Are 2x2 starter fertilizer programs profitable in soybeans?

On-farm research results from 2021 and 2022 show that 2x2 starter fertilizers decreased net income more often than they increased it.

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

Some Michigan soybean producers want to increase soybean yield and net income by applying fertilizer in a 2x2 band at planting—2 inches to the side of the seed furrow and 2 inches below the seed. Narrow profit margins make it critical for these producers to know for sure if their starter fertilizer program is making them money or costing them money. Because of this, the Michigan Soybean On-Farm Research Program provided producers an opportunity to evaluate the effect of their specific 2x2 starter fertilizer program on yield and income in replicated strips.

Ten soybean producers from across Michigan did this in 2021 and 2022 as part of the Michigan Soybean On-Farm Research Program, a partnership between Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Soybean Committee designed to help farmers evaluate management practices, products and equipment. The 10 cooperating producers compared their existing 2x2 starter fertilizer program (fertilizer analysis and application rate) to a no-starter control.

The 2x2 starter fertilizer programs increased soybean yield by an average of 2.7 bushels per acre at three of the 10 locations. The yields in the other seven sites were not affected by the addition of the 2x2 starter fertilizer. The 2x2 starter fertilizer was profitable at two of the responsive sites. However, the added income generated by the starter was only $4.50 per acre while the cost of the fertilizer programs ranged from $35 to $42 per acre at these sites. The seven unresponsive sites were not profitable with the losses averaging $30 per acre and ranging from $11 to $68 per acre. A detailed summary of the 2021 to 2022 2x2 starter fertilizer results is available in the 2022 Michigan Soybean On-Farm Research Report.

The keys to profitable soybean nutrient management are regular soil sampling, applying ag lime when recommended, maintaining phosphorus and potassium soil test levels in the maintenance range and identifying and correcting manganese deficiency early.

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

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