There’s more to maintaining soil fertility than just applying fertiliser and hoping for the best. If you want to see true yield improvement you need to master soil management. You need to start monitoring your fields… hardcore. Record everything from soil moisture levels to acidity to nutrient density – build up a picture of your fields before you start to implement the changes suggested in this article. The key to precision agriculture is to make smart farming decisions based on data from your fields, not guesses!
Below we’ve briefly covered 3 areas where you can probably improve your budget, resources and resulting crop yield.
Test Your Soil
Start by doing proper tests of your soil. Did you know it only costs a few dollars to have your soil scientifically tested? It might be even less if you approach your local university or agricultural centre. We recommend one test per acre, or more if you really want to be precise.
There are a couple of things you want to look for in your soil management test results: first of all, the recommendations that are being made by whomever tested the soil. If they are suggesting that your soil is seriously lacking in one nutrient, or a nutrient continues to be low despite year on year application of fertiliser, you really shouldn’t cut back on it!
The other factor you want to look out for is soil pH. No matter how much you adjust your fertiliser, if the soil is too acidic or to alkaline, you’re creating a difficult environment for your crops to grow in. You might even find that your acidic soil is eroding fertiliser before it even gets absorbed by plants. Maintaining pH is something you need to consider in the long run.
Find New Ways to Fertilise
Just recently we reported on Accushot, a fantastic new system that’s available as a planter attachment. By pulsing the fertiliser in precisely around (before, after or on top of the seed), you are saving money on fertiliser and ensuring it’s exactly where the plants need it. This will save you both time and money. But the Accushot system is currently only available at a limited number of suppliers in the USA… is there another option?
Take a look at “starter band” fertilisation. By applying fertiliser way in advance of planting your seeds, you’re leaving a nice band of nutrients at root level, ready for your crops to germinate into. Or how about planting some cover crops the year before and allowing them to mulch down? This is a good way of providing nutrients without the potentially harmful chemicals.
Stop buying fertilisers you really don’t need! Nitrogen is essential and one we encourage you to use in accordance with your soil management data that you’ve been collecting. However, when it comes to nutrients like phosphorous and potassium, you only really need to add these as fertilisers if your fields are severely deficient and your crop needs them to grow properly.
The same can really be said for nutrient enhancers that claim to allow your crops to better adsorb the nutrients and utilise them – unless you’ve run a test and can compare how much better your crops grow with these enhancers, they’re most likely just a waste of money. Focus on your data and providing your crops with what they need!
Of course, your work doesn’t stop there. All this will be pointless if you don’t accurately record farm data following the changes: how else will you know how these changes have affected your farm? Look at your expenditure and look at your yield improvement to work out if these changes have been profitable or have made minimal difference. If they’re not worth the effort, try something else for the next season instead.
If you’re not ready to let go of your expensive fertiliser, or unsure about the new ways to apply your nutrients, why not section off a small part of your fields to give it a test run on first? You may be surprised at the results.