Farmers all over the Corn Belt saw striped and pale corn this spring and into summer. How they addressed these signs of nutrient deficiency may have been reflected on their yield monitors this fall.
In some parts of the Corn Belt, this spring was a perfect storm for early-season sulfur deficiency. Plentiful rainfall moved available soil sulfate- sulfur deeper into the profile, making it unreachable by roots, and cool and cloudy conditions kept the soil from warming at a typical spring rate. Normally, as soils warm, soil microbial activity releases a dose of sulfur from the organic matter. This spring, many cornfields didn’t get that early assistance.
This left some farmers with a difficult decision: Make an application of sulfur, or hope the weather cooperated to a point that it made sulfur available before plant health and potential yield losses became an issue. Of course, those looking at signs of sulfur deficiency on their young plants were already faced with a no-win situation — irreversible yield loss was already a reality in their case, with the lesser of two evils being a rescue application of sulfur.
The most enviable of growers early this season were those that planned ahead to provide season-long sulfur availability with a product such as The Mosaic Company’s MicroEssentials®, which contains two forms of sulfur (sulfate and elemental) in one nutritionally balanced granule.
Of course, if you faced this decision this spring, it’s easier to judge it now. The proof is either in the bin, or in unrealized yield potential. But the lessons are clear: First, knowing what you can expect from your soil in adverse conditions can pay dividends. Second, the importance of providing the plant a fertilizer that supplies S all season long cannot be overstated. And finally, planning ahead by providing your crop with that guaranteed source of sulfur can help not only your crop, but your peace of mind.
If you faced early-season striped corn, take note of your decision, the results and how your soil types reacted. It’s an issue you’ll almost certainly see again unless you take the appropriate steps to stave off sulfur deficiency before the season begins.