Are in-furrow/pop-up starter fertilizer programs profitable in soybeans?

Learn if your specific soybean in-furrow/pop-up fertilizer program is profitable by conducting a trial with the Michigan Soybean On-Farm Research Program in 2024.

A soybean planter planting soybeans in a field.
Planter equipped to apply starter fertilizer. Photo by Mike Staton, MSU Extension.

Some Michigan soybean producers want to increase soybean yield and income by applying fertilizer in the seed furrow at planting. The tight profit margins predicted for 2024 make it critical for these producers to know for sure if their in-furrow starter fertilizer program is making them money or costing them money. Because of this, the Michigan Soybean On-Farm Research Program, a partnership between Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Soybean Committee is providing producers an opportunity to evaluate the effect of their specific in-furrow starter fertilizer program on yield and income.

Three soybean producers from across Michigan took advantage of this opportunity in 2023. The three cooperating producers compared their existing starter fertilizer program (fertilizer analysis and application rate) to a no-starter control in replicated strips.

In 2023, the in-furrow starter fertilizer programs did not increase soybean yield at any of the sites and the fertilizer costs ranged from $14 to $44 per acre. Because of this, the sites were not profitable with losses ranging from $1 to $44 per acre and averaging $20 per acre. A detailed summary of the 2023 in-furrow starter fertilizer results is available in the 2023 Michigan Soybean On-Farm Research Report.

Because of this information and the tight profit margins, I encourage every soybean producer planning to apply in-furrow fertilizer to soybeans to work with the Michigan Soybean On-Farm Research program in 2024.

Establishing the in-furrow starter versus no starter treatments is as easy as turning the pump off in every other planter pass or round when using planters equipped with hydraulic pumps. We recommend planting six strips of each treatment to reduce the influence of soil variability on the results.

Gathering the yield data at harvest is also easy when using a well-calibrated yield monitor. Participating producers can record and provide the average yield from each strip or share their harvest data files for the field. MSU Extension staff will use proven statistical procedures to determine how the in-furrow starter fertilizer affected yield and income.

Conducting this trial is an easy, accurate and confidential way for producers to learn if their current soybean in-furrow starter fertilizer program is profitable. Producers planning to apply in-furrow starter fertilizer to soybeans in 2024 are encouraged to conduct at least one of these trials on their farm. If you are interested in conducting an in-furrow starter fertilizer trial on your farm, contact Mike Staton at 269-355-3376 or

This article was produced by a partnership between Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Soybean Committee.

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