Get phosphorus in the ground this fall

Written by Brett Teetaert on Oct 28 2019

Category: Grow Grain

The price and the timing are right

To say it’s been a wet fall is an understatement. In my experience, that means farmers in my area who practice zero or minimum tillage are more likely to cultivate a few acres to blacken up the soil – if they can get into their soggy fields.

That’s the perfect opportunity to band phosphorus while you cultivate. Because as a general rule, soil around here has low phosphorus levels. We’ve been mining the soil as we produce bigger crops without replenishing nutrients – especially phosphorus.

Some folks look at fertilizer as a cost of production. I like to look at it more as an investment in your soil. The more fertile, the more productive it will be in the future years.  In recent years we’ve seen dramatically increased nitrogen rates. I know farmers who use about double the nitrogen they were putting down 10-15 years ago, but phosphorus rates are only marginally up from the same time period.

Right now phosphorus is cheaper than it has been in a while – in fact this is the cheapest it’s been in the fall for the past five years. That’s due to an oversupply in North America after a wet fall last year followed by a very wet spring in the US.

If you’re going to till, I always want to see fertilizer go down at the same time. But if you’re going to till this fall, you’d be crazy not to put down some very reasonably priced P at the same time to give next year’s crop a better chance. This will keep the air cart lighter for next spring, will potentially get more acres per fill, and aligns with the 4R approach of right source, right rate, right time, and right place.

Every time there’s an opportunity to band nutrients, you’re doing a benefit to the soil, but it would be tough to put down enough fertilizer in a one-pass seeding system because of equipment limitations or potential seed burn.

How can you argue? Especially if:

1. You’re already planning to cultivate your land this fall.

2. Phosphorus prices are better than they’ve been for the past five years. (You can buy it and apply it instead of worrying about storing it.); and

3. You’ve been getting better yields that you haven’t been fertilizing for.


If you have questions about your fertilizer strategy and how phosphorus can improve your soil, contact your nearest Cargill location.

Tags: Fertilizer, phosphorous, Soil, Minimum tillage


  • Cargill said Reply

    Thanks for the question David.

    The tie up and release of P is a function of your soil’s pH and buffering capacity, and it can best be understood with the aid of a soil test. The lower the pH and the coarser your soil texture, the greater the potential for P fixation and loss – in fact there is no pH level where zero fixation takes place.

    That being said, you should not expect more tie up of applied P because you band it in the fall to build soil reserves. Today we have a much better understanding that applied P constantly becomes available over time.

    Thanks again and good luck with your nutrient management planning.

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