Getting the band back together

Category: Planting | Tags:
This corn crop outside Jackson, Minnesota shows good singulation and uniform emergence. A good start to the cropping year increases the chance for better yields at harvest time.
Every season, farmers face the question of how to most effectively provide nutrients to emerging crops while minimizing waste.

The challenge of getting fertilizer down in the field while having it still be there in sufficient quality when the crop needs it has led fertilizer companies, agronomists and farmers to use varying product and techniques to feed the growing crop. One of those techniques, fertilizer banding, has shown some success but it comes with a new set of practices and concerns that farmers should know before they try it.

What exactly is fertilizer banding?

Fertilizer banding is the process of placing fertilizer below, above or on either side of the seed row. Where you should put the fertilizer around the seed is really based on the nutrient type. For instance, immobile nutrients (such as phosphorus and potassium) should be placed at or below the seed depth either before or after planting. Mobile nutrients like nitrogen can be applied to the side, below or even above the seed.

Methods of banding fertilizers.

Methods of Banding Fertilizers

Fertilizer banding is the process of placing fertilizer below, above or on either side of the seed row. Where you should put the fertilizer around the seed is really based on the nutrient type. For instance, immobile nutrients (such as phosphorus and potassium) should be placed at or below the seed depth either before or after planting. Mobile nutrients like nitrogen can be applied to the side, below or even above the seed.

Source: Adapted from Fertilizer Placement, University of Idaho (http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edcomm/pdf/cis/cis0757.pdf).

When is it better to band than broadcast?

There are many instances when banding could be better for your farm: When you are applying immobile nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium and zinc, banding may keep the nutrients more available for the growing crop.

You might also consider banding to be a possible solution if:

  • Your soil has fairly high (over 7.3) or fairly low pH (below 6.3).
  • Your soil is high in magnesium.
  • Fertilizer prices are too high.

What are some of the pros of banding?

Economics—The soil is not tying up the nutrients as it would be in a broadcast/incorporate type fertilizer, you can save money on fertilizer since you do not have to adjust as much for nutrient loss (higher nutrient use efficiency). Studies have shown that in their area a farmer could use up to 50% less phosphorus and potassium if they banded their fertilizer versus broadcasting it and still achieve their yield goal.

Source: University of Minnesota (http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/nutrient-management/fertilizer-management/use-of-banded-fertilizer-for-corn-production/).

Because nutrients are available right next to the seed, the plant can get a faster jump start on growth. When plants get a better start at the beginning, they can develop more quickly, usually meaning more money in your pocketbook. In general, crops that have had nutrients banded are drier in the fall because they mature more quickly and are higher yielding. University of Illinois showed in a 2011-2012 trial that corn can have an average of a 14 bushel per acre increase in yield due to banding.

EnvironmentFarmers have to think of the environment and safety at all times. Putting nutrients directly in the soil means there is less chance for run off due to rain. High percentages of nitrogen and phosphorus can runoff when applied to the soil surface without incorporation, wasting valuable resources.

Source: University of Idaho (http://www.cals.uidaho.edu).

What are some of the cons of banding?

You aren’t “feeding the soil” – you will hear some people say you should broadcast because you are giving some nutrients back to the soil, and they are somewhat correct. However, it will take quite a long time to build that soil back up, maybe even longer than you have the ground.

Brian Hefty from AgPhD in regards to banding said, “About 15 years ago, I started looking at research that showed a farmer could get by with approximately 30% less P and K when banding compared to broadcasting. As soon as I heard that, I remembered my dad always used to say, ‘Putting extra P and K on (when times are good) is like putting money in the bank.’ That may be true, but the problem is you may be putting it in someone else’s bank if you don’t farm that ground yourself for the next 50 years.”

Source: AgPhD (http://www.agphd.com/ag-phd-newsletter/2014/11/26/cutting-rates-by-banding-fertilizer/). 

Other cons include:

  • Increased management is required since application rates and placement are critical to avoid seedling injury.
  • Specialized equipment may be required.
  • If you are banding fertilizer during planting, it may take longer to plant due to more stops to fill fertilizer tanks or hoppers.

Example

A farmer has 300 acres of corn. He is trying to decide if it is more economical to broadcast or band his phosphate and potash this year. He figures up his current cost of application (broadcast) and then figures up how much it would cost if he switched to banding. He read that he could use up to 50% less fertilizer with banding to achieve the same corn yield. He usually applies 100 lbs. of K and P when he broadcasts.

Note: This example does not take inputs that are equal (seed, irrigation, etc.) into consideration.

Broadcast (No banding)

Input Individual Price (per lb.) Price/Acre Total Price
Phosphate (P) $0.06/lb. $6.00 (100 lbs.) $1,800.00
Potash (K) $0.15/lb. $15.00 (100 lbs.) $4,500.00
Fuel/Labor, etc. $1.91 (fertilizer) + $9.50 (planting) $11.41 $3,423.00
Total $9,723.00

With banding

Input Individual Price (per lb.) Price/Acre Total Price
Phosphate (P) $0.06/lb. $3.00 (50 lbs.) $900.00
Potash (K) $0.15/lb. $7.50 (50 lbs.) $5,250.00
Fuel/Labor, etc. $9.50 (planting – fertilizer is applied during planting) $2,850.00
Total $6,000.00

The total savings for the farmer comes to $3,723.00 or $12.41 per acre. This is not taking the cost of specialized fertilizer banding equipment into consideration. It is important to always apply no less than crop removal rates or soils will be be mined. Of course crop removal rates must be considered when determining fertilizer application rates whether banding or broadcasting. It’s important to replenish what you expect to remove. A good way to do this is either with this year’s yield maps or previous five year average.

Fertilizer costs assume a market price of $114.36 per ton for phosphate and $300 per ton for potash. Fuel/Labor figures from University of Illinois (www.farmdoc.illinois.edu/ manage/newsletters/fefe06_07/fefo06_07.html).

Nutrient removal rates (lbs. per bushel).

Crop N removal P205 removal K2O removal
Corn 0.9 0.37 0.27
Soybean 3.8 0.80 1.40
Wheat 1.2 0.63 0.37
Source: Michigan State University Extension (http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/nutrient_removal_rates_by_grain_crops).

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