Getting the Most out of Your Fertilizer

Jan 23, 2019

Getting the Most out of Your Fertilizer
Stefanie W: Welcome to another episode of planning profits with Jessie Wiant and today we have Ryan Ponwith with, with us.

Ryan Ponwith: Hello everybody, nice to be on here

Jesse Wiant: It's been a while.

Ryan Ponwith: It has been awhile.

Jesse Wiant: Ryan, today, let's just talk a little bit about fertilizer, more specifically maybe some of the specialty type products that UFC has got. How and when to use them, when to replace our old commercial type products and what they bring to an operation that the growers not currently experiencing. With that start with what your role is at UFC, I think most people that are are listening know you or know of you at least, but maybe just touch on that.

Ryan Ponwith: Yeah. So my role here at UFC, I guess backing up a little bit, I was an agronomist salesperson for quite a while, started at UFC in 2012. Two and a half years ago, I transitioned from a pure sales role into a sales management position, technically called the agronomy sales manager. My role and responsibility of doing that, is working with our agronomist and salespeople here at UFC in the agronomy department to make sure that we're providing the most value and agronomic advice and services, as well as sound products to our customers to bring value to their lives. To do our part, to help our customers be as profitable and as efficient out in their operation as possible.

Jesse Wiant: For most of the listeners, they're probably aware of some of the products that UFC uses. The last couple of years we've had access or availability to some, what I would consider more of a specialty type products like Microessentials and Aspire. Let's start with Microessentials. Give us a rundown of what Microessentials is, Ryan.

Ryan Ponwith:So Microessentials is the brand name that's carried by the fertilizer company Mosaic. Under that brand, they have a couple of different options in the Microessentials household. The option that we tend to run here at UFC is Microessentials SZ. The SZ stands for sulfur and zinc, at the end of that. We started to carry Microessentials, I worked with some of the first producers that used it here at UFC, back in 2015. We did some side by sides and trials and saw some very positive results on that. So looking at what Microessentials is; Microessentials is a MAP based phosphate product that also incorporates sulfur and zinc into each granule. The process of doing so is actually pretty unique, I got to witness that done in Florida where it's made, South of Tampa to see how they do that process. So you think about other fertilizers that are value added, where you're trying to incorporate different elements into a product already made. They grind it up and compress it. This is actually more than that, in my opinion, hearing the story on how they chemically and ,to better state, that formulate that product, so you've got a homogeneous mix of the MAP based phosphorous as well as sulfur and zinc.

Jesse Wiant: What I think is interesting about MEZ or Microessentials is how they found it. Basically what happened, is with all the phosphorus being mined in Florida,in this case. The product of the mono-ammonium phosphate that was being produced was pretty low. What they were able to do is actually add the zinc and the sulfur component to a lower quality map to begin with to produce an even better product, because you are getting the zinc and the sulfur on every granule. So it's kind of funny how, you stumble upon something like this and now it's a billion dollar product basically. So, you touched a little bit on some of the advantages. I look at some of the growers that maybe don't have access or availability on their planter for liquid starter, or even zinc for that matter, to be carried in that liquid starter. To me, that makes a lot of sense to use a product like Microessentials SZ, where you're getting that zinc out there and it's not the old zinc sulfate, at 8 to 10 pounds an acre, where you've got a pebble here, a pebble there and then you got one across the room, right? I mean, with the Microessentials SZ, you're getting that same analysis on every granule.

Ryan Ponwith: You're spot on there. So, when you think about the distribution that we used to do when we would apply elemental sulfur or a zinc sulfate type of product, you're putting pretty low rates. A lot of times from 15 to maybe 30 pounds of actual product out there. Your distribution and coverage, in my opinion, is a little lack luster. At the time it was great because that's what we had to work with. When you look at the distribution, you can take that amount of nutrients that you're getting in those two separate products, incorporate that into your monoammonium phosphate or your MAP product all in one. Instead of putting 20 to 35 pounds of product out there, you may be putting on 200 pounds of Microessentials, your coverage and distribution is exponentially better, making sure that each one of those plants has access to those nutrients instead of maybe one out of every four or five plants at best.

Jesse Wiant: I think that's the one thing that to me, typically Microessentials, from a price standpoint, is a little bit higher, but once you do the math and figure out pound for pound what you're getting, out of say 100 pounds of map versus 100 pounds of Microessentials, in most cases, it's a no brainer to use Microessentials from the placement alone. I know this summer when we had Dr Fred Below here, that was one of the products and he wasn't trying to plug a product, but he said from a nutrient placement standpoint. A lot of what he's doing is in the strip till, so placing that product right below the seed. But just to have that even distribution, have a zinc sulfate, the phosphorus component from there as well, to have that even across that whole acre versus, the old spreading pattern. It makes so much sense from an agronomic standpoint

Ryan Ponwith: To compound on top of that. When you think about, the sulfur component of Microessentials for a minute here. In the days where we used just straight elemental sulfur to address our sulfur or needs in whatever crop we were trying to address, that granule of sulfur was the same size or very, very close to what a Microessentials granular is. When you think about elemental software, you're practically looking at a rock, right? You have to mineralize, you have to weather that down, to make it available to that crop into the sulfate form. That takes a long time to do that conversion. I know the way I was always taught was if you put 100 pounds of elemental sulfur down, the typical except the breakdown of that is, you'll a third in the first year you apply it, a third of that the second year and third the third year because of how long it takes to weather down that granule and turn that into sulfate, which is a usable form. What happens in Microessentials is the portion of sulfur you're getting in there, half of that sulfur is an elemental base sulfur, so you're getting that extended breakdown. What I like about that, is the grind is so fine on that, when you think about breaking down a rock, what's the best way to do that? More surface area, so rather than taking that pebble that's the same size as any other fertilizer granule, you're pulverizing that down and incorporating that chemically into your Microessentials granule. I forget what the exact math is, but I'm going to call it for easy math 10 X, maybe even 20 x. The amount of surface area you're getting out of the same amount of sulfur means that elemental sulfur you're getting out of that application, and Mosaic has the data to the back this, that says that elemental sulfur is all available the first year. Now the bonus on that is the other half of the sulfur you’re getting in that application, is a sulfate-based sulfur; readily available. So you're looking at a big spike right away for that plant and you've also got the elemental portion of that which is going to elongate your window for availability.

Jesse Wiant: So to sum up the Microessentials versus MAP talk, when would you use Microessentials versus MAP?

Ryan Ponwith: So you hit on it, Microessentials is going to be a premium product in regards to value. It's also a premium product in regards to price, so how I typically make a recommendation, not saying it's right. This is my take on it. I take a look at what my needs are for sulfur and zinc on that acre and back figure how much Microessentials it takes to satisfy that recommendation. So say for today's math, that's 150 pounds of product, but my phosphorous recommendation calls for 225 pounds. So rather than, again, everyone gets a different take at this, but rather than to make the investment and dissatisfying that whole phosphorus recommendation. With Microessentials, I look at satisfying my sulfur or zinc requirement with that product and if I've got a bigger spread in regards to how much phosphate I got to get out on that field, I'll supplement that with MAP, that's a more economical version of just phosphorous. So I'll make a blend of those two products to satisfy my phosphate, my sulfur and my zinc requirements. That's maximizing, in my opinion, the value you're getting out of the product, at the same time being economically sound in regards to how you're satisfying all of you nutrient requirements.

Jesse Wiant:So Mosaic has another product that UFC carries called Aspire. Ryan, touched on what Aspire is.

Ryan Ponwith: Aspire is a product that's derived from potash. So when you think about potash in our trade area, every crop that we plant around here and harvest, utilizes a significant amount of potash per acre. One of the biggest users of potash is going to be a legume crops. So one of those is soybeans and another big one is alfalfa. When you look at what it takes to make an alfalfa plant, or an alfalfa acre, profitable and efficient, it also takes a significant amount of boron to help those legumes complete the processes they have to do throughout their life cycle. So when I look at the boron demands of a legume plant, specifically alfalfa, it takes a significant amount of that element in order to make that plant efficient at what it's trying to do. How we traditionally handled that, is through an application of borate, which has been a pretty effective way to get that demand curve of that plant met. When we think about that though, we're not putting a whole lot of product on. It's similar to the Microessentials conversation in regards to coverage, distribution, and making sure that every one of those plants gets what it needs. When we look at what Aspire is going bring, Aspire is going to bring that boron component into the potash. You're going to get a significantly more even distribution, making sure all those alfalfa plants are getting covered. Rather than putting on 20 to 25 pounds of product, now we're putting on 300 pounds of Aspire and we're adequately applying our potash needs as well as our boron needs, all in the same product. The thing again, I'm most high on there is getting the best coverage.

Jesse Wiant:So I would second that from the distribution aspect of using Aspire, but also when we think of Boron as a soil applied product versus a foliar feeding, like you mentioned, borate is a very leachable within our soil. It can actually leach more or faster than nitrate itself. When we look at doing something like this, what I like about it, from the distribution standpoint of getting that boron to every plant throughout the field, like specifically in alfalfa, more often than not we're taking first cutting and then getting that alfalfa spread. The nice thing is, we've got boron readily available for second crop uptake, but then we've also got that slow release boron throughout the rest of the year. Two things, you get the placement and then you're also getting the season long release of Boron. Well and then potash component as well. It just makes a lot of sense, whether we're looking at a, like you said, Ryan, the legume aspect of what we're planting whether it's soybeans or alfalfa or even the high yield corn situations. Typically we see corn, when we were pulling tissue samples at V5, we see corn maybe responsive to deficient in boron at that time. I'm not so certain we really need a lot of boron at that time to fulfill that crops need. It's more at Tassel time when we really need that. The data from the tissue samples would second that and using a product like Aspire where we're really trying to drive yields. I think that's where that Boron is really going to make a lot of sense.

Ryan Ponwith: So I'd have to agree with that. You think about, what Jesse talked about in applying boron to a corn crop, if you're growing 175 to maybe 200 bushel corn, probably not one of your lowest days in the whiskey barrel, like I say. It's not your limiting factor, but when you start to push into that to 225 to 230 bushel corn area, now you're talking that Boron may start to become a bigger factor in regards to moving to the next 20 Bushel yield. So what is Boron doing in the corn plant? You talked about having it be important around pollination to tassel time. So I think two things, from my viewpoint on boron, it's really important in pollen tube formation. I usually use the metaphor that it's like a lubricant for the pollen tube. It's making that plant so it can pollinate quicker, faster and to make sure that we make sure we get every kernel. The other thing that it's doing. I also used the metaphor (I like to use a lot of metaphors) that boron is the crossing guard on that corn plant. So if you think, getting a lesion on that leaf, when that vein in the leaf, when those nutrients and energy is transferring back and forth, it has no way to cross across cell membranes. Boron is almost that crossing guard is what I like to call it, moving nutrients and energy across cell membranes to help them. It's making a detour from one band to the next to make sure we can be as efficient as possible in that corn plant.

Jesse Wiant: So we've touched on, when to when to use Aspire in place of potash, the high yield crops, especially in alfalfa. Let's jump into the last product we want to cover here, ESN. So maybe touch on what ESN is, explain what it stands for and therefore.

Ryan Ponwith: Oh nitrogen, I love to talk about nitrogen because everyone's got an opinion, right? So ESN, so the definition of that is environmentally smart nitrogen. So in a nutshell, what you're doing with ESN, is you're taking a prill of urea, one granule of urea and putting a coating on that, that delays the release to the soil. That delay is dependent on time, temperature, and moisture. So I'll talk about how we traditional use it here at UFC, We use that in place of a side dress application. So when you think about a side dress or a top dress application, you're doing that in the first week of June, give or take a week depending on your operation. So you think about a side dress or a top dress application. Traditionally that's done around the first week of June, give or take a week. What happens at point in time? It's either really dry, I'm not sure if we're going to get that top dresser side dress to work, or more importantly, in our neck of the woods, it's probably wet. It's questionable if we can get into the field or not, have we lost too much nitrogen, might be spraying as well. You might have narrow rows, that window to get assigned top dress in there Is pretty tight, especially if mother nature's against you. Where we like to use ESN, is in place of that. I'll use easy math, so you're going to put 200 pounds of nitrogen on, our standard recommendation is 25 to 30 percent of that nitrogen put on is ESN, so if we're going to use 25 percent, we'll put 50 pounds of that on with ESN and 150 pounds of nitrogen on then with urea. That allows us to have enough nitrogen upfront, readily available. We know that's there. We've also got that last 50 pounds of nitrogen, which we count as a side dress that's delayed. When you do the math and think about how that coating is applied, that 25 percent blend of ESN will come into play six to seven weeks on average, assuming good growing conditions, I call it 70 degrees, decent moisture, not too dry, but yet not saturated and time. That gives us a six to seven week breakdown window. That's also about the time that we are making those top or side dress applications. So by going this route, you're eliminating the risk of kind of, can I get in the field or not? Is it too wet? Am I going to get a rain after I do my top dress? Is it too dry? Am I wasting my money on that application? Have my rows closed up? Am I spraying because weeds have to be the primary at that point in time? I think it's a great, simple fit that's going to address all those issues that we run in to on a year to year basis with top dress or side dress applications.

Jesse Wiant: And I think one added benefit, anytime I have a conversation with a grower about ESN, it's typically like how do you know when it's going to release? Is it going to release soon enough? Well, as we look at some of the products that are out there on the market, like a Y-drop system, right, that's targeting maybe tassel time corn and if our ESN hasn't released by then, then we're not going to have very good corn crop because that means that we're either lacking moisture or a lacking heat, right? So I think from being able to replicate a year over a year, the results of using ESN, I think it's a no-brainer from, like what you say, the standpoint of trying to replace or supplement that crop later throughout the year as it gives us that nice slow release nitrogen to take up in a different timeframes or growth stages.

Ryan Ponwith: So let's talk about cost a little bit. So in today's economic environment, there's a lot of focus on making sure that we're getting the return on investment, on the investments that we're making in our crop as well as other areas of an operation. So one indirect reason that we decided to choose that 25 to 30 percent blend, not only agronomically, but also economically, every time I've done the math on that kind of a blend between 160 and 200 pounds of nitrogen, it works out to be within a buck one way or the other of what it costs to go out there and make a top or side dress application, almost always. So your cost in the long run is the same. So you're getting an agronomic benefit of a top dress or side dress application, reducing that risk from an environmental standpoint.

Jesse Wiant: Well you're reducing the risk just from being able to get back into the field too, whether it's too wet or the rows close up or something like that too. There's definitely multiple benefits to any of these products we talked about. Just to recap the Mosaic products, starting with Microessentials what we talked about there; distribution of nutrients, extended uptake of sulfur throughout the season and focusing on the high yielding crops is really where those products fit. Jump into Aspire; a potash based product with boron. Two forms of boron, for readily available boron and then season long boron as well. Also distribution there, right? You're getting the boron and on every granule same analysis on every granule. And again, the high yield crops is where these products really fit in, where the management is not just plant the corn, kill weeds and wait til harvest. It's where we're really trying to push and drive yields. Same goes for the ESN, Ryan, you said side dress and top dress replacement. You're able to blend it with your urea, so it's not like you're 100 percent of your nitrogen is coming from a slow release product. Then also the slow release component of that, right? So we're getting a season long uptake of that corn plant. I think those are the real key takeaways of these three products we talked about here today.

Ryan Ponwith: So we talked about three value added in my opinion, that's what I like to call them, products. I think there's one more thing that I'd almost call it product and that's our ability here to make custom blends of every one of these products, with a unique recommendation per field. You've got fields that need to have more phosphorous than others. We can supplement MAP into that blend in place of all the Microessentials trying to manage your cost. At the same time, we can take these products, make the blend that you need from a nutrition standpoint. We looked at applying ESN into that blend. Maybe there's such a thing where we put instinct on the rest of that urea. We're trying to do what's environmentally sound, as well as agronomically and economically, to get you the biggest ROI on your investment in your operation. At the same time, being environmentally respectful as well.

Jesse Wiant: I think that sums it up pretty well. Thanks for your time, Ryan. I hope you learned a lot about these products and I hope the listeners, if they've got questions, reach out to their FSA and ask more.

Ryan Ponwith: Thanks for the opportunity. I look forward to coming back soon.

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