Don’t Make Your Crops Stretch—Use a Starter Fertilizer to Promote Early-Season Growth

Holly Thrasher

Apr 14, 2020

When you plant this spring, there’s a strong possibility that the seeds in your fields won’t have quick and easy access to everything they need to get off to a strong, healthy start.

While some nutrients like nitrogen and sulfur can move freely through your soil, many other essential nutrients—phosphorus and potassium, for example, and micronutrients such as zinc—are immobile and need to be placed as close as possible to the root zone for the plant to take full advantage of available benefits.

Starter fertilizers can help your crop get off to a strong start

You want your crop to put all of its available energy toward achieving maximum yield potential—not stretching for those vital early-season nutrients. This is where a starter fertilizer can play a significant role in the health of your crop.

By placing a starter fertilizer near your seed, you can set your crop up for a more uniform stand, better emergence in cool, wet soils and aided early growth. 

Research has shown that starter fertilizers can be especially beneficial in no-till or high residue systems, coarse-textured soils and soils that test low for phosphorus.

Want to learn more about early-season growth?

How to determine the right starter fertilizer and placement

One of the most significant steps to selecting the right starter fertilizer for your crops is to determine its salt index—the sum of the nitrogen, potassium and sulfur in your fertilizer source. A 10-34-0 fertilizer, for example, would have a lower salt index than a UAN fertilizer.

Once you’ve determined a product’s salt index, you’ll want to consider your soil type to help determine the proper amount of fertilizer to place close to your seeds without damaging them or inhibiting their growth. 

And no matter what type of soils on which you utilize starter fertilizers, placement in proximity to the seed is key. Those aforementioned immobile nutrients need to be placed close to the root zone, but too much nitrogen or sulfur can have a negative impact on overall germination.

Still have questions? As an FBN member, you can call (605) 223-4224 to chat with a member of our Agronomy team. You can also learn more about starter fertilizer options available through FBN Direct℠ and determine what might work best for your operation.

Take care of your pre-season and in-season management needs with FBN Direct®

You can double down on savings and convenience when you shop for ag chemicals on FBN Direct. Simply buy the crop protection products you need online and get them shipped directly to your farm. It’s just one of many different ways we’re making farming better for farmers.

ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS. It is a violation of federal and state/provincial law to use any pesticide product other than in accordance with its label. The distribution, sale and use of an unregistered pesticide is a violation of federal and/or state law and is strictly prohibited. We do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided on this page or which is provided by us in any form. It is your responsibility to confirm prior to purchase and use that a product is labeled for your specific purposes, including, but not limited to, your target crop or pest and its compatibility with other products in a tank mix.


1. Using Starter Fertilizers in Corn, Grain Sorghum and Soybeans, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Publications

2. How Much Salt Is in the Fertilizer, University of Illinois

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Holly Thrasher

Apr 14, 2020