With corn farmers experiencing increased expenses across the board, they have to find ways to best keep corn fertility efficiency high while striving to maintain manageable costs.

According to Janice Degni, the South Central New York Dairy & Field Crops Team team leader and field crops specialist, labor, parts, fuel and especially fertilizer are all at budget-busting prices.

She did point to a bit of good news – that fertilizer actually came down somewhat from the over $900/ton price seen last winter back to what had previously been the historically high rates in the $600 – $700 range.

“So, in a dairy or livestock situation we have to balance our crop production to where we can meet our feed inventory needs,” she said. “Because if we don’t produce enough of our homegrown forages and we have to purchase, we’re either going to have to pay to grow good yields through fertilizer or we’re going to pay on the other side purchasing feed. And if you’re a grain farmer without livestock you need to turn a profit to maintain and grow your business.”

Keeping corn fertility efficiency high on a budget

Janice Degni

To make the best use of their fertilizer dollars, Degni recommended:

  • Knowing the fertility status of your soil – If farmers have been fertilizing regularly over time, soil tests may indicate that they can rely on that bank of nutrients in the soil. That farmer might be able to back off a little on fertilizing in a year when prices are super high.
  • Finding a balance with sound agronomic practices – Farmers don’t have control over certain factors, such as the cost of fertilizer. But farmers can control other variables – for example, yield potential, forage needs, homegrown grains and farm nutrient sources. Control of these farming facets can help manage the effect those high costs can have on their overall operation. Using farm nutrient sources like manure and cover crops can provide viable alternatives to fertilizer.
  • Considering cropping alternatives – Modern hybrid corn crops are meeting the challenge of optimizing overall fertility. Due to genetic improvement, these hybrids are better at accumulating a greater percentage of applied nitrogen fertilizer, which limits environmentally damaging field nutrient losses while more efficiently producing grain yield per unit of accumulated nitrogen. Over the last 70 years, they have achieved an 89% increase in grain yields and a 73% increase in nitrogen use efficiency.
  • Giving nitrogen extenders a try – Nitrogen extenders keep nitrogen where it’s applied. The use of nitrogen extenders has two potential economic benefits: the increase in overall yield and the decrease in the amount of fertilizer required.

For more information visit cals.cornell.edu/cornell-cooperative-extension.

by Enrico Villamaino