Nutrients Needed for Crops

Fertilizer applications put required nutrients back into the soil.

Why do farmers use fertilizers on their farm fields?

Soils matter for growing corn and soybeans. Farmers need healthy soils to produce healthy crops. In order to create healthy soils, farmers use a variety of fertilizers to build up nutrients in their soils.

Fertilizers contain plant nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Having been around since the beginning of agriculture, fertilizers are simply plant nutrients applied to farm fields to supplement required elements found naturally in the soil.

By testing their soil, farmers know which nutrients and how much to apply to the soil. If too little is added, crops will not produce as much as they should. If too much is added, excess nutrients will run off fields.

So farmers must be careful to use the right amount at the right time and the right source at the right place – known as the 4 R’s of effective and efficient use of fertilizer products. Today’s tight farm margins leave no room for error or overspending of fertilizer. Yet a lack of one nutrient might cause susceptibility to diseases like molds or fungus.

There are various forms of fertilizer, including livestock manure, and commercial fertilizers.  The commercially manufactured fertilizers can be granular or dry, or in liquid, or gas forms.

Reid Anderson, CHS Operator, spreads fertilizer.
He likes the company’s new John Deere fertilizer spreader which he used to apply granular fertilizer to thousands of farmland acres. This particular day he was applying potash and monoammonium phosphate for a farm customer.


How are fertilizers applied?

Many farmers have their fertilizer custom applied by companies who specialize in selling the fertilizer products. Farmers work with crop specialists to determine what nutrients need to be added to the soils.

“Farmers can’t afford to have all the equipment needed for fertilizer applications,” said Erich Turk, machine operator with Conserv FS. “We specialize in applying it properly and the way a farmer wants it done.”

Turk operates TerraGator and RoGator AGCO machines, called floaters (floats across fields and minimizes compaction with their three or four large wheels). This spring he was using the TerraGator to apply liquid nitrogen with a pre-emerge corn herbicide on some fields.

In another field, Reid Anderson with CHS was applying granular fertilizer with the company’s John Deere fertilizer spreader. In this particular field he was spreading potash and monoammonium phosphate.

Many of the fertilizer rigs can be converted for both liquid and granular applications. Today the rigs are equipped with GPS technology to precisely apply flat or variable rates of fertilizer and to drive their machines with auto steer capabilities.

Once the crop is growing it may need some additional fertilizer, like nitrogen, to help with growth and yield. The field applicators tower above the plants to apply the needed fertilizer.


Erich Turk, Conserv FS Operator, applies nitrogen.
The wet, cool spring set back fertilizer applications for Erich Turk with Conserv FS. He ran the company’s TerraGator when weather and field conditions were right, prior to planting. On this day he was applying liquid nitrogen with a pre-plant corn herbicide to a farmer’s field. Erich operates this rig, plus a RoGator for FS.


This TerraGator floater has a 90-foot boom for spraying liquid fertilizer. The Conserv FS machine is GPS guided for fertilizer rate applications and has auto steer capabilities.