Corn + Soybean Digest

Use Data to Improve Fertilizer Efficiency

By David Hest
December 2015
Iowa farmer aims to use data and predictive models to improve fertilizer efficiency and profitability.

Think Different
Iowa farmer Ben Riensche is revamping his 2016 corn fertility program to improve efficiency. Steps will include:

  • More in-season nitrogen applications
  • Prescription phosphorus and potassium applications based on soil productivity
  • Adding a self-propelled dry nutrient spinner spreader to boost application capacity


Ben w/Fertilizer Spreader

Iowa farmer Ben Riensche hopes to save 10% on nitrogen costs in 2016 with a diversified application strategy harnessing precision fertilizer application capabilities of a new John Deere R4045 applicator.

Ben Riensche shifted attention from volume to efficiency as the era of $7 corn has closed.

“We have been through a charmed period when everything worked pretty easy,” says Riensche, Jesup, Iowa. “Our focus was on raising more grain, not farming our acres the most efficiently. Now, with $3/bushel corn, margins are grim and it is time to sharpen our farming spear.”

With land and fertilizer costs in the top two positions in 2016 crop budgets, both are getting lots of attention as Riensche plans for next year’s crop.

“We clearly need to reduce land costs,” he says. That’s meant some tough negotiations with landlords to get them to understand the challenge of tighter margins and have realistic expectations of what land is worth.

As for spear-sharpening on the crop input side, fertilizer efficiency – growing top yields with least amount of fertilizer possible – is the main target.

Feed crops when they need it

After relying primarily on blanket applications of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium during his operation’s rapid growth phase, Riensche is planning variable-rate and just-in-time nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium applications on half or more of his acres in 2016.

“We can either put on less overall nutrients, cut our bill and hopefully raise the same size crop, or put on the same amount of nutrients and get a better crop,” he adds. “That’s what we are looking at,” says Riensche.