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Fertilizer Placement Methods

Which fertilization application method is best for you?

While nature does a fairly good job of giving plants the nutrients they need, farmers often have to apply fertilizer to replace lost or missing nutrients in the soil.

The way in which fertilizer is distributed to plants can have a profound effect on the end result. Every situation is different, so when picking out a fertilizer placement method, it’s important to choose the one that works best for your farming operation and yield goals.

Here is a review of many of the most common fertilizer placement methods and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Injection: The injection process injects fertilizer into the ground in either a liquid or gas form. It is beneficial in that farmers can be very precise in their applications. However, fertilizer injections require specialized—and often expensive—equipment. Also, disruptions in the soil can leave the plant vulnerable to insects and diseases.

Surface broadcast: The most common type of fertilizer application, this process uniformly applies nutrients to the surface of the soil. This method is advantageous as far as ease, but your fields could suffer a loss of nutrients if heavy rains or erosion occurs.

Broadcast incorporated: This procedure involves disking or plowing the soil after broadcasting to incorporate the fertilizer into the soil. Because the fertilizer is forced into the ground, it lowers the risk of nutrient loss. Also, plant uptake is typically improved. However, equipment to disk and plow must be available and can be more expensive. Note: Agricultural experts recommended that growers opt to use plowing to incorporate the soil instead of disking, as plowing creates a zone of nutrients a few inches below the surface of the soil.

Band/starter: The application of a band or starter fertilizer occurs when the plant is still a seed. Fertilizer is placed just below and to the side of the seed, or between the rows, in order to provide nutrients when the plant’s roots are young.

Having nutrients close to the seed but not directly beside it protects the seed’s developing roots from salt burns. Providing nutrients early on can improve how efficiently the plant uses nutrients from then on. Injection equipment, planters and drills can be used to apply band fertilizers. Still, this method can be time-consuming and costly.

Fertigation: This method applies dissolved or suspended fertilizer through an irrigation system, typically an overhead one. Fertilizer can be applied uniformly and rapidly, while reducing equipment use in the fields that could cause soil compaction. However, specialized equipment is needed, and windy weather conditions could affect the application.

Foliar: Fertilizer is applied in small amounts in a liquid form to growing plants during a foliar procedure. You might have need for this method if insufficient nutrients were provided at planting, quick growth is wanted, micronutrients are locked into the soil or cold weather is preventing the plant from using nutrients in the soil. While the results are almost immediate, the foliar technique is a temporary fix and does not address underlying nutrient deficiencies in the soil.

Side-dress: This method involves application of fertilizer between the rows on or below the soil surface for a growing row crop. It’s typically very efficient in terms of nutrient use, but the timing often falls during the busy season, and it can be a slow process.

Top-dress: This process involves a fertilizer or manure broadcast onto a growing crop, used regularly for small grains and forages.

Seed-placed: This fertilizer is applied to the seed during planting. It can have a beneficial starter effect, but it can be phytotoxic if too much fertilizer is applied.

For more information on fertilizer placement methods, consult with your agronomist, Southern States dealer or local Extension resources.

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