When harvest time rolls around, farmers have one question in mind – is the money, time and hard work I put into this year’s harvest going to translate to a solid return for my operation? The list of costs can be daunting; labor, nutrients, seed, transportation, and the inevitable equipment costs can add up quickly.

“It’s a lot of work that has to get done in a short amount of time,” says Darin Lickfeldt, Ph.D., CCA and technical development manager for Verdesian Life Science. “The only way to keep it in check is by planning ahead to manage and minimize the unexpected.”

Scheduling at harvest time is another big concern, and weather is the major player here.

“If you get in the field when it’s too wet, you have to worry about soil compaction,” Lickfeldt says. “In much of the Midwest, we generally get a little less rain in the fall, which provides some flexibility.”

However, despite a variety of potential variables in the field – one task can be pre-planned and properly managed to reflect the precise needs of your crop and define the return on investment you receive each season. Nutrient management strategies promise the greatest return at harvest by protecting and delivering plant essentials, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, to be sure they’re available to the crop through the growing season.

On the nitrogen side, some estimates say as much as 50 percent of the nitrogen applied throughout the season is lost to volatilization, leaching and denitrification. Many estimates say that 75-95 percent of applied, untreated phosphorus can become fixed in the soil. The phosphorus isn’t lost, as is nitrogen; it simply isn’t readily available to the plant in a usable form.

“When we can prevent the nitrogen from leaching, we can help save money by keeping the nitrogen available for grain production,” Lickfeldt says. “Then, while phosphorus gets put down, in many cases, a significant portion of it is fixed by negatively charged ions in the soil and unavailable for plant uptake.”

Strategies to prevent the loss of these essential nutrients are even recommended by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a best practice for environmental stewardship.

As such, farmers should give even greater consideration to each input and its bottom-line potential and always be mindful of long-term profit potential as well as sustainability when investing in fertilizer inputs. Nutrient availability does not equate to uptake, and a tweak to your nutrient management plan could be the solution to achieving that next yield bump.