2017 New Research
- Orthophosphates are 100% plant available, but a high percentage of polyphosphates in starter fertilizers convert to ortho-phosphate within just two days after application.
- This quick conversion from poly to orthophosphate suggests expensive “high” ortho starter fertilizers are not likely to result in increased corn yields compared to conventional polyphosphate starters.
- On-farm field studies conducted near Traer, IA in the 2016 and 2017 growing season found no statistical difference (Pr > 0.05) in corn yield between conventional and high orthophosphate starters in either year.
- High ortho starters cost more per/ac than conventional polyphosphate starters but do not increase corn grain yields.
Polyphosphates Rapidly Convert to Plant available Orthophosphates
Given polyphosphates are not immediately plant available and orthophosphates are immediately plant available, this gives the promoters of “high” orthophosphate starters ample opportunity to muddy the waters. Nevertheless, the facts are, polyphosphates are rather rapidly hydrolyzed (converted to) into orthophosphates once applied to soils, and this hydrolysis process generally takes just 48 hours or so to complete.
In September of 2015, we posted a blog discussing some of the more technical reasons why the ratio of ortho to polyphosphates in starter fertilizers should have no impact on corn yields. For those that are interested in the more technical details, we encourage you to follow this link to the September 2015 blog post.
While we was relatively certain that the ratio of ortho to polyphosphates in liquid starters should have no effect on corn yields, we decided to “test” this idea with on-farm field trials located near Traer, IA in the 2016 and 2017 growing seasons.
How the Field Trial Was Conducted
In these field trials, we used two starters applied in-furrow at 6 gal/ac. Each starter had an NPK nutrient analysis of 6-24-6. The only difference between these two starters was the ratio of ortho to polyphosphates. One of these starters contained 80% orthophosphate and the other contained just 50% orthophosphate. With the remainder of the phosphorus source in each of these two starters being polyphosphate. Each plot was planted with a 24-row planter (Picture 1) and was nearly 2400 ft long. In both the 2016 and 2017 growing seasons the experimental design used was a randomized complete block with 4 or 5 replications.
Field Trial Results
Averaged over the side-by-side replications there was less than 1 bu/ac difference in corn grain yield between the high ortho and low ortho polyphosphate starters in both the 2016 and 2017 growing seasons. In addition to finding no differences in grain yield between these two starters, the high ortho starters generally cost about $1 more per/gal (so the $6/ac difference in price at a 6 gal/ac rate) than the low ortho starters. So the more expensive high ortho starter clearly did not “pay” its way in our multi-year field trials.
More Trials Planned for 2018
While our findings agree with other research-comparing ortho and polyphosphate starter fertilizers (Frazen and Gerwing. 1997), we want to be absolutely certain that our fertilizer offerings are the most economically viable products on the market. Therefore, we have decided to run this same field trial at one location in northern, IL in 2018, and at one location in central, IA in 2018. Stay tuned for those research results next fall.
Want to learn more?
Franzen D. and J. Gerwing. 2007. Effectiveness of using low rates of plant nutrients. North Central regional research publication No. 341. http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/nutrient-management/fertilizer-management/docs/Feb-97-1.pdf (accessed 8 of Sept 2015).