Micronutrients Battle Stress, Yield Loss

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These soybean plants, grown by Wolf Trax Inc. in a field trial, show that PROTINUS-treated soybeans, left, had larger, more developed seedlings than the control plants, right.

These soybean plants, grown by Wolf Trax Inc. in a field trial, show that PROTINUS-treated soybeans, left, had larger, more developed seedlings than the control plants, right.

After an encouraging spring season led to early plantings throughout the Midwest, retailers began to see micronutrient sales taper off a bit as the season progressed and drought conditions began to take hold, putting a damper on late season sales for the majority of retailers, according to Mike Powell, brand manager, BioScience & Nutritional Products, Helena Chemical Co. “In both Helena’s northern and southern trade areas, sales started out very strong but declined as the drought took grip. Where it did rain, however, record crop prices definitely helped drive mid- to late-season sales,” says Powell.

Brandt’s National Sales Director, Dr. Julian Smith, witnessed similar results at the CropLife 100 No. 21-ranked retail operation. “Sales were strong until July, when the drought postponed later sprays, such as fungicides and insecticides, which normally carry micronutrients,” says Smith. “The eastern seaboard, however, has been particularly strong in 2012, as adequate water made for solid plantings.”

As drought conditions worsened, growers found little value in micronutrient applications to faltering corn and soybean crops, regardless of how encouraging commodity prices remained, according to Stoller USA President Jerry Stoller. “Sales from January through May were extremely high, mostly due to the early and long duration of the planting season,” says Stoller. “Sales from June onward quickly dropped off, as micronutrient and other yield enhancement product sales made a severe decline as crop deterioration occurred. Naturally, growers were hesitant to add any additional cost to crops that were being so severely damaged by climactic conditions.”

Unlike last year, when early projections of micronutrient supplies warned of possible shortages, 2012 saw a “snug but not overly difficult market,” according to Drew Taylor, Director of Tiger-Sul Product Management and International Sales, H.J. Baker & Bro. Inc.

Jereleen Brydon, director of marketing with Wolf Trax Inc., reported no shortages or supply difficulties as well. “Wolf Trax DDP Micronutrients are formulated as dry dispersible powders, so supply was never an issue for our customers,” says Brydon. “Our supply and in-season price consistency is one of the things our customers are most satisfied with.”

Conversely, Helena Chemical saw its supply lines tighten up a bit, although it didn’t affect growers or retailers. “Raw materials were a bit tight, but we have a well-rounded portfolio of products and good relationships with our preferred vendors,” says Powell. “Our forecasting and ordering processes served us well and we ended up with an ample supply of micronutrients.”

Stress Concerns

With the drought aggressively attacking record yield projections, limiting crop loss by managing stress via micronutrient applications became an over-arching theme of the season.

“Stress mitigation through micronutrient application has proven very successful again, and appears to have helped in a number of drought affected areas,” says Brandt’s Smith. “Brandt Smart Trio has again had a standout season, while Brandt Manni Plex foliars have been outstanding in the east and Midwest. Out west, Calcium/Zinc and Calcium/Magnesium combos have enjoyed success.”

Micronutrients are also critical in nurturing growth in biotech varieties, according to Stoller.

“Micronutrients perform a catalytic activity on increasing the biochemical process in plants,” explains Stoller. “They also provide a number of hormonal effects, which depend upon the particular micronutrients used. The hormone balance determines the cell division, cell differentiation and cell arrangement that occur in plants. In other words, the growth characteristics of plants and yield of plants is directly related to the proper hormone balance the plant maintains through its life cycle.”

As for individual nutrients, many retailers saw increased demand for Zinc, according to Brydon. “The challenge, especially with corn, is getting the crop off to a good start,” he says. “Many growers are using starter fertilizer and adding zinc. Our Zinc DDP has become a preferred source of zinc for many growers because it is custom designed to get into the plant as early as possible.”

Another product from Wolf Trax turning heads is its PROTINUS Seed Nutrition. “The product that really shined this season is our PROTINUS Seed Nutrition, a zinc, manganese and iron formulation that creates a ‘nutrient friendly zone,’” says Brydon. “Growers and retailers are impressed with how PROTINUS helped the crop get up and out of the soil, and we continue to receive pictures and reports of excellent performance. Reports show that height and maturity differences lasted through the season.”

“Many products are enjoying healthy sales, and some of our newer products really took off,” says Helena’s Powell. “This includes Nucleus O-Phos, an orthophosphate fertilizer with fully EDTA-chelated micronutrients. Overall, we saw a lot of demand for zinc, magnesium and boron, along with Axilo Mix 5, ENC and TraFix Zn.”

Sulfur also found a nice foothold this summer, according to H.J. Baker’s Taylor. “Tiger 90 CR, Tiger Copper 12% and Tiger Zinc 4% have increased in popularity, as have broadcast application and micronutrient enhanced sulfur bentonite products, which are growing,” he says. “The benefits of sulfur as a primary ingredient are a big seller due to the popularity of sulfur fertility, and we find future potential for the fall application of sulfur.

“Going forward, Tiger is focusing on better identification of our bentonite sulfur class of products,” adds Taylor. “We have an agronomist who has been traveling and communicating with the land grant schools to have better identification of this class rather than what has been commonly referred to an ‘elemental sulfur.’”

Yield’s ‘Final Frontier’

Stoller sees the increased use of micronutrients only growing stronger as growers proactively protect future yields against loss. “The major new breakthrough in understanding crop production is to determine how we can avoid yield loss rather than continuing to ‘increase yields,’” he says. “The prevention of yield loss due to temperature, moisture and sunlight will be the driving force that propels the future of production agriculture.”

Wolf Trax also predicts an increased demand for micros. “Looking beyond 2012, growers continue to strive for 300-bushel corn,” says Brydon. “The role of micronutrients in reaching that goal with new hybrids continues to gain interest. “

“The understanding of micronutrients has increased markedly over the last few years and many realize that micronutrients are indeed essential inputs, particularly with new crop genetics,” says Brandt’s Smith. “The days of just curing deficiencies are long gone.”

As commodity prices continue to trend upward, micronutrient use will likely continue to grow in prominence.

“With the potential for increased planting of corn and soybeans next season because of higher prices, there will be a need for growers to maximize yields with the proper nutrition — including the right micronutrient balance,” says Powell. “Our Helena Team across the country will be ready to help growers and retailers with our quality micronutrient options like TraFix Zn or TraFix Zn XL, among others.”

Naturally then, tuned-in manufacturers are ramping up their micronutrient lineups, adding new products as the market’s optimistic outlook encourages advancement.

H.J. Baker’s Tiger Products will be adding to the Tiger lineup in 2013. “Tiger is going to announce the addition of Boron to our Tiger line-up,” says Taylor. “This is a gigantic deal as it has been requested by our growers for years. The spatial distribution and soil chemistry benefit of combining Tiger 90 with Boron is going to be a big hit next season.” A formal launch is planned for some time in October or November.

“The market appears to be relatively stable for the near term,” adds Smith. “Newer technologies will focus on crop protection partners for micronutrient sprays, such as stress mitigation, weed resistance management, fungicide/photosynthetic efficiencies and tools to assist maximum gene expression for yield and quality in Bts (Bacillus thuringiensis).”

Grassi is the Assistant Editor for the CropLife Media Group, including CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines and the PrecisionAg Special Reports. He joined the staff in February 2012.

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