Brian Hind opts for variable fertiliser applications

Writing this at 10pm on 28 January, Kansas is still very much gripped by drought. It is 19C, we ate our supper with the windows open and a warm breeze blowing through the house.

The 80% chance of rain the weather service forecast Saturday night barely settled the dust. Ordinarily this time of year the last thing we would want is rain with the outwintered cattle, but it was very disappointing Sunday morning to find once again the front came through dry.

The long-range models forecast the drought to persist or intensify through to at least late April in Kansas.

This winter I have tried something new to our area, grid sampling. Our local elevator (a large co-op grain store) was sold last summer and I was not happy about losing local control to “outsiders”, but this change has brought new services we never had before, among them variable-rate fertiliser application.

I had 260 acres (105ha) sampled on 2.5 acre grids (1ha). This is a four-year plan, with the cost of the sampling $9 per acre (£5.73). The test results were somewhat surprising and showed that overall, I needed much less lime than I thought.

Our soils tend to be high in K, even so one area of about 10 acres (4ha) was very short on K. Phosphate was highly variable throughout, with most of the ground needing at least a little. Zinc was needed on almost all of the land sampled.

I hope this new service will greatly improve the bang for my fertiliser dollar and could be a much-improved practice over the standard “shotgun” approach.

I’ve had several emails from readers asking about the condition of the Kansas wheat crop. As of now, USDA rates Kansas winter wheat at 14% very poor, 25% poor, 41% fair, 19% good, and 1% excellent. Moisture in February and March could bring much of this wheat ahead one or two categories. If it stays dry conditions will certainly deteriorate further.

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