By Christopher S. Gray Sr.
With this being my last column in the Fert Trends series, I thought it would be valuable to provide a brief list of the top takeaway thoughts for today’s golf course fertilizer market.
1. You get what you pay for. In a fertilizer world where 50-pound bags are the standard and price is directing analysis, bags will continue to be packed with more and more filler … dolomitic limestone. Admittedly, the price per 1,000 square feet per bag is extremely attractive, but that’s not what should be calculated. You should be determining the price per thousand per nutrient unit — nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (N, P, K).
2. Slow-release nitrogen (SRN) isn’t controlled-release nitrogen (CRN). These are two different nitrogen sources altogether. Slow-release nitrogen needs to be converted in the soil by physiochemical effects or soil microorganisms into a form that is available to the plant. Methylene urea is slow-release nitrogen. Controlled-release nitrogen is where it’s coated with sulfur or plastic, and released through the coating over a certain time. Different coating materials have different release mechanisms, which will vary from source to source. Slow-release nitrogen is a more efficient nutrient source, but it also costs more. So I invite you to reread the previous point.
3. Soil and tissue tests are vital — not optional. The fact that so many professionals still don’t properly utilize soil and tissue tests is astonishing. These tests provide an accurate representation of what the soil and plants have and don’t have — what they’re missing and what they need. I equate these simple tests to doctors ordering an X-ray and MRI; they simply want to see what’s actually happening before taking the next step. You should take the same approach with the fertilizer applications for your golf course. Give it only what it needs, not what it doesn’t.
4. Straight urea will vanish … quickly! There’s one thing I’m very sure of: Straight, untreated urea (46-0-0) is a relatively inexpensive high nitrogen source that without ample irrigation immediately after application will escape into the atmosphere in large amounts. Untreated urea volatilization has been measured at 40 to 45 percent in the first 48 to 72 hours after application if not watered in. So, what’s the magic amount? A half-inch of irrigation immediately after application significantly reduces volatilization to a manageable level.
5. Freight costs are killing prices. More than anything else, the ever-rising freight costs are directly impacting the ultimate price you’re paying for a bag of fertilizer. The number of truck drivers has dropped drastically over the last few years, and there aren’t enough new drivers to replace them all. In addition, the newer guys don’t want to do anything but drive. That means multiple stops, driver assistance, pallet jack, and spiders cost even more than they already did as carrier accessorial fees. Diminishing supply and elevated demand have raised freight costs for every fertilizer manufacturer and distributor across the country. No one has been left unaffected, so when you see the next fertilizer price list from your sales representative, chalk it up to freight.
Good luck to you all as you begin planning for next season’s fertility programs. And remember, there’s no substitution for common sense when it comes to fertilizer.
Editor’s note: Christopher S. Gray Sr., a professional product manager from LebanonTurf, has been addressing fertilizer issues in this special column for the last several months. This is his sixth and final column.