Soils Hungry For Micros
Lower NPK prices and depleted soil make micronutrients a must-have this year.
February 9, 2010
Experts say three good yield years - with vigorous plants tapping soils - mean it's definitely time to apply micronutrients in 2010. But how do prices and supplies look?
Raw material prices are variable and may rise with an improving economy, in part because micro firms are competing with food and pharmaceutical industries for ingredients, says Rod Riech, product manager, Brandt Consolidated. One bright spot is that metal prices - with the exception of copper and zinc - seem fairly steady. But beyond cost, supplies of raw materials were still good at presstime.
One problem that may arise involves product transport during heavy spring applications. "We are concerned with transportation issues as demand increases and large volumes are needed to fill the pipeline," says Jeff Ivan, manager of marketing and business development at Tiger-Sul Products. In conditions like this, Kerry Green, managing director at Wolf Trax, Inc. feels his company has an advantage: "Our high analysis powders, packaged in 20-pound boxes significantly reduce the amount of transportation and handling required."
And David Benefield, senior vice president at Frit Inc., says most companies have gone through the high-priced inventories they had last spring. Indeed, adds Green, "Field inventories are low and a big rush on spring purchases could significantly lessen supply."
Micronutrient makers, however, feel ready and are ramping up production to meet the rush. For example, "with three North American production facilities as well as a licensed facility in South Africa we are in excellent position to supply products when demand increases," says Ivan. Frit has also increased production of its low analysis, high soluble zinc products to meet the rush.
Though suppliers are optimistic, they realize customers are more cautious than ever these days. "Despite the fact that our prices have remained stable over the past year, the volatility of the macronutrient and commodity-based product market has had a significant impact on our customers' buying patterns," says Green.
Manufacturers are convinced that the need for micronutrient application is particularly pressing this year. "Because of higher prices many growers reduced or left out the micronutrients in their fertilizer program. This has certainly caused a reduction in the soil level, and farmers will need to add those nutrients to the mix to prevent deficiencies," says Benefield. Companies offered some tips as spring application approaches:
Time applications carefully. Different micronutrients play specific roles throughout different growth stages, says Riech. Applying the right micronutrient at the right time is key. He adds that "in today's high-yielding environments, applying micronutrients is more than just correcting deficiencies - it's increasing the health of the plant and helping it reach its genetic potential" at harvest.
Watch the weather. The biggest problem Jerry Stoller, president of Stoller USA, foresees in the 2010 growing season would be a lack of moisture and hotter temperatures. "This will put much more stress on the crop during the growing season and pollination season," he says. Moisture and temperature have a much greater effect than lack of nutrients when producing maximum yields, he adds. This season Stoller anticipates higher demand for the company's Bio-Forge, which lowers stress ethylene.
Don't forget sulfur. In a surprising environmental development, researchers have found that North American soils are short on sulfur due in part to the reduction of acid rain. "As we clean up our atmosphere many regions that had been getting adequate sulfur from the atmosphere are now seeing sulfur deficiency," explains Ivan. In fact, Tiger-Sul Products has seen increased shipments of Tiger 90CR Sulphur to these areas, where dealers are adding the product to their NPK blends either alone or with ammonium sulfate for improved sulfur availability. "Our research in Illinois has shown that without sulphur, yields are dramatically lower and nitrogen utilization can be down as much as 30%," says Ivan.
Know how herbicides and micronutrients interact. Companies are addressing the antagonism that can occur between micronutrients and herbicides that can reduce performance. Riech points out Brandt Smart System products were specifically designed to eliminate this problem. "Glyphosate-resistant weeds are becoming a bigger issue every year and more complex tank mixes of more than one herbicide are the result," he says. "This puts a heavier load on the plant and our products help eliminate some of the stresses caused by these applications."
Trust your experience. Recommend or practice production practices that have been successful for you in the past, says Green. "For example, if you have used zinc as part of your fertility package then continue to do so. Remember that no one knows their land or business better than you."
Dealers can help their customers decide what type of product works best for their crops - liquid, granular, or powder.
Dirk Lohry, president of Nulex Inc. explains that Nulex Liquid Zinc is a clear liquid product designed to blend directly into liquid fertilizers and suspensions without agitation or premixing. It's most effective when added to a liquid starter banded next to the seed at planting time — or it can be applied broadcast, he says.
The Mosaic Company's MicroEssentials SZ (containing nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and zinc) is a granule is placed near developing roots. It contains sulfonated zinc, a water-soluble nutrient source that allows for good zinc uptake, says Dan Froehlich, Mosaic's U.S. agronomy manager. "MicroEssentials is safer for emerging plants than other fertilizer options when placed with the seed," he adds.
Green says his retailer customers have especially liked the ease of handling, and performance of Wolf Trax DDP Micronutrients. The innovative formulation adheres to fertilizer, resulting in more consistent blends. Six different micronutrients can be applied at different rates, increasing the grower's flexibility.
Suppliers continue to develop nutrient choices for stronger plants. Stoller is testing a new experimental product in conjunction with Texas A&M University that set a record soybean yield — 166.8 bushels per acre — last year.