If you’re like most farmers hoping to plant soon, you will be questioning starter fertiliser options/costs.  Most FARM clients have adapted their at-plant inputs to better support the soil biology that bring essential nutrients to the plant.  This usually means a change away from water-soluble P forms such as MAP and a significant reduction in annual fertiliser costs.

When we see early visual responses to water-soluble P (eg 40kg/ha MAP) vs nil rates, that’s a sure indicator that you’re likely to run out of P at the end of the season when the plant needs it most – best read that sentence again, this is different to what most farmers/agronomists expect.  I guess if you’re prepared to put out approx 2 x times what the crop uptake requirement is then that P would probably stay available long-enough in most of our low PBI soils. 130kg/ha MAP would provide the required 30kg/ha of P but pretty hard to justify >$150/ha to do that.

Our approach at FARM has been to address P deficiency in the fallow period (often using MAP or manures) and focus on planting inputs that drive root growth and supports the soil biology that access the P in the pools of P not currently plant-available ie what’s measured in soil test BSES P or Total P.  This is often a mix of specific seed dressings and granular and/or liquid inject all designed to fit a budget of $25-$50/ha depending on justification and soil fertility levels.

Farm Agronomist examining plant in corn field
Agronomist examining plant in corn field

Not everyone is ready to make that change which is fine – if you’re keen to discuss options to transition to a system that drives more profit then that’s what we specialise in at FARM and we would be happy to discuss your particular situation and make some suggestions re planting inputs. 

There’s a lot of hype and assumptions made about what regen ag is – to be honest, I don’t think there’s much to be gained from trying to determine exactly what it is.  I’d prefer to get on with helping farmers who are very clear and passionate about transitioning to a system that is truly sustainable and significantly more profitable than “business as usual” farming.  Farming business success is most definitely not a static thing – we need to adapt/pivot/change to meet changes in markets/climate/commodities/inputs/technology/etc.  Those that don’t change will get bought out by the neighbours that do.

I’ve been an agronomist for more than 3 decades and have seen a lot of trends and changes.  I’m almost embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to understand the role of soil biology.  A better farming system is certainly not just about nutrition but soil fertility is a great place to start. 

Here is an email I sent a client recently that explains a little more:

Most of the industry is lagging behind in their understanding of how plants access nutrients. Most of the soils in NNSW/SQLD have 750-900kg/ha P in the top 30cm of soil with very little of that P in soluble plant-available form.  We can add 100+kg/ha MAP which would contribute another 20kg/ha of P to the soil and most of that will move into forms that are not immediately plant-available. Until and unless we engage the soil biology to access the tied up P, we will be reliant on jamming as much soluble P as the budget allows down, with the seed with the hope it will hang around long enough for when the plants really need it at later growth stages.  All it does is give the plant a really quick boost for the first month but shuts down any mycorrhizal associations that would have accessed all the P from the soil that feeds the plant when it needs it most.

There is nothing at all wrong with using MAP to build soil P levels if that’s what it needs.  Just don’t put it down in the same slot as the seed if you want the soil biology to do the work for you.

The MineralMax Carbon (MMC) and the MineralMax Trace Pellets (MMT) starter fertilisers have significantly less P than MAP but the MMC/MMT starter is all about setting up the plant/rhizosphere to better access soil nutrients as well as containing decent hits of key micronutrients, carbon and calcium for structural changes. Deeper and more prolific roots are the most common feedback we get from first time users – accessing more soil nutrients and moisture.

The harder decision is about fungicide seed dressing. 

  1. Go without it and there’s a good chance you will have some seasons where you wish you hadn’t left it off. 
  2. Continuing to use them guarantees we will never get the biology to do the work for us.
  3. Finding a compromise and way to move forward is hard but worth pursuing

I wish I was better at communicating all this stuff and helping you understand the potential financial impact and benefit.  I know it’s easy to make unsubstantiated claims but I just don’t want to leave you behind given the time we have been working together and how committed I am to help you leave the farm in better shape and make more profit along the way. 

A few input changes, a bit more rainfall capture, a little more soil organic matter and some smart crop sequences and paddock rotations all add up to $50-100/ha more profit each year. That’s $50-100k per year per 1000ha.  That pays for an employee to take the pressure off you.  That goes a long way to making farming fun again.

Current FARM starter fertiliser options/comparison.  Availability and lead times can be limited

FARM starter fertiliser options/comparison spreadsheet

For any further questions or queries about Agronomy Consulting, Soil and Plant Testing, FARM Advisory Board please contact:

Ian Moss

Founder and Managing Director
Farm Agronomy & Resource Management Pty Ltd
0428 910 073