Equal opportunity for plants — that’s what Glenn Mast and his son, Rodney, say they provide their crops when they band fertilizer under the row.

The Masts, who have a 5,000-acre row crop, catfish, and hogs operation near Columbus, Miss., say banding fertilizer under the bed has worked extremely well for them.

“We’ve been able to cut the P and K rate by 40 percent to 50 percent and still get good yields, not to mention eliminating an extra trip across the field,” says Rodney, who also manages their farm equipment dealership, Black Prairie Tractor and Equipment.

“When you put the fertilizer into the bed, it’s right where the plants need it. It gives every plant an equal opportunity for the nutrients needed for good growth.

“With GPS and minimum till, we’re able to go back and bed in precisely the same place each year, and we believe we’re building up fertility levels in the rooting zone with lower rates than if we were broadcasting.”

Rodney says they’ve seen the practice become widespread over the past 10 years in the Midwest, where they have relatives, and “I don’t understand why it hasn’t been more widely adopted here in the South. As expensive and risky as farming is nowadays, we’ve got to try things that can help us cut costs and be more efficient.

“To that end, banding has worked extremely well for us, but the biggest advantage is in more efficient application rates. Every university study we’ve seen, from Minnesota to Florida, and even in the United Kingdom (where it has become widely-used because of environmental restrictions), has shown the practice is tremendously more efficient and effective.

“In addition to the direct savings for input costs and the reduction in manpower hours, we’ve experienced no yield loss. These advantages, combined with the accuracy that GPS equipment can provide, are among the reasons why almost the entire Midwest has gone to strip-till over the past 10 years.”

GPS has been termed “the killer application” for farmers utilizing no-till/minimum-till and fertilizer banding practices, because its ±1-inch accuracy gives them unparalleled precision in placement of fertilizer and seed.

With their GPS guidance and metering systems, Rodney says, “We get very precise placement and rates. When you run a spreader truck over the field, there are skips and overlaps, and some fertilizer gets slung out into the turnrows. But teaming banding with the GPS technology now available eliminates all that — you can put the fertilizer exactly where it’s supposed to be.

“Everything we plant is on 30-inch rows, except for a bit over half of the soybeans that are solid-seeded, and this really simplifies things from an equipment standpoint. We don’t do any conventional tillage any more, but we do some fall tillage and then plant on the stale seedbed the next spring.”

Glenn, who started farming in Lowndes County in 1987, and Rodney lease 3,000 acres of their land from Weyerhaeuser Paper Company, which has a giant paper mill just down the road. “Most of these black prairie soils aren’t suited for growing trees, but they can be quite productive for crops. “The Weyerhaeuser folks have been good to work with,” Glenn says. “We’ve had a good relationship for many years.

“So much of survival in farming now depends on getting bigger. It’s scary that 5,000 acres isn’t enough any more, that in 10 years we may need 10,000 acres. That’s a lot of management.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com