As a grower, choosing the right water-soluble fertilizer (WSF) for your operation is one of the most important decisions you make. Choose wisely, and you can optimize your fertilizer investment, improve operational efficiencies, reduce inputs and labor costs, and improve retail performance for the customers you cultivate.
But the water-soluble fertilizer industry has changed a lot since the late 1940s, when Bob Peters first started testing soil for cut flower growers and developing prescriptive fertilizers to meet grower needs. Since commercial production of Peters brand water-soluble fertilizers began in 1952, options for the grower have flourished. But choosing the best water-soluble fertilizers for your operation is not as hard as it may seem.
Discovering your starting points
No one knows your growing operation like you do. But the more you learn, the better decisions you can make when it comes to WSFs. Identifying what your crops really need starts with knowing your irrigation water and growing media quality. Accurate, reliable testing eliminates the guesswork, reveals your true starting points, and puts you ahead of the game.
Irrigation water – Water quality is the single most important factor affecting your WSF success. Solubility and nutrient availability depend on it. Without knowing where your irrigation water stands on key measures such as alkalinity and soluble salts, fertilizer performance comes down to trial and error.
Water testing provides you with crucial information to keep your crops and profitability on track. Testing is especially important if you use well water or multiple water sources. Heavy rains, melt-off, flooding and drought can impact water quality significantly as well. That’s why it’s a good idea to always test new water sources, and retest existing sources twice a year.
Because this step is so important, the ICL Specialty Fertilizers Testing Lab offers thorough, affordable water testing—with a fast turnaround. Our full-scale, state-of-the-art production lab provides you with a complete water analysis covering a variety of parameters essential to your success. Then we email the easy-to-understand, color-coded results and guidelines directly to you.
You can also get expert advice from ICL Specialty Fertilizers’ field-based specialists on how to use your test results to perfectly match a water-soluble fertilizer to your needs. Our field experts are also a great source of knowledge for the new talent on your team.
Growing media – Growing media quality can vary considerably from the start, but media pH and nutrient content also change over time. Depending on your management practices, those changes can be significant. To manage nutrition effectively, you need to know where your media quality stands all season long. This is especially important if you mix your own media.
By testing your growing media as a regular part of your quality assurance program, you can keep an eye on root zone nutrient status at critical points. Rather than guessing what your crop needs, you can rest assured in your knowledge and adjust your nutrient plan accordingly. Because irrigation alkalinity has such a strong influence on growing media pH, it’s a good idea to test your media in tandem with your water. This gives you a better view into nutrient availability and the choices that can best support your crop.
ICL’s Testing Lab can help with a complete analysis of your growing media. You can also turn to the Lab for mineral soil testing to drive informed, effective soil fertility management programs as well.
Plant tissue – If you suspect a nutrient deficiency or toxicity, a plant tissue analysis can end your speculation. To get the full picture, you may want to sample and analyze your plant tissue and growing media at the same time. As with water and media tests, a thorough ICL Testing Lab tissue analysis can help you accurately identify the problem—and choose the best WSF in response.
Understanding fertilizer content and properties
Establishing your water and growing media quality helps narrow down your fertilizer options. But before you buy, it’s important to understand what’s in a product and how it meshes with what you do. By working with an ICL Territory Manager, you can leverage our decades of innovation, research, and expertise to learn how particular water-soluble products meet—or don’t meet—your needs.
The Peters Professional line, still the industry standard, offers more than a dozen products, each formulated for specific nutritional programs and enhanced by Peters’ exclusive M-77 chelation technology to maximize nutrient availability and absorption. With Peters Excel products, you can counter high alkalinity, eliminate buildup and keep irrigation lines flowing smoothly with optimal plant nutrition. And with Peters Excel pHLow products, you get twice the active acidity of regular Excel. You can reduce the need for acid injections, and avoid the safety issues—for plants and people—that come with corrosive mineral acids.
Whatever your path, don’t overlook the obvious. Pay close attention to the nutrients listed in your fertilizer’s guaranteed analysis. Don’t assume, for example, that a 20-20-20 or 20-10-20 WSF formulation contains adequate calcium and magnesium. In most cases, you’ll want to supplement those products. Unless your setup allows zone-specific feeding programs, or your operation focuses on a single crop, you may want to take the practical approach. Develop a fertilizer program that satisfies most of your crops, then supplement those that need special treatments.
Whether you’re currently using water-soluble products or are considering a switch, the team at ICL is ready to answer questions and provide expert advice. Contact an ICL Territory Manager in your area today to get started.