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  • Writer's picturePrecision Ag Reviews

Precision Profile: Applying Proven and Promising Nutrient Management Tools Combats Rising Input Cost

Name: Kent Klinefelter

Farm: KBK Farms

Location: Nokomis, Ill.

Size: 2,050 acres

Crops Grown: Corn, Soybeans and Wheat

Valuable Tech Tools: Trimble Ag Software; Precision Planting; Conceal, 20I20 Gen 2, DeltaForce, RowFlow, vSet, vDrive; Keeton Seed Firmers,

Precision Pain Point: Stretching My Fertilizer Investment with more Precise Placement of Applied Nutrients

Applying Proven and Promising Nutrient Management Tools Combats Rising Input Costs

Nokomis, Illinois, farmer Kent Klinefelter has never been afraid to take risks, especially if he believes there is evidence of a measurable, sustainable reward.

With commercial fertilizer prices continuing to trend upward, Klinefelter has been able to increase input efficiency on KBK Farms with the recent adoption of advanced application technology that delivered a 100% return on investment the first year. He hopes to further stretch his fertilizer dollar with calculated investment in promising alternatives to traditional commercial applications.

“The price of anhydrous has gone from $530 a ton last spring to more than $1,500 this year and I think the next big opportunity to be more economic with managing nutrients in ag, and on our farm, is going to be broader use of biological products,” he says. “We have such ability to collect and crunch data today, that I believe the perception is changing on the value of biologicals.”

Insurance Policy

In 2022, Klinefelter is adapting the fertility program on the 2,050 acre corn and soybean operation to include applications of PivotBio’s Proven 40, Sound Agriculture’s Source and Terrasym NewLeaf Symbiotics. All of which are alternatives to synthetic nitrogen (N) and have the ability to enhance plant availability of phosphorus.

Traditionally, Klinefelter split-applies N, including 150-175 pounds per acre of custom-applied fall or spring anhydrous and then a comprehensive liquid package applied at planting.

The Proven 40 product is designed to replace up to 40 pounds per acre of synthetic N. While Klinefelter plans to variable-rate apply the biological in-furrow on 950 acres during corn planting, he’s only cutting his synthetic N rates by about 20 pounds per acre.

“We’ve learned that if the weather cooperates, we can get down to 0.66 pounds of nitrogen per bushel, when the state recommendations are closer to 1.2 pounds per acre,” he says. “So our goal is not just to reduce our cost per bushel, but it’s more of an insurance policy. We’re still applying less nitrogen and combining it with the biological product.

“I’m not nearly as worried about the price as I am about costly applied nutrients disappearing off my fields if we get a heavy rain after planting. We’re hoping the biological application will make that nitrogen more available throughout the growing season.”

The Source product will be a foliar application on 450 acres of corn at V4-V5 stage combined with an herbicide pass. It will also be sprayed on 366 acres of soybeans in conjunction with an in-season fungicide pass.

Klinefelter also plans to conduct strip trials, applying two of the products to the same acreage to assess any synergistic effect between the products and their different modes of action. After harvest, Klinefelter plans to assess yield data collected and stored in his Trimble Ag Software (formerly ConnectedFarm) software and decide how the biologicals fit into the farm’s future nutrient management strategy.

“Throughout the growing season, we’ll chop some corn stalks and do some testing to see how much nitrogen was in the plant,” he says. “If we like what we see in the field and on the yield monitor, we might further reduce our nitrogen rate in the future.”

Placement Payback

If the baseline data for the biologicals is promising, it could complement the proven ROI Klinefelter has seen from recently adopted application technology. In 2018, he added Precision Planting’s Conceal product to their 36-row John Deere DB60 planter for 20-inch corn. The tool is a combination gauge wheel, knife attachment that bands fertilizer 2½ inches away from the seedbed on each side.

With close to $100,000 in Precision Planting technology already on the planter including DeltaForce row-by-row downforce control, RowFlow swath control and vDrive electric drive system, Klinefelter saw more precise placement of nutrients in narrow-row corn as the next logical step.

“I like the efficiency of a 20-inch system and knowing that 90% of a corn plant’s root surface is in a 7-inch-by-7-inch box around the seed, it made sense to make sure we were applying our fertilizer in that area,” he says. “It’s the confidence of knowing that I’m putting those nutrients within a couple inches of the seed and as long as I don’t compact that area, those emerging plants won’t be hunting for food.”

Klinefelter makes two applications with the planter. The first is an in-furrow, food-grade liquid starter package that includes 9 pounds per acre of phosphorus, 1½ pounds of potash, 4 pounds of an N pop-up (8-19-3), a Micro-Pak blend and a half-rate of insecticide, placed with Keeton Seed Firmers. The Conceal system applies an additional blend of 28% N, 10-34-0 and ammonium thiosulfate banded three-quarters-to-1¼-inches deep on either side of the row.

He invested a total of $25,200 to outfit the planter with the Conceal system ($700 per row) and says they had a 100 % return on investment the first year. “Especially in our lighter, thinner soils, we are seeing a 7-12 bushel-per-acre increase in corn yields. At $5 per bushel, that’s about $50 per acre and across 1,000 acres, that’s $50,000.”

Another less tangible return, was a reduction in replant acres, which Klinefelter attributed to better retention of banded nutrients in the soil.

While the bottom-line benefits have so far validated the recent investments in nutrient management tools, Klinefelter says the calculated risks need to produce rewards beneath the soil surface, not just above it.

“We’re trying to advance soil health principles on our farm and it’s not just a catchphrase,” he says. “My father was the first farmer to try no-till in our county about 55 years ago and we’ve seen incremental improvement in our soil health since I was a kid. It’s a big part of our farm’s philosophy, and the decisions we make for the future.”

3 Precision Dealer Tech Tips to Prepare for Planting

In addition to managing the family farm, Kent Klinefelter is the founder of Linco-Precision LLC, a precision ag and fertilizer equipment dealership in El Paso, Ill. Working extensively with customers on planter set-ups and maximizing their investment in ag technology, he offers 3 tips to prepare for planting and improve your precision return on investment.

Get more timely tips on how to proactively prepare for spring planting with the all new Precision Ag Reviews eGuide “25 Proven Practices to Maximize Planter Technology ROI.” coming out next week.

  1. When you have RTK steering, develop A-B guidance lines for boundaries and lines in the field and save them year to year. The advantage is if you know where your planter rows are going to be in advance, you don’t have to reset them every time you go to the field. You can also use these same lines for a sprayer pass or to make other nutrient management passes after planting.

  2. Most RTK receivers are collecting topographic data that can be extremely valuable, especially when faced with the economic choice of investing in additional acres or pattern tiling existing acres. “About 300 acres of family-owned land near our farm became available, and ended up selling for $14,400 per acre,” Klinefelter explains. “Rather than bid on the land, we invested about $450 per acre to tile 320 acres of our farm with our own tiling equipment. I’m convinced the ROI of tiling was a lot higher than spending the same amount on 10 acres.”

  3. We service planter meters and one year we did 1,400 meters for customers. Today, we’re down to about 600 per year. It’s one of the best ROI’s on the farm. At the prices of crops today, it’s 1,200-1,400% ROI on having planter meters checked. “Had a customer with finger meters who two years in a row had a seed bag string wrapped around one of his meters,” Klinefelter says. “His monitor didn’t sense the problem, so investing $35 per meter for 16 meters, he got more than 600% ROI just fixing that one row.”

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