Essential guide to spring fertiliser application to boost crop nutrition

Spring heralds a critical period for UK arable and grassland farmers, marking the time to finetune fertiliser application strategies.

With an emphasis on maximising crop yield and ensuring efficient nutrient use, this guide provides expert advice on making informed decisions about your spring fertiliser application.

Soil testing: The first step in fertiliser application

Begin with a comprehensive soil test to gauge nutrient levels, looking at essential elements such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and trace minerals – which are required by plants for their growth and development.

Without adequate levels of these macronutrients, plant growth can be stunted, and yields can be reduced.

For example, in barley and wheat crops, nitrogen deficiency can lead to reduced plant growth, fewer tillers (side shoots), and smaller grain size, ultimately resulting in lower yields.

Conversely, adequate nitrogen levels promote vigorous vegetative growth, increased tillering, and ultimately higher grain yields.

Also assess the pH levels and organic matter content in your soil. The pH level influences nutrient availability to plants, and the optimal level differs depending on the crop you’re planning to sow.

This step is a crucial start in crafting a fertiliser plan tailored to your soil’s specific needs, ensuring your crops receive the right nutrients for strong growth and to meet market requirements.

Without detailed information on soil health and nutrient content, farmers might over-apply or under-apply fertilisers, leading to inefficient use of inputs and potential harm to the crop.

Choosing the ideal spring fertiliser

A timely application of nitrogen-based fertiliser in spring can provide an essential boost to your crops, promoting vigorous growth.

When it comes to selecting which fertiliser to use, it is essential to consider which important nutrients the product offers for your crop.

Nitrogen’s role

Nitrogen is essential for producing chlorophyll, which plants use to synthesise food through photosynthesis, and is a building block of amino acids, the basic units of plant proteins.

Adequate nitrogen availability ensures that plants can produce the necessary proteins for growth, resilience, and reproduction.

Nutramon’s balanced formula of 50% nitrate nitrogen and 50% ammoniacal nitrogen provides a dual-action effect that addresses both the immediate and long-term nitrogen needs of each crop.

  1. Nitrate nitrogen

The nitrate nitrogen is highly soluble and moves easily with soil water to the roots for rapid absorption, meaning it is readily available for immediate uptake by plants.

Therefore, Nutramon provides a quick boost of nitrogen to support initial crop growth and development, particularly during periods of rapid plant uptake or when quick greening is desired.

  1. Ammoniacal nitrogen

Nutramon’s ammoniacal nitrogen offers a slower-release nitrogen source. Through microbial conversion in the soil, this form gradually transforms into nitrate ions over time through a process called nitrification.

This slower-release mechanism provides a sustained nitrogen supply to cereal and grassland crops, ensuring more consistent nutrient availability throughout the growing season.

Magnesium matters

While nitrogen is often the focus of spring fertiliser application, magnesium’s role in supporting plant health and boosting crop yield is equally important.

Magnesium is a central component of chlorophyll and plays a crucial role in photosynthesis and energy transfer within the plant.

Incorporating a nitrogen-based fertiliser that also includes magnesium, such as Nutramon, ensures that your crops receive a well-rounded nutrient package, fostering optimal growth and productivity.

Sulphur for success

Sulphur is also crucial for arable and grassland crop growth, as it plays pivotal roles in protein synthesis, chlorophyll formation, and enzyme activation.

Additionally, it facilitates the production of secondary metabolites, enhances nitrogen uptake and utilisation, and contributes to improved crop quality and yield.

Applying a fertiliser that contains sulphur, such as Dynamon, ensures plants have access to this essential nutrient, promoting robust growth and optimal metabolic processes.

Phosphorous counts

Phosphorus is vital for cereal and grassland crops due to its roles in energy transfer, root development, and reproductive processes.

It supports the conversion of sunlight into energy through photosynthesis and promotes the formation of strong root systems, enhancing nutrient uptake and drought tolerance.

Additionally, phosphorus is crucial for flower and seed development, contributing to improved grain yields in cereal crops.

Pros of potassium

Potassium is essential for wheat, barley, and grassland crops as it regulates water uptake, improving stress tolerance to drought.

Additionally, potassium strengthens cell walls, promoting structural integrity and resistance to pests and diseases, ultimately contributing to healthier and more resilient crops.

Granule quality

The effectiveness of your fertiliser also hinges on the quality of its granules.

Hard granules are less likely to break apart or generate dust during handling, transportation, and application compared to softer or friable granules.

They also have enhanced storage stability, resisting caking, lumping, and moisture absorption.

The hardness of fertiliser granules can be measured by particle size analysis, bulk density measurement, or compression strength testing.

Harder granules typically exhibit uniform particle size distribution compared to softer granules, they also have higher bulk density and compressions strength values, due to their compactness and resistance to external force.

This durability ensures that the fertiliser remains intact until it reaches the field, maintaining its nutrient content and minimising losses, and it can be evenly distributed across the crop.

OCI Nutramon’s hard granules are designed for excellence, featuring a dust-free, smooth texture that ensures even distribution across the field even over a great width.

This high-quality formulation facilitates easier handling and application, reducing the risk of blockages in spreading equipment and ensuring that every part of a field receives an even dose of nutrients.

Getting your spring fertiliser timing right

The success of your fertiliser application is significantly influenced by timing – it is critical to optimise nutrient uptake by arable and grass crops.

But this will vary depending on the crop type, soil temperature, weather conditions, and the specific growth stage of the crop.

Here are five key factors for consideration to help UK farmers decide the best time for fertiliser application in the spring.

  1. Soil temperature: Nutrients, especially nitrogen, are best applied when soil temperatures are above 5°C, ensuring active growth and nutrient uptake.
  2. Weather conditions: Avoid fertiliser application before heavy rain to minimise nutrient runoff and leaching. Also, consider the forecast and soil moisture levels to ensure the fertiliser is applied under conditions that maximise its effectiveness.
  3. Growth stages: Tailor fertiliser application to the specific growth stages of the crop, ensuring nutrients are available when the crop needs them most for critical growth phases.
  4. Soil testing: Base your fertiliser strategy on recent soil test results to address specific nutrient deficiencies and avoid over-application, particularly of phosphorus and potassium.
  5. Legislation and environmental considerations: Always comply with local regulations regarding fertiliser application, including Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) restrictions and the Farming Rules for Water. Aim to minimise environmental impact by adopting best practices for nutrient management.

When to apply spring fertiliser to arable and grass crops

For every crop, the timing of fertiliser applications requires a balance between agronomic needs and environmental considerations.

The following guide gives general advice on when to apply fertiliser to each crop for maximum nutrient uptake.

Arable crops

  • Winter wheat and barley

The first nitrogen application should occur as the soil begins to warm up, typically from late February through March, when daily average soil temperatures consistently reach 5°C or higher. This early application helps support tillering and early growth.

Subsequent applications should be timed to match key growth stages, such as stem elongation and flag leaf emergence, typically from April to May.

  • Spring-sown cereals

For crops sown in spring, apply fertiliser at sowing time or shortly after emergence to support initial growth. This usually falls in March or April, depending on the sowing date and soil conditions.

  • Oilseed rape

For winter oilseed rape, an early spring application as the crop resumes growth in February or March can support flowering and pod set. Spring oilseed rape should receive fertiliser at sowing or shortly after.

Read more on how to kickstart oilseed rape growth this spring.

Grass crops

  • Early spring grazing

Apply nitrogen fertiliser to grassland intended for early grazing as soon as soil conditions allow, usually from late February to early March.

Applying sulphur is also important as it enhances the production of sulphur-containing amino acids, crucial for protein synthesis, thus improving the nutritional quality of the forage.

This application boosts early grass growth, ensuring ample forage availability for grazing livestock during the critical early spring period.

  • Silage fields

If the first silage cut is planned for late May, the initial fertiliser application should be in early to mid-March. The timing ensures that grasses have sufficient nutrients to achieve optimal growth for the first cut.

By applying the right amounts of nitrogen, sulphur, and other nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium, farmers can optimise protein synthesis in a grass crop, ensuring the production of high-quality, protein-rich silage.

This is crucial as protein content directly impacts the nutritional value and performance of livestock consuming the silage. For example, adequate protein intake in dairy cows supports increased milk yield and quality, and reproductive efficiency.

Maximising the success of spring fertiliser application

Given the UK’s variable spring weather, with its mix of warming trends and occasional cold snaps, providing crops with adequate nitrogen at the right time ensures that they can make the most of the growing season.

Embracing fertilisers that marry agronomic efficiency with environmental responsibility is key to more sustainable agriculture. Nutramon achieves this balance by creating a 50/50 ratio of nitrate nitrogen and ammoniacal nitrogen, offering a formulation that reduces losses to soil and air and maximises nitrogen use efficiency.

Learn more on how applying Nutramon this spring can specifically benefit each of your crops:

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