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AgronomyEpisode 162

Boost crop performance with starter fertilizers

Apr 16, 2024

Getting crops off to a strong start can help boost yield potential. McKenzie Smith, an agronomy products expert with CHS, recommends following the 4Rs of nutrient management – right source, right rate, right place and right time – as part of a crop fertility plan. This includes starter fertilizer, she says, which can propel early plant growth.

“It’s important to get in early with the right nutrients, especially since about 60% of yield is dependent on soil fertility,” Smith says.

Build a crop fertility plan

Smith advises starting with soil sampling to help determine fertilizer needs, then using these three strategies in a crop fertility plan:

  • Multiple fertility passes will likely be needed to give crops enough of the necessary nutrients.
  • Since phosphorus is an immobile macronutrient, place it near the root zone so plants can easily access it early in the growing season.
  • Apply starter fertilizer at the right rate near the root zone to improve crop utilization and performance.

Deploy starter fertilizers successfully

Planting time is the right time to use a starter fertilizer, Smith says but some conditions are more optimal than others for getting the most value from crop nutrients.

“Fields with cool soil temperatures, low phosphorus levels, low soil organic matter and high-pH soils are more likely to show positive responses to starter fertilizers,” she explains.

When choosing a spring starter fertilizer, Smith advises looking for a product that meets multiple crop needs. “CHS Lumen® is a premium low-salt starter fertilizer that we often recommend as it checks off many crop nutrient needs,” she says. “It also contains our Levesol® chelate, which is the most powerful chelate on the market.”

Some commonly used crop starter fertilizers lack micronutrients like zinc, Smith adds. When extra zinc is needed, she recommends farmers using Levesol® Zn. This addition can help “allow zinc, phosphorus, and other micronutrients already present in the soil to become more available and enhance nutrient availability, speed of emergence and overall plant health.”

To learn more about how to include starter fertilizers into crop plans, visit or work with local cooperative agronomist.

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