Less Fall Fertilizer Applied

Several Factors Affect Fall Fertilizer Applications

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
Connect with Russ:
In some areas, farmers will end up waiting until spring to apply fertilizer to their fields. (DTN file photo by Pam Smith)

OMAHA (DTN) -- It has been an interesting fall for Tim Malterer. Heavy rains fell in late September until he started to harvest on his farm at Janesville in south-central Minnesota. While he was able to get all but 3 acres harvested -- he will wait for a hard freeze to get these last few acres -- the fall fertilizer application season has been limited by wet fields.

"We applied some manure this fall, but I know a number of neighbors that didn't apply fall nitrogen and are waiting for the spring," Malterer told DTN. "I am nervous too how the co-ops are going to be able to handle such a large workload next spring."


Malterer said his local co-op had fertilizer shortages affecting farmers three or four years ago because of such a situation in spring.

This time around, to avoid potential shortages, the co-op has already shut off cash sales of fertilizer to the people who didn't do contracts. This way, the farmers who already ordered fertilizer can get what they needed during this potentially busy time, he said.

Malterer appreciates that his co-op is willing to shut off cash sales of fertilizer. When he commits to spending money and buying products from the co-op, "I sure want to get it over the guy who walks in off the street," he said.

Most of the Corn Belt saw a fairly warm fall, in some areas with much-above-normal temperatures. With soil temperatures not falling to below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (the level needed to apply anhydrous in the fall safely), some farmers did not apply as much nitrogen fertilizer as they normally do because they waited for cooler soil.


The fall fertilizer application season may have come to an end in the last few days in most Midwestern locations. Mike Palmerino, DTN senior ag meteorologist, said the first blast of Arctic air came to the Plains and Midwest last week.

"After a mild fall season, a dramatic change in the weather pattern will be taking place during the new few days," Palmerino said late last week. "Temperatures which had been averaging 10 to 20 degrees above normal will drop to 10 to 20 degrees below normal."

During the weekend, some of the Northern Plains and Midwest began to receive some significant snowfall. In the western Midwest, up to 1/4 inch equivalent melted occurred in northern and eastern areas; in the eastern Midwest, freezing rain and rain -- a tenth to 3/4 of an inch and locally heavier melted -- took place on the weekend. The heaviest amounts fell in southern Michigan and northwest Ohio, according to DTN's meteorologists.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said colder weather and more chances for snow are expected in the next few days, with possibly another 3 to 8 inches of snow in some areas of the Midwest this weekend. "This will shut things down until potentially early next week," said Anderson, adding that the weather does look like it will get better, though, toward the end of next week.


Kimberly Meier, who farms near Ridott, Illinois, said she applied some fertilizer this fall but the overall amount is probably less than in prior fall seasons. She said they have applied mainly some DAP and potash on their farm and, if conditions are right, they could also apply some anhydrous with nitrogen stabilizer on some of their acres in the hills.

While weather might have been one of the factors for limited fertilizing, there might be more reasons why some farmers applied less fertilizer this fall, she said.

"I think more might be due to financing than weather," Meier said. "It's a good conclusion that finances are going to have a huge impact on cropping decisions this year."

Meier said she applies fertilizer according to a combination of soil tests and yield data. She has the local co-op apply using variable rate technology (VRT) on everything but her alfalfa acres. Those acres get a blanket alfalfa full coverage, she said.

Another region with at least pockets of limited fall-applied fertilizer was Nebraska. Brittany Bolte, agronomist with Rock County Agronomy Services in Bassett, Nebraska, said her region is not one for much fall fertilizer applications and this fall was no different.

"Our row-crop customers generally wait to have stuff applied starting in March," Bolte said. "Once the ground is frozen, we start on meadow work for the ranchers, so about now through March is mainly rancher work."

Bolte said she believes that when her farmer/customers start applying fertilizer in March, demand should be fairly good.

Some farmers could cut back on fertilizer due to financial concerns, but she believes this will be limited. She explained that during the last three to four years, the majority of her customers have seen the yield impact of applying fertilizer including how not applying fertilizer will affect yields beyond the current crop.


One region that may have seen increased fall fertilizer application was central Indiana. Jason Scott, who farms near Burrows, Indiana, said this was a good fall to get many chores done, like fertilizer application.

"It looked like around here, there was more (fertilizer) applied this fall than in the past few years," Scott said. "We generally apply every fall about 90% of our acres."

Scott said he applied both potash and MAP this fall after harvest. Very little fall-applied nitrogen is put down in their region, he said.

Scott said he applied roughly the same fertilizer application rate that he had in recent years, just maintaining what he took from the crop. He added it was very welcome that prices were a little lower than the past few years.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com


Russ Quinn