Crop Nutrition for Improved Establishment

Step 1. Choose an appropriate fertilizer with the key nutrients.

Nitrogen and Phosphate are essential to promote early, fast root and shoot growth. Potassium is an important nutrient to help alleviate the effects of cold temperatures. Adequate levels of Potassium in leaves helps to lower the cell sap’s freezing point (an ‘anti-freeze’) preventing frost damage, increasing winter survival. Good water regulation is important in dry autumns or in freezing conditions. Potassium helps limit water loss when the plant struggles to access sufficient from the roots. Sulphur is required along with the nitrogen as the building blocks for biomass production.

Step 2. Choose a fertilizer that delivers available nutrient for an immediate crop response.

Available nutrients are the ‘ates’ – nitrate, phosphate and sulphate. Regarding phosphate also look to products that give season long supply through containing a mix of ‘ortho’ and ‘poly’ phosphate. These are at least risk of ‘fixation’, rendering them unavailable.

Step 3. Ensure even, accurate application of nutrients.

For maximum efficiency of uptake place fertilizer during the planting process, targeting a band of nutrition below the seed such that the roots pick up the nutrients as they grow through this layer. Alternatively broadcast the fertilizer pre or post drilling using a Complex Compound Fertilizer to ensure even nutrient coverage from a high number of landing sites. Phosphate is not only the most important nutrient for early establishment but has the poorest mobility / availability characteristics so having a high number of feeding / landing points helps overcome these negative characteristics.

Step 4. Use the appropriate rate of application.

The rate of application should be determined by the nitrogen rate. If you are broadcasting fertilizer then typically 30 kg N/ha is the rate as set out in NVZ regulations. However if placing at planting 20-25 kg N/ha can be used.

Step 5. Do Not wait and delay applications.

Autumn fertilizer applications in recent years (2010 and 2011) have given an extra £67 and £167 /ha respectively profit. The success comes from the early application ensuring a high % of plants establish and then continue to grow rapidly putting on new, bigger leaves.

Step 6. Ensure this ‘momentum’ continues through foliar nutrition applications.

As the canopy continues to develop, this increase in biomass needs to be maintained through ensuring sufficient supply of other key nutrients. Magnesium is the central component of chlorophyll and manganese is important in the first photosynthesis reactions as the plants splits the water molecule. During this rapid shoot and root growth, yield components are initiating. Cell division and multiplication creates a constant demand for calcium and boron which are central to cell membrane integrity. Plant growth is reliant on the continued production of sugars (glucose) for its energy source. These sugars also help protect the plant against frost damage. The enzyme that drives the sugar production cycle is absolutely reliant on the presence of manganese or magnesium, without either the enzyme stops functioning. After taking up nitrogen the plant needs to metabolise it into amino acids and proteins. This process requires an adequate supply of molybdenum that activates the key nitrate reductase enzymes.