Putting Fertilizer in its Place
Ben Pederson shares his insight in how he discovered the right recipe for fertilizer placement with the SoilWarrior system.
Way back before I implemented the practice of strip-till on my farm, I would day dream of the perfect system. If I could get over the hurdles of my father’s objections, potential landlord issues, the cost of another piece of equipment, and a few others, how would I do it if I had my choice? Every aspect ran through my head. I even typed out four pages of a program detailing each aspect from equipment width, to controlled traffic, to nitrogen programs.
Nutrient placement was a topic that really interested me. I knew it had to be more effective to place fertilizer in a concentrated manner right below the crop row. But what was the best system for placement? There were several choices in the marketplace. Some used a shank and a mole knife. Some used coulters to lightly till a strip. And of course the SoilWarrior used something I had never seen before called a cog wheel.
In my mind’s eye, I wanted that hot band of fertilizer 6-8 inches beneath that row. I wanted it deep, because deep was cool. Deep was fun, because in my old ways, I liked ripping deep. It just had to be the right thing to do. However, my opinion began to change when I saw a video posted on YouTube featuring a guy named Mark Bauer. He made the point that it is called a “mole” knife because it creates and places nutrients in a tunnel like a mole. Then when it rains, there is an easy avenue for water to travel down, hit the bottom, and continue to going downhill. The result: a strip that blows out from the bottom up, leaving an unplantable rut.
Instantly, my thinking changed.
Having dismissed the “weaker” coulter machines, I found myself looking harder at the SoilWarrior. But how would I get my fertilizer in a neat little band deep in the soil? By this time, so many things had tipped my preference toward the SoilWarrior that I decided it was something I could learn as I went. What I have discovered since then is that I may have been wrong in wanting my deep, concentrated band. After all, how tall is a corn plant when the roots would finally hit that band? Did I want to replace shear bolts when I hit one of our many, unavoidable subterranean boulders?
In practice, I really like how nutrients get placed, and I think in that respect, I may have gotten it right by accident. Behind the cog wheel, the blow tube shoots the dry fertilizer into the momentary gap as the wheel works through the soil. The result I have found is that fertility does get down to 8 inches, but some is near the surface as well. Basically, it appears that 25 percent is 6-8 inches deep, 50 percent is 3-6 inches deep, and the remainder is in the top 3 inches. In my estimation, this provides concentrated, yet strategically placed fertility that the plant has access to at all stages. Furthermore, everything I have seen tells me that the majority of nutrient uptake happens in the top 5 or so inches.
Essentially, by not buying a shank machine, I thought I was sacrificing my ideal fertilizer placement. In practice, I believe I improved upon it. Happy accidents are fun.
Nitrogen, we handle differently. We outfit the SoilWarrior with the dual coulter, shallow till attachments, and spray UAN behind them in the spring, pre-plant. The result seems to be an 8 inch wide by 4 inch deep cube of soil that is concentrated with nitrogen. This adds to availability while avoiding seedling injury. We sidedress the balance of crop-needed nitrogen.
In summary, I am glad I didn’t just jump into a system that sounded good to my old ways of thinking. This is not to say there are not people who have success with a mole knife system, because I know that there are. Every farmer needs to follow their own thinking in choosing a system, and I firmly believe that every farmer should constantly challenge that thinking to end up with a system they believe in and can commit to in order to have success.
Ben Pederson is a 3rd generation producer from Lake Mills, Iowa. In addition to crop farming, he owns and operates Sprout Ag Enterprises, which is a Precision Planting and 360 Yield Center dealer.
Spring is right around the corner. See how the SoilWarrior places and blends nutrients by scheduling a demo today. Click the blue button to get started.