The Benefits of Starter Fertilizers
As you begin planning for the 2023 growing season, don’t forget to consider the benefits of starter fertilizers. As part of an overall fertility program, starter fertilizers can be a great benefit to crops, especially those planted in cold, wet soil conditions, as limited nutrient availability and deficiencies can become problematic during emergence. Understanding the different types of starter fertilizers and how they work is an important step in finding the right product for your fertility program.
By applying in or near the row or furrow, starter fertilizers provide added nutrition to ensure crops have a healthy, vigorous start by increasing the availability of specific nutrients at critical demand timings. For example, where does corn yield originate? In the illustration below, you can see the first 15 rows on a corn ear are determined from germination to V2, and the girth is determined somewhere around the V3 to V4 stage. By adding a starter fertilizer prior to germination, yield potential can be influenced.
Placement of starter fertilizers is key. Some nutrients have the ability to move within the soil solution. Nitrogen is the most common and has a tendency to move away from the rooting zone after it has been placed due to rainfall events and water movement through the soil solution. Phosphorus typically does not move from its placement point, as it is relatively immobile in the soil. Potassium may show some slight movement in the soil but not nearly to the extent of nitrogen. This is very important when making an in-furrow or near-row application. If not placed within the rooting zone, some nutrients can tend to either move outside of the rooting zone or leach away before being taken up by the roots.
Besides nutrient content, starter fertilizers differ in composition by orthophosphate versus polyphosphate blends. Orthophosphate is immediately available to the plant, whereas polyphosphate must be converted to ortho before it can be used by the plant. This is environmentally driven by water, temperature and sometimes pH. Polyphosphate usually converts to orthophosphate in seven to ten days. However, this requires soil temperatures above 50° Fahrenheit, adequate, but not excessive moisture, and optimal pH. Polyphosphate is best for delayed germination and getting nutrients into the root zone later, especially with micronutrients. Orthophosphate is immediately available to the plant and does not rely on environmental conditions to be available for uptake. Orthos are also usually high purity with a neutral pH. The ratio of ortho to poly in starter fertilizers is key in choosing the most appropriate product for specific planting situations.
Helena’s proprietary line of starter fertilizers includes both 100% orthophosphate and ortho/poly blends. These are low-salt formulations that offer outstanding seed safety and demonstrate excellent compatibility with pesticides and other nutritionals when tankmixed. The key differentiator of Helena starter fertilizers versus commodity fertilizers is the addition of Nutris Formulation Technology™. Nutris Formulation Technology increases nutrient availability by protecting nutrients at application from tie up in the soil, releasing exchangeable nutrients already in the soil, and ultimately improving root growth and plant vigor. This can result in faster, more uniform emergence and greater yield potential.
Learn more about Helena’s line of starter fertilizers, including these Nucleus® and Nutri-Link® brands. To find the starter fertilizer that’s right for your geography and cropping system, contact your local Helena representative.