Like a teacher giving each student individual attention so they reach their full potential, University of Illinois researcher and crop physiologist Fred Below thinks it’s important to place nutrients so each and every corn plant can easily access them.

“The plants sense the nutrient supply early on and they make irrevocable growth decisions. When a corn plant is left behind, it never catches up and that impacts overall yields,” said Below. “To get the highest yields, corn plants have to grow at a fast pace right from the start.”

Banding of nutrients is key, according to Below, and strip-tillage offers a way to do that in a minimum-till system. “Using RTK (GPS precision placement) to band nutrients right under the row in strip tillage optimizes nutrient placement. You want to place nutrients into the soil where plants can take advantage of them,” he said. His trials have shown a 14 to17 bushel-per-acre corn yield increase with banding nutrients compared to broadcasting them.

Plains Grain & Agronomy (PGAg), Enderlin, N.D., is a big proponent of strip-tillage with variable rate placement of nutrients in the root zone. In its research plots, strip-tillage has out-yielded conventionally-tilled corn by more than 15 bushel per acre.

“We’ve seen huge benefits from strip tillage including water conservation, fertility placement, seedbed preparation and breaking up compaction,” said Travis Messer, agronomist and precision ag manager for PGAg. “These things enhance the plants’ potential to reach water and nutrients. We want the fertilizer in a reachable location. Corn roots don’t grow up or straight out, they grow down. Placing fertility in the zone where the crop is actually planted makes nutrients accessible because roots grow right through the fertility zone to reach water.”

Messer added, “Fertilizer is farmers’ most expensive crop input so we are very focused on fertilizer placement. We want to help our customers do their fertility right so they get more bushels in their grain bin at the end of the year.”