Micronutrients: Maximizing Yields

Wolf Trax Iron DDP-coated fertilizer
Wolf Trax Iron DDP-coated fertilizer

With the rainy start to the 2013 growing season basically a complete polar opposite of the moisture-challenged conditions producers faced last season, this summer has helped reveal to many growers the importance of micronutrient products to yield.

“This year’s trying spring weather showed the benefits of early nutrient availability and getting the crop off to a good start,” says Kerry Green, managing director, Wolf Trax. “Producers are seeing the importance of a balanced nutrition program as genetics push yields and nutrient demand higher, and the limiting factor on many high-producing varieties is often not a macronutrient, but a micronutrient. Areas that may have had borderline nutrient deficiency are now requiring additional nutrients to meet maximum production targets.”

The Mosaic Co. also witnessed increased grower awareness of micronutrient benefits, according to Dr. Kyle Freeman, manager of new product development. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in both awareness and adoption of micronutrients among growers looking to support high-yield systems over the past several years. Micronutrients act to support the primary crop nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — for instance, we know that zinc improves phosphorus uptake, so the importance of incorporating micronutrients as part of a balanced fertility program is becoming more important.”

However, Jerry Stoller, President, Stoller Enterprises, Inc., saw some initial pushback from the market in the form of growers that had a hard time getting into fields at planting time due to the wet spring.

“This planting season was very rushed, and some farmers did not want to take the time and make the effort to add micronutrients to the starter fertilizer and in so doing, the rate of soil-applied micronutrients was again lower than expectations,” says Stoller. “However, the recovery of corn growth and continued favorable weather allowed farmers to come back and foliar apply micronutrients in order to achieve higher potential yields.”

Turn-Key Solutions

Just as the big ag equipment manufacturers are increasingly integrating technologies once considered after-market add-ons as now-standard equipment, today’s most popular micronutrient formulations are often ones that feature multiple technologies in a single package.

“All of our products did well this year when you look at it from a demand standpoint, says Wesley Haun, research agronomist, H.J. Baker Bros. & Tiger-Sul Products. “Generally speaking, we saw increases in sales for our sulfur with iron, sulfur with manganese and sulfur with zinc, and then we can make up various crop mixes with all four of those micronutrients — and those mixes were popular as well.”

Blended products have also been selling steadily throughout the Western Lake Erie basin area, according to Rodney Gilliland, micronutrient sales and marketing manager, Plant Nutrient Group, The Andersons.

“We have a complete line of liquid EDTA Chelated Solutions that blend with any and all tank mixes that are utilized in the market today,” says Gilliland. “We have a line of products that we call ‘Micro Mark’, which are more specialized for geography or a certain product mix, and we’ve got our Triple Crown, which is a three-way zinc that mixes really well with 10-34-0, and that was specifically designed to meet the needs of today’s corn crops planted at high populations. These are all products that we’ve manufactured to try to create different blends of micros with different carriers.”

At Minneapolis, MN-based Winfield Solutions, one of several of the company’s proprietary products, MAX-IN, reportedly caught the attention of grower-customers, according to Josh Krenz, director of plant nutrition. “MAX-IN is our patented technology that allows nutrients to stay wet on the leaf surface longer, and it also has technology that helps penetrate the nutrient through the leaf. In doing that, we have about 12 different micronutrient products that go with that MAX-IN technology, so we have a large variety of products that can be used in that system.”

Winfield’s current offering in the Plant Growth Regulator (PGR) sub-category, Ascend, is another technology that is performing well.

“Over the last four years there have been 1300 replicated trials over four different geographies that show that Ascend, when used in-furrow at the start of the year with zinc, provides a significant five bushel yield advantage and creates consistent emergence, as well as a larger below ground root system,” says Krenz.

“Our business continues to grow with our original DDP Nutrients (zinc, boron, manganese, copper and iron), but one product we are very excited about is Magnesium DDP,” adds Wolf Trax’s Green. “We launched Magnesium DDP in a limited manner last year and had very good response in both sales and performance, so we anticipate that Magnesium DDP will be a very solid product for us in the coming years.

“Secondly, PROTINUS, our seed nutrition product, is gaining traction in several of the seed variety segments, and we expect to see continued growth there as well,” he continues. “Also, there is an increased interest in program approaches to micronutrients, and we have several initiatives under way in this area. The programs include using our PROTINUS as a seed treatment, utilizing the EvenCoat Technology of our DDP Nutrients in soil applications and adding either our DDP Nutrients or one of our upcoming products to a foliar application.”

Says The Mosaic Co.’s Dr. Freeman: “As growers continue to look for an edge and realize the importance of micronutrients, products like MicroEssentials can help growers achieve balanced crop nutrition, resulting in higher-yields. The innovation behind MicroEssentials, for example, ensures uniform distribution across every acre by combining four vital nutrients — two of which are macronutrients — into one nutritionally balanced granule. Application rates of micronutrients are very small compared to the macronutrients like N, P and K, and therefore it is critical that these small rates of micronutrients are applied uniformly across the field ensuring each plant has adequate access.”

New Micro Products For ‘14

Several of the manufacturers featured in this article plan on trotting out new or reformulated micronutrient products in time for the 2014 growing season.

H.J. Baker Bros subsidiary Tiger-Sul Products projects to have its new Boron product, Tiger-Boron 2%, registered in time for 2014, with labeling in all 50 states, and Winfield Solutions has plans to continue expanding its NutriSolutions 360 program.

Additionally, Wolf Trax anticipates introducing a unique zinc product that is specially formulated for foliar and liquid applications within the next 12-18 months, and it is also in the late stages of developing a “very unique” phosphorus product that has many of the same traits as its popular DDP Nutrients, such as EvenCoat Technology and PlantActiv Formulation.

Commodity Prices vs. Education

Several of the sources for this feature agreed that, while good weather and favorable commodity prices are certainly a driver of micronutrient product adoption, there are other factors that directly affect the rate at which growers choose to pick up these products.

“I would say that, while corn prices may fluctuate, deficiencies in the soil don’t,” says Winfield’s Krenz. “When commodity prices falter, then it becomes in our opinion even more important to protect ROI and yield by deploying a micronutrient regimen.”

The Anderson’s Gilliland agrees. “Prevention is always better than cure,” he says. “We’re optimistic that, as grain and nutrition prices fluctuate, there’s still going to be a real need in making sure the micronutrient is not the weakest link in the yield chain.”

Educating growers is a big part of keeping the micronutrient supply chain robust, and Stoller Enterprise’s Jerry Stoller sees a glaring need for more enlightenment in the industry.

“Most micronutrient sales are made from research that has been conducted many years ago, and in the minds of many growers this research is outdated,” he says. “The micronutrient industry also lacks basic science, as none of the company’s marketing micronutrients have a research staff that can collect unique data and give reasons how the micronutrients affect the physiological chemistry of the plant cells. The micronutrient industry has been based on the “show and tell” method of selling, and this is why the market is growing so slowly.

“When the micronutrient industry has the appropriate scientific information in order to fulfill the farmer’s needs, micronutrients will rapidly increase in sales and usage.”

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