Micronutrients: Maximizing Yields
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.
â€œThis yearâ€™s trying spring weather showed the benefits of early nutrient availability and getting the crop off to a good start,â€� says Kerry Green, managing director, Wolf Trax. â€œProducers 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.â€�
The Mosaic Co. also witnessed increased grower awareness of micronutrient benefits, according to Dr. Kyle Freeman, manager of new product development. â€œWeâ€™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 â€” nitrogen, phosphorus and potassiumÂ â€” 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.â€�
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.
â€œThis 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,â€� says Stoller. â€œHowever, 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.â€�
Just as the big ag equipment manufacturers are increasingly integrating technologies once considered after-market add-ons as now-standard equipment, todayâ€™s most popular micronutrient formulations are often ones that feature multiple technologies in a single package.
â€œAll 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. â€œGenerally 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 micronutrientsÂ â€” and those mixes were popular as well.â€�
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.
â€œWe have a complete line of liquid EDTA Chelated Solutions that blend with any and all tank mixes that are utilized in the market today,â€� says Gilliland. â€œWe have a line of products that we call â€˜Micro Markâ€™, which are more specialized for geography or a certain product mix, and weâ€™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 todayâ€™s corn crops planted at high populations. These are all products that weâ€™ve manufactured to try to create different blends of micros with different carriers.â€�
At Minneapolis, MN-based Winfield Solutions, one of several of the companyâ€™s proprietary products, MAX-IN, reportedly caught the attention of grower-customers, according to Josh Krenz, director of plant nutrition. â€œMAX-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.â€�
Winfieldâ€™s current offering in the Plant Growth Regulator (PGR) sub-category, Ascend, is another technology that is performing well.
â€œOver 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,â€� says Krenz.
â€œOur 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,â€� adds Wolf Traxâ€™s Green. â€œWe 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.
â€œSecondly, 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,â€� he continues. â€œAlso, 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.â€�
Says The Mosaic Co.â€™s Dr. Freeman: â€œAs 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 â€” two of which are macronutrients â€” 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.â€�
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.
â€œI would say that, while corn prices may fluctuate, deficiencies in the soil donâ€™t,â€� says Winfieldâ€™s Krenz. â€œWhen commodity prices falter, then it becomes in our opinion even more important to protect ROI and yield by deploying a micronutrient regimen.â€�
The Andersonâ€™s Gilliland agrees. â€œPrevention is always better than cure,â€� he says. â€œWeâ€™re optimistic that, as grain and nutrition prices fluctuate, thereâ€™s still going to be a real need in making sure the micronutrient is not the weakest link in the yield chain.â€�
Educating growers is a big part of keeping the micronutrient supply chain robust, and Stoller Enterpriseâ€™s Jerry Stoller sees a glaring need for more enlightenment in the industry.
â€œMost micronutrient sales are made from research that has been conducted many years ago, and in the minds of many growers this research is outdated,â€� he says. â€œThe micronutrient industry also lacks basic science, as none of the companyâ€™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 â€œshow and tellâ€� method of selling, and this is why the market is growing so slowly.
â€œWhen the micronutrient industry has the appropriate scientific information in order to fulfill the farmerâ€™s needs, micronutrients will rapidly increase in sales and usage.â€�