Nutrient Considerations With a Delayed Harvest

With harvest well upon us, it is time to finish planning for the 2020 crop. I hope we have all given some thought to our crop plan and are actively implementing the management plan for a successful crop in 2020 and years to come. Mother Nature has given us a very stressful and trying 2019 season that has given us circumstances that may have to be managed for seasons to come. One issue to consider is our fertility plan and what we need to do to build the foundation for an excellent 2020 crop.

Compaction has been a big issue in 2019. With the wet conditions the crop went in, compaction was inevitable. While timely rains were received in many areas this summer, some of the root issues have been hidden but could return in 2020 if the summer growing season turns dry. As I walked corn fields this summer, I saw a lot of pancaked root systems, which means the roots were not able to get down to the nutrients below the compaction layer. Deep tillage is a consideration where it is applicable because it can help break the compaction layer and help move some nutrients up through soil profile. Other options include cover crops and subsoil tillage.

The next issue to potentially overcome is residue management. We need to be sure to have the combine residue spreaders set correctly to avoid “windrowing.” Fall tillage can also help sizeup and distribute residue to help provide the best microbial breakdown and mineralization of the nutrients tied up in the stover.

After we have addressed compaction and residue management, we can focus on our fertility needs. Most of the farms I work with may need to supplement the soil for our upcoming corn crop with at least nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K) and sulfur (S) for the upcoming corn crop. Of these four nutrients, P and K are relatively immobile in the soil profile and can be applied in the fall without worrying too much for loss. N and S are mobile in the soil, so care must be taken on how we apply them, and consider applications closer to planting or in crop. Rates, timing and application techniques are going to vary from region to region. I prefer to fertilize every year and do a replacement by removal method. Growers utilizing the Climate FieldView™ platform can use yield and mapping information to help estimate nutrient removal and determine fertility maintenance needs. Removal values from the University of Illinois Agronomy Handbook (Table 1) along with soil tests and yield monitor results can be used to help determine maintenance needs for various crops.

Table 1. Nutrient removal rates (pounds/bushel) of the three Michigan grain crops Table 1. Nutrient removal rates (pounds/bushel) of the three Michigan grain crops

Jake Evans



1Fernandez, F. and Hoeft, R. Managing soil pH and crop nutrients. Illinois Agronomy Handbook.    

Performance may vary, from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields.

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