28-bu. corn yield gain with "cheap" in-furrow feeding at planting

Every season, we get more enthused about building a biological foundation under crops at planting — with in-furrow feeding.

That's contrary to conventional wisdom, which we're also enthused about. Discoveries are made that way.

This fall, the weigh wagon confirmed a 28-bu. yield benefit in strip trials where we applied the following in-furrow mix last spring:

Two pints per acre of a new product called "Symbiosis AGx." Trickling this into the seed furrow provides an array of amino acids, calcium and fatty acids derived from freshwater whole fish. Roots emerging from the seed found a nearby source of nutrients, and the buildup of mycrorrhizal fungi accelerated on the young roots.

Two pints per acre of a long-established nutrient mix called Prudent Presto Gold — which is actually designed as a foliar fertilizer for corn, not an in-furrow package. However, applying it in-furrow gave emerging roots a stimulating 6-18-5 array of NPK, plus five trace metals including boron and copper. The array of early nutrients is not an overdose, but could be instrumental in building early immunity of corn seedlings.

Five ounces of WakeUP Spring, which is our formulation designed for mobilization of nutrients in soil, and within the crop's phloem circulation system.

View of our 2015 corn test strips with WakeUP, Presto and Symbiosis

Ingredient cost of this package would be $16 to $18 per acre. This could be rationalized almost as an "insurance" policy against early spring stress such as cold, wet weather near planting. Certainly there's no way to prescribe an exact ratio of nutrients needed at germination. There's no tissue to test, and the need for supplemental early nutrients doesn't neatly correlate with soil nutrient analysis.

We just sold some cash corn at $3.50 per bushel, so a 28-bu. extra yield meant almost an extra $100 an acre from our $18 per acre expense. That's around a $5 return per $1 of expense. That's about the reward/risk ratio it takes to encourage growers to try something un-conventional.

The Presto and Symbiosis AGx applied without WakeUP Spring also gave a good response:  20.9 bushels per acre. The "kick" added by WakeUP in this field test approached 8 bu. per acre.  

This is one of the field trials suggested this spring by crop consultant Jim Martindale of Indiana, North American Ag-Gro Consulting. He and his son Dan, and family, pioneered the vertical tillage implement called the Curse Buster. At the moment, Jim is somewhere in eastern China, or western Russia, working with growers in those regions.

We reason that the amino acids and other "microbe food" stimulates an extra bloom of microbes around the germinating seed — especially the beneficial mycorrizal fungi. That biological activity could nudge up the soil temperature around the seed. We've long known that applying residue breakdown organisms can raise the temperature of an entire soil profile in the top few inches. So the in-furrow injection of microbe-nourishing foods could enhance the "incubator effect" for germinating seed.

In that biologically benign environment, WakeUP Spring reacts with soil moisture to accelerate absorption of nutrients by plant roots. Translocation of soil nutrients into root hairs, through the root "skin," is similar to the way leaves absorb nutrients from a foliar feeding. The moisture, built into colloidal micelles by WakeUP in the root zone, becomes a more active nutrient carrier via ionic transfer. 

 You can download a PDF of the detailed yield, test weight and moisture results of this field trial at this link. Note on the data sheet that the results with all three ingredients were statistically "highly significant" using the paired T test.  One of the observations we most like is the consistency of yields in the eight strips treated with the Presto, Symbiosis and WakeUP. The yield range is just 32 bushels.

If you have questions about this field trial, let us know... please email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 The photo below shows corn rows as of Sept. 9.  Stalks are mostly green; husks have turned white. There's some invasion of fungal disease but nothing ever got serious. Stalks remained resilient through harvest with no breakage.

Corn rows in nutrition experiment

In 2014, we switched off our in-furrow treatment on six of twelve control strips of corn, just to measure the yield impact that the in-furrow fertility was giving. This was on a field with fairly low fertility, and only 70 units of nitrogen applied as broadcast ammonium sulfate. The visual difference in corn was clear-cut. And the yield difference across the six pairs of strips averaged 46 bushels per acre. See the actual yield record by downloading this PDF summary. 

The in-furrow blend of nutrients and biologicals applied in 2014 was prescribed by Iowa crop consultant Jerry Scheppele and applied with a squeeze pump. Since then, we've upgraded our planter to be able to "mix and match" in-furrow mixtures with electric pumps. We can now apply two types of in-furrow products side by side, along with a separate 2x2 fertility application delivered through disk openers on our John Deere 6-row plot planter.

The trend among farmers is away from applying fertility with the planter; they don't want anything slowing them down or weighing down the big central-hopper planter. But it wouldn't take much extra time to refill saddle tanks carried on the tractor with an in-furrow mix, and apply the liquid just behind the seed.