained popularity in recent years, in part because new products don’t pose the risk to seed and seedlings. Pop-up fertilizer is applied with the planter, within the furrow along with the seed. Rates are typically between 3 to 5 gallons per acre of liquid fertilizer. Pop-up fertilizer not only spurs growth with less fertilizer, it also can soften the seed coating and speed up germination.

Application may be easier because there is no need for a separate fertilizer opener on the planter, plumbing hoses on the planter for liquid is usually easier as is regulating the rates with liquid. Finally, the lower fertilizer rate may lower costs, reduce the amount of P applied on soils already high in P and reduce the amount of fertilizer to handle during planting, meaning fewer planter fill-ups.

Overall, starter fertilizers can be an effective part of a nutrient program in the right situation. For more information on starter fertilizer, please consult your local Southern States Agronomy Professional.

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