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Maximize Early Season Growth to Increase Yield at Harvest

Sponsored by The Andersons

Providing adequate nutrition at planting is essential for a productive growing season. When looking at early season growth, consider the nutrients that are necessary at this time, such as phosphorus. Phosphorus is essential for stimulating early season root and shoot growth in seedlings. Phosphorus can be used in the form of starter fertilizer to meet crop needs.

When measuring the effectiveness of starter fertilizer, there are numerous factors to evaluate including germination, emergence, growth, pollination, dry down, and finally, yield. Placing starter fertilizer in-furrow or close to the seed helps to achieve three main goals by effectively delivering key nutrients in an available form to the crop:

  1. Quick germination and even emergence,
  2. Accelerated growth, and
  3. Enhanced grain fill and yield.

The first goal when using a starter fertilizer is to get the seed out of the ground as quickly and evenly as possible. The longer the seed is in the ground and not exposed to the sun, the more likely it will be affected by insect damage, disease, or insufficient energy. Lost plants or slow emergence can translate into yield reduction. If a corn plant germinates and emerges later than its neighbors by one growth stage, it becomes a weed that is robbing nutrients from the productive crop.

The next goal is increased vegetative growth and earlier pollination. Starter fertilizer contributes to accelerated growth throughout the growing season, increasing the photosynthetic ability of the crop. In many cases, starter fertilizer can lead to germination occurring 7 days earlier compared to crops that did not receive the benefits of starter fertilizer. As these plants emerge earlier, they get a jumpstart on growth progress through the season quicker, Figure 1.

six plants including their roots laid next to each other on a white background for comparison
Figure 1: Corn treated with starter fertilizer received adequate nutrition, leading to larger plants earlier in the season.

The final goal is to influence grain fill and dry down. By providing essential nutrients through the season, the crop has adequate supplies to maximize grain fill and remain healthy until harvest. If a crop does not have sufficient nutrition, it will rob nutrients from the stalk and leaves to fill the ear. When this happens, the crop is weaker and more susceptible to lodging. When the crop is properly equipped at harvest, it is able to focus its efforts on grain fill and dry down, leading to greater yield at harvest, Figure 2.

Chart showing organic row starter average yield for organic corn
Figure 2: In field trials, treatments that received organic row starter in combination with fulvic acid had a 13.98 bushel/acre advantage compared to the check treatment.

In conclusion, starter fertilizer has proven to provide three main benefits – early emergence, quicker pollination, and faster dry down at harvest. If these three main objectives are achieved, higher yields will likely be observed.

Sponsor Message

The Andersons is proud to introduce a one-of-a-kind organic liquid row starter, PureStart™. PureStart organic fertilizer is OMRI Listed® and designed specifically for organic production. For more information, including proven yield data, about PureStart organic fertilizer, visit The Andersons website here.