High seed prices, volatile commodity markets, unpredictable weather: It’s a long list of big concerns that keeps farmers up at night. It’s those concerns that make the details that drive return on investment of paramount importance. Details like micronutrients.
“There are eight micronutrients that are key to plant nutrition, and all plants need all micronutrients in some capacity,” notes Dr. Kyle Freeman, Director of New Product Development at The Mosaic Company. “Different crops need varying levels of each micronutrient, and they all react differently in soils. So, of course, there’s no way to give a broad recommendation that every farmer could use successfully. You have to do your homework to really make the grade.”
That homework includes a soil test prior to planting and tissue sampling during the growing season. Soil tests will identify which micronutrients might be deficient in the soil, and when cross-referenced to the needs of the crop, a strategic plan for applying micronutrients can be outlined. Since each micronutrient has its own characteristics, it’s important to work with a retail agronomist or crop advisor to determine which ones are needed, at what rate and the best way to apply them.
In terms of timing, micronutrients can be applied at the beginning of the season to give plants the best start possible. Placing micronutrients in the soil where roots can access them when the plants need them is a proactive and efficient way to provide balanced crop nutrition. However, some micronutrients may need to be supplemented with a mid-season application. Tissue sampling is a tool that can be used in those cases, though Dr. Freeman is quick to point out that visual diagnosis of deficiency can be less effective for managing yield loss.
“When you see signs of nutrient deficiencies in your field, it’s often too late for the plant to make a full recovery,” says Freeman. “You’ve already lost some yield potential at that point. Managing for micronutrients means proactively taking soil tests and tissue samples to monitor the level of nutrients throughout the growing season. This heightened crop management approach is time intensive, but it’s the best way to achieve optimum yields.”
Even though there are different application methods for micronutrients that can show good response from crops, there’s one crucial point that should not be overlooked to ensure micronutrients perform at their highest level. As their name implies, they are needed in very small amounts. It can be extremely difficult to apply micronutrients uniformly in such small amounts using traditional fertilizer blends. With a product such as MicroEssentials®, a premium granular fertilizer from The Mosaic Company, the right amount of micronutrient is fused with macronutrients in each granule. This ensures that nutrients are spread evenly across the field to achieve uniform distribution, which means each plant in the field has the same access to the nutrition it needs.
Because micronutrients each react differently across soil types, it’s important to know how weather conditions can change the levels of micronutrients in your field. Positively charged anions, like zinc, manganese or iron, for example, do not readily move in the soil. In fact, some fertilizer management plans may incorporate a buildup plan of those micronutrients over time. However, some micronutrients, such as boron, are mobile in the soil. Those mobile nutrients require close monitoring as weather conditions change. Extremely wet weather can cause mobile nutrients to leach, making them difficult for plants to access. In those conditions, supplementing micronutrients with another application is an ideal way to make sure plants still have access to the nutrients that will optimize yield.
“If there’s one thing I want farmers to know about micronutrients, it’s that they need to know what potential each field holds,” asserts Freeman. “Farmers have a lot of options presented to them when determining their fertilizer plans. They should take the time to work with their retailer or crop advisor to look at all of the different solutions to find which plan will give them the best returns.”