Every year at about this time the phone calls start coming in from people that have questions about their starter programs. The questions range from, “what rate should I be putting on?” to “what is the best application method and where should it be placed?”. Each of those questions, plus the 20 more that I hear are all great questions and valid. Today, I thought I would try to address some of the more common ones.
To segment these questions down and attack them one at a time is a little impractical because of things like placement affect rate. But to start with, I think it’s important to understand that different people still apply starter for different reasons. Some folks still use a 2 x 2 starter application of 15 to 20 gallons. These folks are applying their Phosphorus needs in a band, same as we would see with strip-till. We call this a starter application because we do it with the planter at the beginning of the growing season, but really this is a banded crop removal application. There is no doubt though that from a plant availability standpoint this system does a great job of meeting plant needs. In many ways, this is the Cadillac of programs for various reasons but has largely gone away because of horsepower requirement and the time it takes to refill the starter tanks on our planter and or tractor.
So about 12 years ago, it became very popular to dribble our starter out the back of the planter and onto the soil just to the side of our seed slot. We moved the crop removal portion of our fertility program to a broadcast application of dry fertilizer, or we used a strip-till system to meet that need. But, we still wanted to get a true starter application out there for our plant to find in its early days of growth and help it get a good start in life. The surface dribble was cheap, easy, and got that goal accomplished. But some of us didn’t like the placement, or should I say the availability of that band we applied. If we didn’t get some good moisture behind the planter, we were concerned when our plant was finding the starter and getting the benefits. Some people were happy and had embraced the surface dribble; others kept looking for a better way.
About eight years ago, the in-furrow starter application took off, and with it the low salt starters. As long as our soils had a CEC over 12, we could feel “safe” in placing up to 5 gallons of specific products directly in the furrow and in contact with the seed. The problem of the young plant finding the starter early in its life was solved, but there was always a presumed risk that came with this.
So given the context of history, I am often asked what is the best program out of the there? It leads to many questions, and in the end, the right program for you is quite possibly different than your neighbors. However, there are some things from a technology standpoint that have come to market that will help add comfort to your program of choice. The two that come to my mind first go into the in-furrow category. Starter attachments like FurrowJet from Precision Planting take the in-furrow rate and split it to the sides and on the seed to help alleviate some of the salt concerns that we would have. The 360 dash on the other hand pulses the application of starter in conjunction with our seed. It is designed to place the starter in sync with the seed, so in theory, we could place the starter in-furrow but skip the 1” where the seed is placed for safety.
As an Agronomist, I am certainly comfortable talking about the pros and cons of each of the placement options and rates that are appropriate for them. However, all I can do is offer you my opinion and some guidance based on my experiences. I know that if you work with your FSA, together you can do an even better job of dialing in what is right for your soils, tillage, and climate. I firmly believe that Agronomy should be local, and there is no substitute for the experiences that you and your Trusted Advisor share from your area and your ground. So please, don’t forget to include them in these conversations and decisions both before and after planting.