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Fertilizer vs. Fertility: The difference between a quick fix and long-term farm profitability


In agriculture, it’s easy to focus on quick fixes rather than the bigger picture of soil fertility. At BW Fusion, we’re changing the narrative.

While traditional NPK fertilizer applications can provide a short-term solution for this season’s crop, the impact of this investment only lasts as long as the crop. By taking a new approach with biologicals, growers can get to the root of soil fertility and create long-term, sustainable solutions.

Rather than simply applying nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium season after season, equip your soil with a proven team of microbes to naturally build N, P and K levels—not just this season, but for years to come.

The Strategy Behind the Spend

Over the years, we’ve identified three categories of growers based on their soil fertility strategy. These general examples help illustrate the short-term and long-term differences resulting from various input approaches.

Approach 1: Fast & Furious

These growers have been taught to use plenty of fertilizer early in the season, with the goal of applying enough nutrients to be plant-available late-season when crops need them most. In reality, this creates an overabundance of nutrition early in the season and deficiencies later in the year.

The longer fertilizer exists within the soil, the more nutrients can be tied up in the soil, lowering availability by the day. While nutrient applications are 100% plant-available to start, the plant-available nutrition quickly deteriorates, forcing the other two nutrition pools out of balance. Year after year, you’ll notice the total nutrient pool increasing, while the plant-available nutrient pool continues to decline.

Thinking of the soil’s nutrient availability like a tank of gas in your car, this grower is running on empty—stopping to fill up the tank just enough to make the drive home, but not investing to reach the full capacity.

Approach 2: Hurry Up & Wait

Experienced growers at this level understand the challenge of nutrient availability later in the season and carefully time nutrient applications to tackle this, aiming for greater efficiency. Rather than relying on a one-time fertilizer application for season-long fertility, these growers make a few separate applications throughout the season to boost nutrient levels.

However, this approach has drawbacks, like increased workload and susceptibility to weather conditions. It’s crucial to ensure there’s enough moisture to properly integrate the materials and dissolve the fertilizer so plants can utilize it effectively. This grower sees their nutrient tank is half full and knows they have enough to get through the season if they’re efficient enough.

Approach 3: Slow & Steady

These growers have been focused on soil health, aiming for better consistency with nutrient releases throughout the growing season. The more active the soil biology is, the less growers have to rely on weather conditions to create nutrient availability, as microbes not only make nutrients available, but also facilitate their transportation into the plant, contributing significantly to its growth and health.

Season-long sample analysis shows how microorganisms are performing within the soil and provides real-time insights into nutrient levels and availability. With timely data in hand, this grower keeps their nutrient tank at the optimal level all season, and adding microbes for constant nutrient cycling acts like an oil change along the way.

We have the years of experience and data to prove that soil fertility is not a one-and-done game. While growers don’t have to reach the furthest end of the spectrum with a “slow and steady” approach to be profitable, strategic fertility application is key to maximizing your farm’s profitability.

Fertilizer vs. Fertility

Fertilizer applications don’t always result in true soil fertility improvements.

As we mentioned, soil fertility isn’t just one-and-done; it’s the ongoing composition and availability of nutrients in the soil that can benefit crops year after year. Rather than thinking of soil fertility as a one-time chemical fertilizer application, we understand there is more to fertility than just fertilizer.

While we aren’t opposed to traditional fertilizers, we understand that they aren’t always enough. We recommend supplementing specific nutrients at strategic points in the season based on unique field concerns and soil health indicators.

(Need help identifying your fields’ nutrient needs? Agronomy 365’s in-season soil and tissue sampling is our go-to source for reliable, in-depth data.)

You can see the difference this approach makes in the reports below.

In this report, the Bray test found 23.2 parts per million of extractable phosphorus in the soil. This means the nutrient was tied up with another nutrient, such as aluminum, iron or calcium, and could eventually become plant-available, but it wasn’t readily available at this time. Because of this, Total P H3A, or plant-available phosphorus, was limited to 15.3 parts per million.

In the next field, with the same soil conditions, extractable phosphorus lowered to 11.8 parts per million, helping Total P H3A jump up to 23.3 parts per million—a much more favorable balance for soil fertility.

These reports show how strategic nutrient application throughout the season, rather than letting nutrients get tied up in the soil after a singular early-season application, has a much greater impact on soil fertility.

By changing the strategy behind your soil fertility, you can optimize your fertilizer dollars and maximize your farm’s profitability.

To learn more about how biologicals improve input efficiency for increased profitability, watch our latest webinar.

To learn more about the dollars and cents of BW Fusion biological crop nutrition products, check out this blog highlighting the ROI of our product lineup.