By Cary Crum
Vice President of Sales
Agri Technovation California 

Traditional methods

Every year, the United States grows over 96 million acres (38 million hectares) of corn, although only about 800 000 acres (320 000 hectares) of these are in California. The majority of this produce is grown as silage feed for all irrigated US dairy sectors, as the majority of dairymen view corn farming as a way to obtain the most tons of feed for the lowest rate. This typically means that they cultivate their land using traditional methods and a minimally effective fertilisation strategy. In many cases, dairy farmers will utilise only the manure from their own dairy animals to give the crop the nutrients it needs. It is challenging to convince farmers to apply starting fertiliser to their corn due to these economic realities.

Give corn a good start

Progressive farmers who are attempting to increase the output and quality of their feed crops, employ starter fertiliser, or “on-seed” as it is referred to in the US. “On-seed” is defined as a small number of nutrients placed in close proximity to the seed in the seed trench. As the seed receives highly precise, well-balanced nutrition, this specifically formulated fertiliser is intended to give the corn plant a good start. However, caution must be applied to make sure that the products utilised are conducive to successful germination. For this reason, the following application is recommended: Approximately 1 gallon per acre (9 L/ha) of ortho-phosphate (4-24-6), available in the Agri Technovation US product line-up, along with KELPO™ at 0.5 gallons per acre (4.68 L/ha) and RELEASE LPH™ at 1.5 gallons per acre (14 L/ha). The following season FURROWFOOD COMPLETE™ will also be included in the blends to offer a complete range of micronutrients. In order to apply this starter fertiliser, the corn planter needs to be modified with a special tube that deposits the liquid directly between the disk openers and below the seed. Once the seed is dropped from the seed tube, it is pushed gently into the bottom of the seed trench and then the closing wheels gently close the trench over the seed. Now that the seed is in contact with the on-seed, the liquid is already being absorbed into the seed coating to provide the corn plant with everything it needs for a great start.

Proven results

The best way to demonstrate the value of using on-seed fertilisers is to go out into the field with a shovel and start digging for roots. The changes will be noticed right away upon digging up the first few plants. In the first 10 days, slower shoot growth is often observed in treated areas because, at this stage of growth, the plant appears to focus significantly more energy on root development (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Comparing the root growth of two areas treated with different products. Competitor items were used on the left, whereas Agri Technovation products were used on the right.

Return on investment

Typically, an investment of approximately $25 and $30 per acre (R410 – R490) is required for this on-seed application, which normally results in a yield increase of 1 to 1.5 tonnes. Today, silage corn in California is valued at about $100 (R1 600) per ton. The producer will thus receive between $100 and $150 (R1 600 and R2 400) from the on seed crop. Additionally, the starting fertiliser will help the plants develop a much deeper root system, allowing the plants to withstand more stress overall and produce less lignin as a result. The plant responds to any kind of stressor during its growth period by producing lignin. Due to the fact that lignin is an indigestible fibre for cattle, dairy animals receive no nutrients from it. So, in addition to the increased yield, the on-seed also produces a more digestible feed which results in higher milk production with less feed.


The on-seed therefore, provides a great return on investment in both yield and feed quality that translates into real profit for the farmer. Implementation of this on-seed fertiliser technique throughout the upcoming growing season, will assist producers to grow corn crops of considerably higher quality.