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Pediatrician or Agronomist?



Joe Rickard - MS, CCA
Winfield United Agronomist

As I sit here and write this article, I think about the birth of my newborn son. As babies are unique in their needs, so is each crop that is grown. My role as an agronomist is very similar to that of being a father in the sense that new born babies cannot talk to tell you what they need or want, and neither can plants. A strong plant nutrition program starts with identifying your plants’ needs early in the season and continuing with “check-ups” throughout key growth stages.

Starting off right is key for any position that you hold. We do this with nutrition by soil sampling to see what your soils can hold and provide the crop. Knowing uptake and removal ranges for nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium is key when starting correctly as these are the macronutrients in growing any crop. Secondly, knowing the same about Calcium, Magnesium and Sulfur ranges as these are secondary nutrients. Finally, you can top it all off with micronutrients and their ranges.

As we progress through the season, I often get the question of how do we manage nutrients during the season. Tissue sampling allows us to use the plant as a sensor to identify exactly what’s going on in a plant. Tissue samples are a “snapshot” in time that allow for real-time nutrient adjustments to help optimize yield potential. Tissue sampling with the NutriSolutions 360 tool can help us hone in on nutrients, especially micronutrients like Zinc, Manganese and Boron. Below are some considerations for keeping your corn and soybean crops healthy throughout the entire season.

Corn will uptake most of its nutrients between V8 and VT, so paying close attention to both macro- and micronutrient deficiencies ahead of these stages is critical. Sixty-six percent of more than 17,500 corn tissue samples taken nationwide in 2016 through the NutriSolutions 360® system were deficient or responsive in nitrogen, which can be combatted with a side-dress application. Sulfur can also be addressed in your side-dress application depending on the N source you are using for side-dressing.

In regards to micronutrients, seventy-two percent of corn samples were deficient or responsive in zinc. Historically we have seen a response in yield from making proactive micronutrient applications. I recommend taking a tissue sample of the uppermost collar leaf at the V4-V6 leaf stage, then around V10-V12 and finally at R1. The R1 sample will represent your report card and how you did for the year. If samples show responsive or deficient, evaluate what products to use to feed the crop when nutrients are needed most, even if that is before we see a visual deficiency.

Remember that nutrient deficiencies change from year to year and certain hybrids respond to nutrient applications differently. Working with your local Heritage agronomist to utilize quality soil tests, test plot data, including response-to-nitrogen and response-to-fungicide scores, can help you create a balanced fertility program for your corn crop.

When looking to tissue sample soybeans starting at V4-V6 (fourth to sixth trifoliate) to get a measurement early season. Another sample around R2 will help you gauge what is needed for reproduction and still give you the option to add a micronutrient in with your fungicide application. Working with your local Heritage Cooperative agronomist to correct deficiencies as appropriate for your crop and operation is key; no two operations are the same. Most of Ohio has experienced wet weather this spring, keep an extra eye on boron and sulfur levels, as they may have depleted.

Remember, the earlier you can diagnose nutrient needs, the better. Collaborating with your local Heritage Cooperative agronomist to determine the right timing for tissue sampling and applications will go a long way in protecting the health and yield of your crops.