Summer nutrient applications – top tips for maximising peak growth periods
Early summer is a crucial time for all farmers, as it represents the peak growth period for many crops and grass leys. During this season, effective nutrient management can make a significant difference in yield and quality come harvest time.
Here we outline top tips for maximising crop growth through strategic nutrient application during the summer months.
Soil testing is the foundation of effective nutrient management, providing vital information about your soil’s current nutrient status.
- Frequency: Conduct soil tests annually or bi-annually to track soil health and nutrient status.
- Depth and sampling: Ensure samples are taken from multiple locations and at different depths to get a comprehensive overview of your soil’s nutrient profile. For example, sample at both 0-6 inches and 6-12 inches depths.
Understanding crop needs
To optimise nutrient application, begin by understanding the unique nutritional requirements of each crop grown on your farm.
- Individual crop profiles: Research the nutrient requirements of each crop you grow. For example, leafy greens might need more nitrogen, while fruiting plants may require higher phosphorus levels.
- Growth stages: Different growth stages demand different nutrients. Nitrogen is more critical during vegetative growth, which refers to the phase where crops focus on growing the stems, leaves, and roots rather than the reproductive phase for the production of flowers, fruit or seeds. Potassium and phosphorus however are essential during the reproductive stage for flowering and fruit development.
Balanced fertiliser applications
A balanced fertiliser application is not just about nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), it also need to consider micro-nutrients and custom fertiliser blends.
- Micro-nutrients: Alongside N, P and K, based on your crop’s needs and soil test results, ensure your fertiliser plan includes essential micro-nutrients like zinc, iron, and manganese.
- Custom blends: Based on soil tests, consider custom-blended fertilisers that match your soil’s specific deficiencies.
Choosing the right form of nutrients
Selecting the right combination of nutrients is essential and should be based on your specific farm conditions and crop requirements.
- Site-specific conditions: Consider factors such as soil type and pH when selecting nutritional requirements. Some nutrients are more readily available in acidic or alkaline soils.
See here for information on balancing pH, as when pH is balanced, nutrients in the soil become more readily available for plant uptake, leading to healthier crops.
- Application methods: Choose a nutrition programme that complements your application equipment and labour availability. For example, use methods like foliar feeding for quick nutrient uptake or slow-release fertilisers for sustained feeding which is needed to ensure that nutrients are available when the crop need them, supporting various stages of growth.
Foliar feeding is a fertiliser application method which works by applying liquid fertiliser directly to their leaves rather than to the soil. This technique is based on the idea that plants can absorb nutrients through their leaves, offering an alternative or supplement to root feeding.
Timing is key
The timing of nutrient application is critical and synchronising it with your crops’ growth cycles can enhance nutrient uptake.
- Weather patterns: Apply nutrients when the forecast suggests mild weather to minimise loss during heavy rain to prevent nutrient runoff. It is also important to consider extreme heat as this will cause evaporation.
- Plant indicators: Look for the symptoms like leaf size and plant colour, to determine the best timing for nutrient application.
For further information on how to correctly apply fertiliser, see here.
Embracing technology: precision agriculture
Embrace modern agricultural technology to apply nutrients more precisely and efficiently, tailored to specific field conditions.
- Data-driven decisions: Use soil and plant data collected through sensors to make informed decisions on nutrient applications.
- Variable rate technology (VRT): Invest in VRT equipment such as field mapping to apply different rates of nutrients across a field, based on soil and crop needs. VRT involves adjusting the rate of inputs (such as seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides) based on variations in field conditions.
The integration of precision technology in fertiliser management is a significant step forward in sustainable agriculture as it not only maximises efficiency, but also contributes to environmental conservation by reducing waste through over-fertilising which can lead to run-off or soil degradation.
See here for further information on how precision technology can help maximise fertiliser efficiency
Effective nutrient management can be a complex process. It requires understanding of the unique needs of your crops, regularly assessing soil health and being mindful of environmental impacts.
By adopting a holistic and informed approach, you can ensure your crops receive the right nutrients at the right time, leading to a sustainable and productive farming operation.