Expanding the Nutrient Management Toolbox: Using Tissue Sampling

Tissue sampling is a common tool that can provide meaningful data, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle to consider. Complementing tissue sampling with soil test results provides a comprehensive look at how nutrients are both available to and being used by the plant.

On its own, tissue sampling merely provides a snapshot of a moment in time — how nutrients are concentrated in one plant in one part of the field at a particular time. Early growth tissue samples can provide a clear understanding of what nutrient deficiencies exist, and those deficiencies can often be partially corrected with a foliar application. As a crop matures, the nutrient analysis changes, as does the plant’s ability to recover from any nutrient deficiency. Tissue samples taken later in the growing season can be combined with soil-testing data and historical cropping information to determine the best steps forward for the next year’s fields.

The data obtained from tissue sampling can be invaluable; however, with the high risk for errors in collecting tissue, it’s important to remember a few key points:

  • Every lab has a set of sampling guidelines for every crop, and they are fairly standardized. Be sure you clearly know which part of the plant should be used for tissue sampling.

  • Be sure several samples are taken randomly around the area of the field in question. One or two samples are not enough.

  • Do not store plant material in a zip-top plastic bag. Use a perforated plastic bag or a bag supplied by the lab.

  • Expedite shipping of the samples to the lab. The less time between when a tissue sample is taken to when it arrives at a lab, the more accurate and usable the results will be.

  • Choose one reputable lab to be your partner in data analysis. Choosing a different lab each year can skew results. Using one lab’s results over time will allow trend lines to emerge, and proactive steps can be taken to adjust nutrient levels in the soil before the growing season begins.

  • If there is any uncertainty about taking tissue samples, a retailer or crop advisor will use good sampling methodologies to obtain samples.

Tissue sampling is one tool to ensure plants are receiving the proper nutrition each year. With up to 60 percent of yield dependent on soil fertility, every tool to learn more about nutrient levels in the field is needed.

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