Micros Ease Crop Stress
These sought-after elements made a difference for crops facing a tough start and some grueling season-long conditions.
September 1, 2011
Early in the season, CropLife® reported high demand and tight supplies for micronutrients. "The good news is there's been enough product to go around, thanks in part to wet weather that delayed planting and allowed us to manufacture and get micros in place when needed," says Mike Powell, brand manager/nutritionals and bioscience products, Helena Chemical Co.
Brandt Consolidated actually fared better than in the past few years, says Rod Riech, sales and marketing coordinator. "We didn't experience some of the shortages. It all comes down to communication with our customers and sharing information so we can better serve them. With clear communication channels, we can better project our usage throughout the year," says Riech.
Dan Froehlich, manager of new product development with The Mosaic Co., was surprised and pleased that growers did not pull back on fertilizer application, even as the season started later. "Farmers continued with the P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) needed and realized that if they were going to pull the very high yields they want, they had to apply nutrients to depleted soils," says Froehlich.
Stoller USA reports sales were a "tremendous success," significantly better than what the company anticipated, says Jerry Stoller, CEO and founder. "During the last 50 years of being in business, I've never seen farmers so anxious to buy products. Normally they are very conservative when it comes to purchasing. This year they threw conservatism out the window," says Stoller. "They are going for maximum dollars and maximum profits."
Derek Kuffert, product manager with Tiger-Sul, says demand for the company's products was up, with ammonium sulfate supplies tight. Fortunately, customers only had to wait a day or two for delivery in some locations.
Many suppliers' comments echoed those of Kerry Green, managing director, Wolf Trax, Inc.: "Strong commodity prices bolstered the use of micronutrients this season." Plus, the large benefits that micronutrients provide have a positive return on investment and can help soften the impact of some of the input costs, says Brandt's Riech.
Standouts Lend A Hand
While late, wet plantings helped nutrient supplies, they also stressed crops. Soils were not warming and experts tracked a high frequency of sulfur and zinc deficiencies as well as less than ideal nitrogen and phosphorus uptake. "It was a tough start," emphasizes Mosaic's Froehlich.
Micronutrients are designed to shine in just these conditions.
Helena's Powell says the company's best performers this season were ones that directly impact plant health, such as Ele-Max ENC, Megafol and a new product called Utilize. Utilize helps plants recover from stress, both environmental and non-environmental, he explains.
"We certainly saw the benefit of PROTINUS on wetter, colder soils this past spring in a variety of crops," reports Wolf Trax's Green. This seed-applied fertilizer is a great solution to deliver early-season zinc and manganese, he says. It offers early micronutrient access for the young plants, giving them faster and more even emergence, longer and more developed root systems — and creating a more competitive, larger seedling with the ability to handle stress. Zinc DDP as a fertilizer coating is then a good follow up to PROTINUS in zinc-deficient areas.
Tiger-Sul's Kuffert saw growth in use of Tiger Zn 18% and low analysis Tiger Zn 4% in the zinc-challenged Corn Belt this year.
MicroEssentials SZ (12-40-0-10S-1Zn) from Mosaic was also a popular item. Froehlich notes that granules contain four nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc — that work together to increase phosphorus uptake by up to 30%. In some areas, growers prefer MicroEssentials S-10 (12-40-0-10S) where they supply zinc in another form.
Nulex's RGS (Root Growth Stimulator) was ideal for this season's conditions. The product is a formulation of zinc and ammonium acetate that stimulates the plant to generate a greater volume of healthier roots, imparting it with more vigor and greater stress tolerance — as well as promise of higher yields.
Riech says Brandt's Manni-Plex and Brandt Smart System foliar micronutrients are designed to alleviate stresses often associated with wet fields, late planting, or other external stresses — as well as assist the plant in carrying out physiological functions to enhance yield potential. "Foliar micronutrient formulations can also help mitigate transient field deficiencies due to waterlogging and help 'push' a late-planted crop," he explains. Later season Manni-Plex products containing boron continue to enjoy sound agronomic performance and market growth, he says.
Green says Wolf Trax has also seen increased demand for boron. With higher than average rainfall, many customers chose Boron DDP, due to its flexibility, as a foliar application or in liquid fertilizer applications.
Stoller points out that his company primarily works on strategies to apply nutrients and/or plant growth regulators in order to protect crops against climatic stress, like that felt this season (see sidebar). Hormone balance in a plant during all stages of growth is changed by hot or cold temperatures, by wet soil, by drought-heated soil, and by cloudy weather, he explains. "These dramatic changes, particularly during the reproductive stage of growth, are the real key to dramatically increasing yields."
Extreme high heat is detrimental to pollination, says Mosaic's Froehlich, and yield reduction may be a real problem this year because of high temperatures felt in states such as Iowa and Nebraska, in regions extending from Route 80 and south. Here warm night temperatures over 70 degrees may have had a devastating effect on yields.
Tiger-Sul's Tiger 90CR continues to play a key role in the Pacific Northwest and other western states to amend soil pH, bringing them down to healthy levels for plant growth.
Fall And Beyond
Froehlich sees grower demand for micronutrients increasing even more, especially as growers strive to pull record yields. "And the aggressive, progressive producer will do in-season tissue testing. He'll also do soil testing every two years — when it used to be every four. These hybrids are removing so much ... there are sulfur and zinc deficiencies throughout the Midwest."
Tiger-Sul's Kuffert says states such as Ohio and Indiana are especially feeling the pinch, with measures in place to decrease environmental impact of manufacturing processes. "Sulfur is no longer available free from steel mills in acid rain," he explains.
Helena's Powell is working closely with suppliers to ensure product availability — and quality. "In addition to availability, we always double up on quality," he says. "Our focus does not veer from bringing high quality products — and results — to our customers. We want our products to perform at the highest level. At Helena, that is always at the top of our agenda."
Mosaic's Froehlich believes dealers are pretty well set for fall applications, with 70% to 75% of product they need in place. "For spring, it all depends on how many corn acres are planted," he says. The situation could be challenging if some 93 million corn acres are projected again.
He sees dealers playing a larger part in boosting micronutrient awareness and use. More retailers are offering information about micronutrients at their field days, for instance, and doing preventative applications of the nutrients. More companies and universities offer websites with valuable data on deficiencies and treatment approaches.
Brandt's Riech describes the complexity of the landscape in which dealers can lend micronutrient expertise: Growers must deal with higher planting populations, more complicated tank mixes, higher disease and insect pressure, and better nutrient management for increased yield.
They're pursuing every nutrient, every available avenue to boost yield, says Tiger-Sul's Kuffert. They've seen increased genetics and intense agronomics at work, now "what will drive yields to the next level?"
Wolf Trax's Green says despite strong commodity prices, retailers and growers are still looking for the most efficient fertilizer application available. Getting the right product applied at the right rate and right time is tricky with micronutrients. He says Wolf Trax products are particularly well-suited for this strategy, starting with PROTINUS applied directly to the seed, followed by DDP Micronutrients, which can be used in a liquid starter fertilizer, as a dry fertilizer coating, or as an in-crop foliar application. "The flexibility to apply one product in many ways helps the retailer and farmer maximize their options for addressing deficiencies," he says.
Micronutrient use continues to be an educational process, as growers learn the role of these inputs, says Mosaic's Froehlich. "In corn, zinc is a primary driver of yield — you have to supply enough somehow. Growers are putting a lot of money into other inputs, they don't want to be short on micros," he says. Indeed, he says it's been proven that the new high performing triple stack hybrids demand at least 10% more micronutrients than their genetic predecessors.