Corn School: Zone Banding Helps Manage Phosphorus Run-off


Talk of banding versus broadcasting nutrients is likely to become a much bigger conversation as Ontario works to reduce the impact farm phosphorous on the Great Lakes.

In this Corn School episode, Purdue University professor Tony Vyn offers insights on why he feels farmers should consider banding nutrients as apposed to broadcasting. While attending the Ontario Certified Crop Advisors meeting last month, Vyn also addressed questions on how smaller farmers, those who farm 500 to 800 acres, can make this management approach more affordable for their operations.

Overall, Vyn believes applying nutrients in a band beside the root zone can improve nutrient efficiency and reduce nutrient losses to the environment. It also increases application accuracy and contributes to increased crop yields.

Vyn feels farmers should consider banding fields with low soil test P and K or fields that show high levels of nutrient stratification. Fields with steeper slopes that are close to streams should also top the list. “A deep banding approach should be considered whenever there is an environmental concern about losses of dissolved phosphorus from broadcast applied fertilizer to water sources,” says Vyn.

It’s also important to place the band at a depth where it will not have a detrimental impact of the crop’s early growth. Vyn’s research in this area is ongoing, but says bands can range from shallow (2” to 3” below the surface) to deep bands at 6” or lower. Deep applications tend to be most beneficial in dry soil conditions. When it comes to timing, Vyn recommends banding P and K in the fall and spring applications for N.

Vyn acknowledged that equipment and technology needs for banding application could prove cost prohibitive for smaller farms, but he does believe it could be affordable if they are prepared to make strip till their only system for row crops. “It’s not affordable if strip tillage is adopted from the standpoint of being yet another tillage option for that farm,” says Vyn.

If farmers and the industry are concerned about phosphorus run-off, the case for banding gains significant strength, argues Vyn. “It provides an opportunity to have an immediate incorporation occur that ensures contact of that phosphorus fertilizer directly with soil particles rather than having them just laying on the surface and being susceptible to high run-off activity.”

Vyn also believes there’s an opportunity for smaller farmers to rely on custom operators who offer banding services. To make it economical the custom operator must also “create those bermed or tilled zones” during the same field pass. “That would enable direct planting in the spring. Then it’s something a smaller farmer can do the economics on and consider it as one of their options,” says Vyn.

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