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How Much Fertilizer Per Acre for Corn

Learn how to determine the right amount of fertilizer per acre for corn. Understand the nutrient needs, soil testing, and factors.

There are few crops that stand as tall as corn, massive stalks rising high into the sky. Corn is a mainstay in many agricultural fields. Fertilizing it properly is essential for healthy, productive crops. 

But exactly how much fertilizer is needed per acre? Let’s dive into the details.

What Does Corn Need?

Corn field with tree in center Image depicts agricultural setting

Few sights are as satisfying as a field of golden corn at the height of the summer growing season. Every plant is tall and green, each ear bursting with seeds ready to be harvested and taken home. With good fertilization practices, your fields should be able to grow healthy crops year after year. 

But what exactly does corn need to thrive? How much fertilizer is needed per acre? Let’s dive into some of the considerations for fertilizing, including nutrient requirements, the value of soil testing, and other handy tips. 

Join us to discover what it takes to grow healthy crops of corn and reap a fruitful harvest.

Influencing Factors

First, it’s important to understand the various factors that can influence fertilizer needs for corn. By doing so, you can better maximize yields and avoid wasting valuable resources. Here’s a little more about each:

1. Soil

Scenic view of a corn field against a blue sky

Soils are made up of different sizes of mineral particles and organic matter. There are larger particles in sandy soil and they drain quickly. This means that nutrients travel through the soil before fertilizer can provide more replacements.

For this reason, sandy soils require more frequent fertilization to maintain a constant availability of nutrients to the corn plants. Clay soils, on the contrary, have smaller particles and retain nutrients more effectively. With clay soils, fewer applications of plant-available nutrients are needed to feed corn plants over an extended period.

2. Climate

As temperatures increase, the quality of organic matter and other nutrients in the soil also quickly decompose and break down. In warmer climates, corn plants will consume available nutrients at faster rates, meaning that frequent fertilization is necessary to meet demand.

3. Previous Crops

What did the previous crops in the field require from a nutrient standpoint? Imagine a farmer growing a corn crop hybrid requiring 170 pounds of nitrogen. Then, it is safe to assume the field needed 170 pounds of nitrogen.

However, if the previous crop before corn was soybean, then nitrogen will not be needed for the soybean following corn. Soybeans can add between 50-120 pounds of nitrogen to the soil.

Calculating Fertilizer Needs

A person using a laptop in a garden working on Calculating Fertilizer Needs

Soil Testing

Soil testing prior to applying any fertilizer will help you determine exactly what your soil lacks and in what quantities.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K) Ratio

There are three macronutrients that corn requires in large quantities:

  • Nitrogen (N): Nitrogen is the primary nutrient for the development of leaf tissue. Most nitrogen fertilizer should be applied as the crop is emerging and again when the plant is about six inches tall. Corn requires approximately 100-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre each season. 

Pre-plant nitrogen applications can be split with a side dressing later in the season.

  • Phosphorus (P): Phosphorus helps plants in root development and early stand establishment. Most corn grades require 50-80 pounds of phosphorus per acre. A deficiency in phosphorus can inhibit corn growth and decrease its yield potential.
  • Potassium (K): Potassium improves the overall health of the plant and aids in stress resistance. Strong stalks are developed with adequate potassium fertilizer ratings.

This helps hold large ears on the drought. Corn requires 30-50 pounds of potassium per acre.

  • Micronutrients: The little nutrients often get overlooked, but they are still very important. Micronutrients such as zinc, iron, and manganese are typically needed in smaller quantities compared to macronutrients. 

But they still play a critical role in corn health. A micronutrient soil test can help determine if there are any deficiencies and guide you in developing an effective fertilizer program.

Adjusting for Factors

Yield Goals

Aren’t all yields record-breaking? If not, you may need to consider increasing your fertilizer rates. The higher the yield goal, the more nutrients that are required to fuel growth and development.

Environmental Conditions

Why so gloomy? Is it raining? If it’s been dry for a stretch, you may need to provide additional nutrients so that corn plants keep growing. 

Also, too much rain can wash nutrients away from the root zone. So, additional applications may be needed to replenish the nutrients used.

A trowel and a rake resting in the soil essential micronutrients visible promoting plant health


Fertilizing corn is not a “one size fits all” kind of deal. You need to take into account many different factors like soil, climate, and the crop itself. The soil is the most important factor and should always be tested to determine nutrient deficiencies that need to be addressed.

Climate plays a big role in fertilizer application because changes in temperature, moisture, and growth stages can affect nutrient uptake. You can count on Hans Chem for all kinds of fertilizers.

The growth stages of corn range from vegetative development (V) through to reproductive development (R). So, knowing when each stage occurs will help determine which nutrients are needed for optimum growth and development.

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. Why Is Soil Testing Necessary Before Fertilizing Corn?

Soil tests are necessary before fertilizing corn because they provide valuable information about nutrient needs and soil conditions. Results help producers determine the appropriate amount of nutrients to apply to maximize crop yield and potential.

2. What Amount of Nitrogen Is Typically Needed for Corn per Acre?

Generally, corn needs approximately 100-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre to produce a crop. Actual needs would vary depending on soil phosphorus levels, climate, crop history, and yield objective.

3. What Role Do Micronutrients Play in Corn, and How Can a Deficiency Be Corrected?

Although micronutrients are needed in smaller quantities, they play an important role in corn nutrition. A micronutrient soil test can help determine if a nutrient deficiency exists, and producers can adjust their fertility program accordingly. 

4. How Will Weather Conditions Influence Your Fertilizer Game Plan?

Soil moisture – either in short supply or overly abundant – can affect nutrient availability. It is important to manage fertilizer applications based on the current and anticipated weather conditions. Nutrients may need to be applied to ensure corn stays healthy and grows at a steady pace.

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