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ISSUE 16   August 23, 2001



Thousands of farmers will be making fertilizer decisions this fall and next spring for next years crops. It is a sad reality that most of these producers use a best guess rather than science to help make this decision. The following are the four most used methods in North Dakota of deciding which fertilizers to apply and at what rates:

1. Do what they did last year.

Why farmers choose this reason is a mystery. Years are wet, years may be dry, crop rotations may be different, crop yields are different, leaving different amounts of nutrients behind. This would not be my choice of methods.

2. Ask the neighbor what they used.

I know that some neighbors are great friends, but others may be waiting until you retire or go broke so that they can farm your land. Do you really want to risk the farm on their recommendation? Just because you both have the same color of equipment, does that make the land on the farm the same? I think not.

3. Ask the farm supplier or county agent what the neighbor used.

Some farmers are shy, or donít get along with the neighbor, but the grain always looks better on the other side of the fence so they ask a third party what they used. Again, farms are not all the same. There is no reason to believe what the neighbors use will be what a farmer needs to apply.

4. Consult the county average soil test records.

The average county farmer age is 55.25 years, has been married 1.2 times, has 2.2 children, drives a Chevy pickup 4 wheel drive thatís 4 years old, lives in a house that has 2.5 bedrooms on 5.4 acres of land, he owns $250,000 of greenish-red equipment, has 32 head of cattle and Ĺ a horse. If these numbers agree with someoneís real life, they might want to consult the county average. The average is the arithmetic mean of a wide range of numbers. They mean nothing when compared to the values on individual farms. Extension agents used to ask me what their county average soil tests were when I first arrived here. I gave them a 20 minute lecture every time about why they are not relevant to individual farms. They havenít called me about that in a long time.

For all the good these most popular methods will do a farmer, they just as well consider the next two options-

5. Consult a psychic hotline. Make sure itís a small town psychic hotline.

If you mention you want fertility information to someone from New York, you may get another less helpful answer than from someone from Regent.

6. Count wooly bear caterpillars this fall and take your numbers to a learned local senior.

These last two methods are very silly, but the first four are silly as well. The best method is Soil Testing! Soil testing will direct a farmer to the nutrients that are important to consider and will give the best guide towards determining a rate to use. Sampling on topography or imagery-based zones will hold down costs and give confidence to the soil test values even if they are high compared to a composite sampling. Even a composite sampling is much better than a guess. Growers have the option to add some meaningful science to their operation. Farming is a lot of guess work. Soil testing helps put at least one input on a solid foundation, and given fertilizer costs, it is an extremely important one build on.

Dave Franzen
NDSU Extension Soil Specialist
(701) 231-8884




The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture have authorized a label (24c or Special Local Needs label) change for Super Tin 80WP on sugarbeet. The pre-harvest interval (PHI) for Super Tin 80 WP on sugarbeet is now 7 days instead of 21 days. Super Tin should not be applied within 100 feet of bodies of water when using ground equipment and within 300 feet for aerial applications. No more than 15 ounces of Super Tin (formulated product) per acre is allowed on sugarbeet per season.

Mohamed Khan
NDSU Extension Sugarbeet Specialist


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