Renewable Farming

In-furrow fertility: high-return place for biologicals, traces (and a little NPK)

Metering out corn fertility and biostimulants is a way to shave costs in 2017 — while raising your odds of improving yields.

In-furrow fertility tests on our research farm show that early corn roots respond positively to:

  • low-salt phosphorus,
  • certain biological inoculants such as mycorrhizae, humates, amino acids and proteins in whole-fish emulsions,
  • and an array of trace elements such as manganese, zinc and boron. This is especially reliable in a glyphosate management system, where the herbicide is a strong chelator of traces.

Also, including three ounces per acre of WakeUP Spring amplifies yield response of effective in-furrow nutrients and plant growth promoters. One combination we’ll be checking further in 2017 is the experimental growth promoter, Lignition, along with an enzyme/protein product, Symbiosis AGx. 

Also, a longtime favorite of ours, Vitazyme, is an inexpensive but effective biostimulant which can be applied economically in-furrow. It’s also effective as a seed treatment and foliar; you can examine several field trials by downloading this PDF from Vitazyme. We’ve seen synergism between Vitazyme and WakeUP. 

Much of the university research on in-furrow nutrients, often called pop-up, has been limited to NPK. You can print this PDF report from University of Minnesota Extension, which offers some basic data. It’s especially detailed on listing the salt index of various NPK formulations. Certainly a 2×2 starter with a high salt index should be used very sparingly when placed in-furrow, even if your system partially closes the seed furrow before trickling on the nutrient solution.

One recent report from Minnesota extension indicated that NPK alone in-furrow often pays for itself, but may not give you a high return per acre above costs. That study didn’t include a range of beneficial biologicals which are available now. 

Our in-furrow biostimulant goal is to accelerate early mycorrhizal development around emerging roots. That amplifies the young crop’s ability to dissolve soil nutrients and accelerate root penetration. You can accomplish a lot with less than $20 per acre in-furrow. And applying 5 to 8 gallons of liquid per acre doesn’t restrain your planting progress much for refills. 

Corn gets another surge of mycorrhizal growth leading to a deep, energetic root system if you can manage to foliar-feed WakeUP Spring at the two-leaf stage. This practice is cheap in materials — 5 ounces of WakeUP Spring costs about $3.50 per acre. Farmers who’ve dug corn roots after making this application a few seasons somehow manage to make the trip, even if they’re not applying a postmerge herbicide. They’ve confirmed the benefits.

Here are some potentially beneficial choices for your in-furrow mix:

1. First, the best water available. Reverse osmosis water, cycled through a Pursanova structuring tube, is foundational for nutrient performance (and herbicide effectiveness). Avoid chlorinated or extremely hard water.

2. WakeUP Spring is the preferred version of WakeUP for in-furrow. (Our WakeUP Summer is primarily for foliar applications, where it gives you glossy leaf coverage, excellent nutrient absorption, and speedy internal translocation through the crop’s phloem system. Spring has a longer metabolic life internally when it’s taken up by roots, where it helps carry in-furrow fertility into root hairs.

Yield benefit of SP-1 and WakeUP Spring on corn

3. A longtime proven biological booster with a wide range of mycorrhizal fungi and other beneficial microbes is SP-1 from AgriEnergy Resources, Princeton, Illinois. Adding WakeUP Spring as a companion for in-furrow application helps the liquid migrate around the seed and amplifies root uptake. The nearby chart is from one of our corn yield trials in a difficult season. Total yields weren’t great, but the gain for adding SP-1 plus WakeUP Spring are profitable even with $3 corn.

4. In 2015 we field-tested whether in-furrow application of a biostimulant called Symbiosis AGx would generate a yield response in corn. It did, and WakeUP Spring added another yield nudge when it was included in the tank mix. The basic amino and protein structure of Symbiosis comes from whole freshwater fish such as carp removed from inland lakes and waterways. This is substantially different from the typical hydrolyzed fish fertilizers which are made from scraps salvaged after the meaty filets are carved off. Thus the proteins and fats remain, and those complex biological products are apparently quite effective as biostimulants.  Makers of Symbiosis also add other proprietary ingredients including trace elements. 

The table below shows results from several field trials we conducted in 2012-2015. The Symbiosis yield gain is shown in line 2, under the 2015 list of four trials. 

5.   Bio-Empruv is a new product intended to strengthen corn’s natural immunity against diseases such as Goss’s wilt. Our tests in 2014-15 were post-tassel foliars, with and without WakeUP. We will try to do some testing in 2017 to see how it performs in-furrow, and possibly as a foliar on corn about V4, so the immune reaction can become systemic early in the corn’s life. This could be very beneficial because in many cases, the Goss’s wilt bacteria are apparently carried by the seed corn.  We should know more by harvest time 2017.  Marketing moves are underway to expand on-farm applications through seed dealers this coming season. Some corn growers who foliar-applied Bio-Empruv in 2016 report that their treated corn stayed greener  about two weeks longer.  A non-GMO corn grower couldn’t see any difference.  So there’s a lot to learn with this product yet.

6. There are more field trials with the biostimulant, Vitazyme, than any other such product we know.  We’ve worked closely with Vitazyme research director Paul Syltie on foliar applications of Vitazyme with WakeUP, and have hopes of doing some testing with Vitazyme in-furrow. The manufacturers of Vitazyme, Vital Earth Resources of Texas, recommend in-furrow application. See the chart nearby for one field trial result on corn foliar-feeding Vitazyme, with and without WakeUP Summer. 

 7. Lignition, a biostimulant we’ve been testing for three seasons, continues to gain acceptance in Canada, especially across the western provinces where thousands of acres of wheat and canola are treated.  The developer has been assembling field data for almost a decade, fine-tuning application times and rates. 

Our in-furrow trial on soybeans in 2016 using Lignition with, and without, WakeUP Spring indicates that the Spring provides a nudge in the biostimulant’s benefit. (see nearby chart) The 6% yield bump with WakeUP Spring is a typical response for a nutrient or biostimulant.

What we don’t know is how much a few grams of in-furrow Lignition — say 20 grams per acre — will add to the benefits of an in-furrow “package.”  The developer does recommend seed treatment with Lignition.