Maximize Early Season Growth to Increase Yield at Harvest

Sponsored by The Andersons

Providing adequate nutrition at planting is essential for a productive growing season. When looking at early season growth, consider the nutrients that are necessary at this time, such as phosphorus. Phosphorus is essential for stimulating early season root and shoot growth in seedlings. Phosphorus can be used in the form of starter fertilizer to meet crop needs.

When measuring the effectiveness of starter fertilizer, there are numerous factors to evaluate including germination, emergence, growth, pollination, dry down, and finally, yield. Placing starter fertilizer in-furrow or close to the seed helps to achieve three main goals by effectively delivering key nutrients in an available form to the crop:

  1. Quick germination and even emergence,
  2. Accelerated growth, and
  3. Enhanced grain fill and yield.
corn field at night

The first goal when using a starter fertilizer is to get the seed out of the ground as quickly and evenly as possible. The longer the seed is in the ground and not exposed to the sun, the more likely it will be affected by insect damage, disease, or insufficient energy. Lost plants or slow emergence can translate into yield reduction. If a corn plant germinates and emerges later than its neighbors by one growth stage, it becomes a weed that is robbing nutrients from the productive crop.

The next goal is increased vegetative growth and earlier pollination. Starter fertilizer contributes to accelerated growth throughout the growing season, increasing the photosynthetic ability of the crop. In many cases, starter fertilizer can lead to germination occurring 7 days earlier compared to crops that did not receive the benefits of starter fertilizer.

The final goal is to influence grain fill and dry down. By providing essential nutrients through the season, the crop has adequate supplies to maximize grain fill and remain healthy until harvest. If a crop does not have sufficient nutrition, it will rob nutrients from the stalk and leaves to fill the ear. When this happens, the crop is weaker and more susceptible to lodging. When the crop is properly equipped at harvest, it is able to focus its efforts on grain fill and dry down.

In conclusion, starter fertilizer has proven to provide three main benefits – early emergence, quicker pollination, and faster dry down at harvest. If these three main objectives are achieved, higher yields will likely be observed.

Sponsor Message

The Andersons is proud to introduce a one-of-a-kind organic liquid row starter, PureStart™. PureStart organic fertilizer is OMRI Listed® and designed specifically for organic production. For more information, including proven yield data, about PureStart organic fertilizer, visit The Andersons website here.

Book of the Week: Start Your Farm

Welcome to Book of the Week – offering you a glimpse between the pages and a weekly discount on our latest featured book. Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box!

This week’s Book of the Week feature is Start Your Farm, by Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk. The following content is published with permission from Workman Publishing.

Do you dream of starting your own farm but wonder where to begin? Or do you already have a farm but wish to become more sustainable to compete in today’s market? Start Your Farm, the first comprehensive business guide of its kind, covers these essential questions and more:

  • Why be a farmer in the 21st century? Do you have what it takes?
  • What does sustainable really mean, and how can a small (as little as one acre) to midsize farm survive alongside commodity-scale agriculture?
  • How do you access education, land, and other needs with limited capital?
  • How can you reap an actual profit, including a return on land investment?
  • How do you build connections with employees, colleagues, and customers?
  • At the end of the day, how do you measure success? (Hint: case your lifestyle paycheck.)

More than a practical guide, Start Your Farm is a hopeful call to action for anyone who aspires to grow wholesome, environmentally sustainable food for a living. Take it from Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk: Making this dream a reality is not for the faint of heart, but it’s well within reach – and there’s no greater satisfaction under the sun!

Peek Inside!

Page 7 of Start Your Farm.
Pages 92-93 of Start Your Farm.

About the Authors:

Forrest Pritchard is the New York Times–bestselling author of Gaining Ground and Growing Tomorrow. He is also a full-time organic livestock farmer and seventh-generation producer. 

Ellen Polishuk is a first-generation sustainable vegetable farmer. Formerly an owner of Potomac Vegetable Farms, she is a sought-after farm consultant and conference speaker.

Titles of Similar Interest:

Why You Should Spend More Time Thinking About Soil Reports

Sponsored by Ferticell®

Agricultural producers in 2022 will face new, unwelcome changes to how they evaluate programs and fertilizers due to supply and price concerns across the board. Many growers are looking at their soil, determining what is needed, where they are, and what can be applied.  Any organic or sustainable farming operation needs a baseline to review regarding prior year soil health, potential limiting factors, and what options are available.

At the start of the season, it is essential to always be looking to the soil, as a first order, to establish current soil and water conditions if irrigation is in place. This is the stage where we learn if there are any favorable, as well as possible soil limiting factors that can be identified early. This will provide the opportunity to determine what product options are available. 

woman testing soil in field
Studying and understanding your soil will help your crops grow to their full potential.


The cost of sending in labs may seem high, but every dollar is multiplied down the row. A qualified assessment of inputs requires getting all figures and reports. In a season of high fertilizer prices, buying an excess of product can significantly reduce profits. When selecting a laboratory for sampling, it is important the methodology is accurate for the growing region. For example, soil analysis methods developed for the southern region may not be applicable in other regions of the country. For those concerned about measurement accuracy, growers should inquire about the results of NAPT (North American Proficiency Testing).


It is imperative that every soil test includes an accurate assessment of active carbon availability. Carbon is the foundation for soil organic matter (SOM) and the main source of energy for soil microorganisms. Each irrigated farm should produce a soil paste report and should use farm water for an accurate analysis. Dryland practices should also include a soil paste report using deionized water, as that is as close to rainfall results as possible in the lab.

Soil physical property measurements should be collected to identify soil classification by measuring the sand, silt, and clay components. Any reports that classify soil as a “sandy loam” with a high sand content should also include a measurement of sand particle sizes. Uniform sand categories will have a balanced distribution that is measured on several screen sizes. A uniform sand particle size is established by measurements using a minimum of five screens that include 35mm, 60mm, 80mm, 100mm, and 140mm, as well as silt and clay. This data will establish the balance of air and water holding potential of all the soil types.

Simple practices such as soil priming will initiate a balancing of active carbon. This will assist in converting or releasing elements that are in a complex condition such as sodium bicarbonate. Priming soils will facilitate biomass activities that are critical for nutrient release and assimilation in the correct form at the correct timing.

Soils that may be compacted in the early part of planting or start-up will benefit from timely applications of calcium and L-amino acids that have a direct impact on soil flocculation (tilth) and biological activity. Soil or applied cations such as calcium and potassium will improve efficiencies and assimilation when plant-based amino acids are applied in combination. Two of the most significant soil elements that can be directly impacted by heavy or tight soils are carbon and oxygen. Nutrient cycling must have a reliable source of carbon and beneficial biology must have oxygen.

Inspecting soils once every year will give you an educated idea of where soil health and conditions are headed. Soil performance can be estimated with as little as three years of data collection, and it is recommended to always use the same laboratory and near the same time.

Optimal soil balance depends on a combination of physical, biological, and chemical conditions that allow your crop to reach its full genetic potential.


Marginal quality water can hinder uptake and overall availability of soil nutrients, working against your yield instead of for it. An irrigation suitability test will determine any corrective products or practices that may be put in place. A critical water analysis will report several salts such as sodium, chloride, carbonate, bicarbonate, boron, nitrates, sulfur, and pH. Water classified as marginal will require a balance of cations and anions.

Once the season starts and crop production is in place, tissue or sap samples can verify successful corrective practices or products that have been placed at the correct timing. 

As we move forward into the 21st century, mainstream agriculture has the burden or opportunity of protecting the soil with rich agricultural production products and practices that are proving to be efficient, and profitable. Carbon-rich fertile soil has been challenged by the use of salt-based fertilizers, and we can measure the decline in biology with anaerobic soils and the loss of physical properties with hardpan at or near the surface. Small, calculated changes or combinations of product choices will always add to or build topsoil biodiversity.

Sponsored Message:

Created with Priming in mind, Pro Primer™ 2-0-0+F is a perfect example of a plant-based fulvic acid with soy protein and freshwater algae, combined with carbohydrates and active carbon amino acids, in a soon to be approved for organic use liquid solution, ideal for soil priming and recommended and low, economical rates. Ferticell® is a sustainable and organic agriculture fertilizer company dedicated to soil health.

Botany 101: Germination

Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature of an Acres U.S.A. published title offering you a glimpse between the pages! Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your inbox! This week’s Book of the Week feature is Made From Scratch, by Louise Placek.

The process of germination is truly one of the great miracles of nature. Against many formidable odds, these packets of genetic material and potential have covered the earth with new life year in and year out, century by century, millennium by millennium. The progression from seed to seedling to mature plant is nothing short of magic.

Only when the time is right does the seed begin the process of growth and development. The first thing that happens to start germination is the taking in of water by the seed. The seed coat is softened; easily in the case of a thin skin, or more slowly in a seed with a thick coat that needs mechanical or chemical help. Either way, there is eventually a break in the seed coat, allowing the internal components of the seed to soak up water and swell. This process is called imbibition (Pronounced: em bi bish’ yun) and is not unlike what happens when you put a dry sponge in a pan of water. The seed will usually swell to about twice its original size by the time the embryo begins to respond and grow.

Along with water, oxygen is needed by the seed to begin the conversion of all the stored nutrients (in the cotyledon) into usable form by the embryo. That is why a loose soil is best for germination, as it has plenty of air space to supply needed oxygen. The following are terms that are used to describe various aspects of germination:


This is a term describing the probability of a seed to germinate or not. If a seed is viable, then it is likely that it will germinate successfully if all the environmental factors necessary for this to happen are also in place. A small amount of moisture is needed inside the seed at all times (less than two percent of its weight) to maintain its state of viability. A seed can become non-viable (essentially dead) if it is allowed to dry out completely. Also, some seeds actually need extreme temperatures (either cold or hot) to make the embryo fully viable (developed) and ready for germination.


This is the suspended, non-active state of a viable seed before germination takes place. Many viable seeds can stay dormant for an indefinite amount of time as long as the seed coat remains intact. Seed banks around the world keep supplies of valuable and potentially threatened (almost extinct) seeds in cold, dry storage to maintain their genetic heritage. In nature, viable, undamaged seeds will stay dormant in the soil until conditions are perfect for germination.


This is something that happens in many seeds after they leave the fruit vessel. It is sort of like the process an infant goes through in the womb. In animals, if a baby is born before it is developed enough, it will likely not survive. In some seeds, if the after-ripening process is not finished, then the seed may not germinate. After-ripening can be very fast or very slow, depending on the plant and environmental circumstances. Often, in a batch of seeds dropping from the parent plant, the after-ripening process happens at different times for each seed. This is an evolutionary precaution developed by plants to ensure that all their seeds will not germinate simultaneously, which could end in extinction if something happens to kill all those plants at once. In some cases, the after-ripening process can take years.


This is the process of thinning the thick, tough seed coats of some seeds. As mentioned before, the layer can be removed over time via decomposition from bacteria and fungi, or mechanically by having it ground off by coarse soil granules, assisted by rain and wind. It can also occur when the seed travels through the gut of a bird or mammal. By being exposed to digestive enzymes as it travels through the alimentary tract, it softens and thins the seed coat, making it perfect for germination, leaving the body in a pile of ready-made fertilizer. Some plants have this planned out perfectly by offering their seeds in bright colored, delicious berries, irresistible to birds or other foraging animals.

Scarification can also be done manually by growers trying to germinate these seeds. Tough seed coats can be scored with a knife, sanded with sandpaper or a nail file, boiled in water and even soaked briefly (one to five minutes) in sulfuric acid. Another method is to paint the inside of a jar with glue and pour sand into the jar, rotating it until all the surfaces are covered with a layer of sand (this can be repeated to give you a good thick layer of sand). When this dries thoroughly, put your seeds into the jar with a lid and shake the jar until the surface of each seed is sufficiently scratched. Horticulturists all have their favorite, foolproof way to break down the skin of these seeds.

Some seeds have an inhibiting chemical attached to their seed coat that must be washed off before they can germinate. This is often coordinated by the plant so that a specific amount of water (rain) is needed to wash away the chemical, which incidentally is the same amount needed to germinate the seed, and usually occurs at the optimum time of year (fall through winter). This is to prevent the seed from germinating after a brief shower at times like the middle of summer, when high temperatures and mostly dry conditions would quickly diminish the seedling’s chances of survival.


Many seeds from native plants require specific conditioning called stratification, to be ready for germination. In the temperate part of the world (where hot and cold temperatures are generally not extreme), scores of native plants shed their seeds in late summer or early to mid-autumn to allow them to go through this conditioning process before spring. The seeds are moistened by the usually ample rains of fall, seasoned by the cold winter temperatures (a sort of afterripening that helps them develop), so when spring brings warming conditions, they are ready to germinate.

Conversely, many desert seeds fall in the spring so they can be conditioned by the very hot temperatures of the desert floor (up to 120° F or 50° C) through summer, before germinating in late summer or fall when the autumn rains come. A rare few desert seeds actually need the scorching of fire to ready them for germination when the monsoons come. They grow in areas where wildfires from lightning are not uncommon. The parent plants burn to the ground, raining their nutrient-rich ashes onto the desert floor giving the scorched, ready seeds a perfect environment to come to life.

If you want to germinate native seeds artificially, then you have to mimic the conditions they require to ripen. In the first case, they can be placed in a moisture-proof bag between moistened paper towels or mixed into moist vermiculite (peat moss may be too acidic) and kept in a refrigerator or freezer (depending on the type of seed) for a month or two before attempting to germinate. In the case of the desert seeds, they may be heated in an oven (for up to a week at 120° F) before attempts at germination will be successful.

If you are going to germinate wild, native seeds, it is a good idea to find information on the stratification needs of the individual seeds before embarking on this method of growing. There are now good books available on native plants and information about specific plants can often be obtained on the Internet, from the USDA, or from universities that have strong botany or horticulture departments. Most U.S. states and Canadian provinces now have native plant societies that present a wealth of information about the needs of endemic plants. It is a fascinating and challenging endeavor.

Light Requirements

To germinate, most seeds have specific requirements for light. Some need light, some need darkness, and some are not particularly picky either way. A general rule of thumb for planting seeds is to cover them with an amount of soil that does not exceed the size of the seed. Basically (although there are exceptions), the bigger the seed, the deeper it should be planted. Very tiny seeds (the ones that look like grains of fine soil) need only be sprinkled on top of the soil and gently misted with water to settle them in. Covering them with any soil would be too much. Most seed packets have planting depth on the label so there is no mistake what the light requirements are.

Soil Temperature Requirements

Seeds are also fairly picky about soil temperature in order for germination to begin. Commercial growers of bedding plants often have heating mats on large benches where seeds are germinated early, to be sure plants will be ready when people want them in the spring. In the wild or in the garden, seeds will only begin germinating when they are good and ready. For the most part they can’t be fooled. The soil temperature is either right or it’s not. In Texas people are obsessed with tomatoes, and they always try to put them in the ground too early in the spring. I have told people repeatedly that tomatoes will not actually grow until the soil is warm enough, so they might as well wait until the time is really right.

Moisture Requirements

Seeds need water to germinate. The amount may vary, but a general rule is to keep the soil moist (like a wrung out sponge), but never soggy. Once germination has begun, do not let the seeds dry out. This is death for a tiny seedling. Even wilting can cause too much stress in the emerging plantling, causing it to die or become stunted. Read the directions on the seed packet for any special moisture requirements.

About the Author:

Louise Placek undertook the transition from a 20-year traditional career in nursing to the unknown world of owning and operating a small container plant business. With her husband Chris, she bought a hilly, 22-acre site with sandy loam soil, lots of prairie grasses, an oak and cedar woodland with wonderful wildflowers and a 50-mile view. Misty Hill Farm and the container business grew into a successful commercial venture all without the use of the standard industry chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Louise had a mission to grow outstanding plants commercially using only natural, earth-made products. A challenge at times – because there wasn’t a manual or mentor to turn to – it has become a very worthy cause.

Titles of Similar Interest:

Wake Up the Microbes in Your Soil

Find out how activating your soil microbiome can help boost your bottom line in 2022.

Sponsored by Heliae® Agriculture

You manage many important assets on your farm, from your equipment to seed to crop inputs. But one of the most critical assets is right below your feet—soil. Your soil is full of valuable bacteria and fungi that are mostly dormant and not contributing to the growth of your crops without the right food source. As you make plans for the 2022 crop season, consider making your soil microbiome a priority to uncover your soil’s potential.

The health of your soil is dependent on how the microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, interact in their ecosystem. A single teaspoon of your soil contains one billion bacteria and one million fungi, searching for a proper food source. When they have a healthy environment and food source, the microbes can improve soil quality, thus improving the environment for your crops to grow and receive beneficial nutrients.

Soil closeup

Healthy soil resists erosion, reducing soil degradation from water or wind. It also improves nutrient use and profitability, while reducing the effects of unpredictable events and externalities.

For the best moisture retention in areas more susceptible to drought or dry periods between rainfall, healthy soils are well aggregated and allow for water infiltration. Aggregation of soil particles allows for water to fill in between soil pores and around soil particles to provide moisture for the crop for a longer period of time.

The structure of your soil is critical to supporting the growth of your crops. Common practices such as excessive tillage, soil compaction from equipment and the use of inorganic fertilizers can negatively impact your soil structure, resulting in decreased soil health.

On average, 75% of the microbes in soil are dormant and starving. By providing a food source for microbes, you can activate the native microbiome in the soil and bring it to life to help restore the biological potential of the field. The activated microbiome increases the soil’s NPK availability and water holding capacity, while supporting abiotic plant stress and improving soil aggregation.

Microalgae has proven to be the key in providing the right nutrients to your soil’s microbiome. Found naturally in water and in soils, microalgae are unicellular photosynthetic micro-organisms. When delivered in a high-load formulation to feed the microbiome, their application has been proven to have extensive benefits to increase yield.

By building native microbial communities with a microalgae-based soil microbial food, farmers across the United States are seeing their crops thrive. Research and field trial results have shown direct response to the treatment and 33x more microbial activity.

Soils with poor water holding capacity result in increased water stress and poor nutrient uptake by plants. The right food source for your microbiome improves water retention within the soil by up to 10%, while also improving access to nutrients and increasing NPK and micronutrient availability.

Activating the microbes in your soil is crucial to increasing the productivity of the microbiome. A proper food source brings your soil to life so it can properly retain water, feed your crops and allow you to reap the benefits with enhanced yields and ROI. When you feed the starving microbes a superior food source, you wake up the soil microbiome to put it back to work.


Wake Up Your Soil with PhycoTerra®

PhycoTerra® soil microbial food is sourced from microalgae and is an innovative forumlation for your soil’s beneficial microbes. PhycoTerra® promotes healthy soil structure, water productivity, and nurtrient availability by activating the soil microbiome, which supports your crop through abiotic stresses and translates to healthy yields and optimized ROI. PhycoTerra® is pasteurized and feeds the native microbes already in your soil, it mixes with a large variety of crop inputs, and works across crop and soil types.

For more information on soil health and PhycoTerra®, visit

Why Purchase Soil Inoculants? The Benefits of Off-farm Biology

By Jason Stoll, Regenerative Agriculture Consultant, Advancing Eco Agriculture

As a regenerative agriculture consultant, I was delighted to see a return to in-person events in 2021. Being able to connect with growers face-to-face, whether at a conference or in the field, was something I can say we all missed dearly. As I continue to share and interact with others in the agricultural industry, one idea seems to be gaining traction at an accelerated pace. This idea, while nestled in good intentions, falls short on the promise of regenerative practices for large scale operations.

The idea is this: We do not need off-farm biology because it will bring in non-native biomes, causing an unnatural balance in the soil. Proponents of this idea may point you in the direction of a more “natural” inoculant source like compost teas.

This approach perplexes me for several reasons. If American growers were to return to a full native biome model, many would have to abandon corn and soybean crops and allow native hardwood successions to rise to prominence in their fields to promote a “natural return” of the soil. However, this process would take a century or more to take hold. The same goes for biology – we can wait patiently for it to return, but the reality is we have been killing microbial populations for the last 40 to 50 years. Growers need to be actively replacing beneficial organisms instead of waiting for the organisms to come back on their own. 

plants growing in soil

Let me be clear—I am in no way bashing compost teas. I have worked in agriculture my whole life and I have seen good results from small growers and market farmers who have utilized this method. It takes time and energy to create adequately effective compost teas and this may not be economically viable for most. All the same, we don’t want to leave the process of biological restoration to chance.

Bulk compost applications bring their own volley of problems, one of the biggest of which is weed pressure, something compost is known for triggering in large swaths. Even organic compost has its gray areas. Organic compost can come from conventional farms, where cows could be eating GMO corn. Currently, there is no certainty that your organic compost doesn’t have concentrated amounts of glyphosate, which would be detrimental to any grower’s attempt at fostering soil biology. 

Many soils in the U.S. are deficient in bacterial biology. Even if management practices on your farm didn’t kill it, your neighbor, environmental impacts, and decades of the conventional ag approach have eviscerated microbiome populations throughout the country. The desire to restore our soils to their natural state is a lofty goal, but that goal gets even tougher when you expect a monoculture of soybeans to have the biological diversity of a thriving forest. This is where bringing in off-farm inoculation really shines. For example, Spectrum™️ from Tainio Biologicals contains about twenty different species of microorganisms. When was the last time you planted twenty species of crops into your soil?

The goal of regenerative agriculture can be boiled down to this: to grow healthier soils that lead to ever increasing results with fewer inputs, at less cost from the farmer’s pocket. Everyone starts this journey at a different point. While you might have to dump on a ton of biology in the first year to get your numbers up, during the next season you’ll begin to see a compounding result on your investment as these biological populations begin to sustain themselves over time. If you find that you need to re-inoculate in increasing amounts for 15 years in a row, something has gone awry. Somewhere along the way biology is lost and we need to discover why.

Sponsor Message

Our approach at AEA focuses on obtaining more response from less material. With the inclusion of off-farm biology and other regenerative practices, growers can take the next steps in their journey towards healthier, more profitable growing. For more information on the Regenerative Soil Primer or other practices that can improve crop quality, visit