The Basics of Balanced Crop Nutrition

Kurt Woolfork

Curt Woolfolk, M.S.

Sr. Manager, Crop Nutrition Technologies

From the moment the seed enters the ground until the combine rolls through at harvest, balanced crop nutrition is one of the most important factors to impact yield. Achieving balanced crop nutrition is a combination of managing soil fertility and knowing what nutrients are needed by plants for healthy growth. With as much as 60% of yield dependent on soil fertility, the best growing seasons are built from the ground up.

Know Your Nutrients

There are 17 essential plant nutrients required for optimal plant growth and development. If one of these nutrients is deficient, the crop’s life cycle will be negatively affected — even when all other essential nutrients are adequately supplied. Maximum yield potential can only be achieved when the proper balance of nutrients is in place.

Macronutrients can be classified into three primary nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) and three secondary nutrients (Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur). As the name implies, macronutrients are required in much larger amounts than micronutrients. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are essential macronutrients needed for healthy productive crops and receive a great deal of attention, but a balanced crop nutrition program will also look at secondary and micronutrients.

Looking beyond N, P, and K, sulfur deficiencies are becoming increasingly common across North America. Retailers and growers are looking for solutions that provide both early- and late-season sulfur requirements to achieve next-level performance.

There are eight micronutrients essential to plant growth and development. Micronutrients, such as zinc or boron, are just as important as macronutrients, but are required in much smaller amounts. Uptake rates for these nutrients are generally measured in oz/ac compared to lbs/ac for macronutrients.

With today’s high-yielding hybrids and varieties, more nutrients are being removed from the soil, used by the crop during reproductive development, and hauled away at harvest. This mining of nutrients from the soil does not leave enough micronutrients to support the nutritional requirements of next year’s crop. It is important to continually monitor soil nutrient levels and replenish as needed to account for the nutrient removal of each crop.

Implement the 4Rs for Increased Production

The 4Rs (Right source, Right rate, Right time, and Right place) provide the foundation for a science-based framework — leading to increased production, increased profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability.

Balanced crop nutrition provides the right ratio of nutrients throughout the growing season and encompasses all aspects of the 4Rs. Reviewing both macro- and micronutrient needs across all stages of growth and development is the best way to optimize plant health and yields. A combination of soil testing, tissue testing, and yield (nutrient removal) provide the tools necessary to achieve a balanced approach for your cropping system.

Conduct a Soil Analysis

Conducting regular soil sampling and testing provides valuable information and trends over time to help avoid costly nutrient deficiencies.

Periodic soil testing, combined with a good record-keeping system for each field, serves as a helpful gauge to indicate whether soil fertility is increasing, decreasing or remaining constant.

Once you have soil test results, work closely with your crop advisor or retailer to build a strategic crop nutrition plan to ensure next year’s crop will have its best possible chance to succeed.

Find the Right Fertilizer Source

With so much on the line, it’s important to find dependable and innovative fertilizer products to provide your crop with the nutrition it needs. Today’s fertilizer technology allows macronutrients to be applied with the added benefit of micronutrients to give crops the most balanced nutrition available.

At The Mosaic Company, we offer a range of performance products designed to provide superior nutrition for optimal growth and greater ROI. Powered by advanced crop nutrition technologies pioneered by Mosaic, these performance fertilizers ensure not just the right balance of nutrients, but the right material consistency to give growers an efficient application experience and optimum nutrient distribution for increased yields.

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