A triad of factors that included weather, product-delivery challenges and crop prices set the stage for a mighty interesting fertilizer season, and micronutrient suppliers felt the impact along with the rest of the industry.
Manufacturers witnessed some developments with gladness. Productivity and sales have rebounded from low volumes and high prices of last year, says Dirk Lohry, president, Nulex Inc. And the markets are more stable than they have been the past two years, he notes.
Early planting and soil conditions at planting time were conducive to micronutrient use in starter fertilizers, says Jerry Stoller, president, Stoller USA. He saw retailers take advantage of good planting conditions to add value to their starter products.
But Dan Froehlich, Mosaic’s U.S. agronomy manager, found that many “customers were undecided on whether to plant corn or soybeans until planting started. They seemed to plant corn until weather conditions were unfavorable, then switched to soybeans to finish.”
Last spring, Lohry saw conditions in his sales regions that prove the value of micronutrients. Extended cold soil temperatures and wetness slowed root growth and nutrient uptake. But starter quantities of micronutrients applied in a band overcame some of the problem.
Just-in-time delivery of products on both ends of the application timeline — from starter fertilizer to in-season foliar work — threatened the fertilizer upswing. “Grower indecision and reluctance of dealerships to bring in product that wasn’t already sold made this year more challenging than most,” says Froehlich. “It took some extra effort, but most dealers were supplied to meet their needs.”
Crop prices were encouraging. Stoller points out that corn and soybean prices significantly increased during the months of July and August — compared to a decrease last year at the same time — providing the economic incentive for growers to extend the micronutrient window. He says his greatest surprise was the length of time micros were used on crops, with the number of micro applications during July and August, particularly in corn and soybeans, much higher than in previous years.
Many of our micronutrient experts agreed that demand for zinc was high this season as deficiencies have become more common the last two years. Nulex’s Lohry has found exceptional gains in chelated formulations, particularly zinc, added to the company’s PureGrade products. “Zinc for corn is always our most important micronutrient/crop combination,” he says.
This year retailers and growers were looking for economical effectiveness, the cheapest way the get the nutrients into the plant, Lohry adds. He believes the best approach is using a complexed zinc, sequestered in a polyphosphate solution, that is applied in the root zone of the plant.
Wolf Trax currently has eight DDP (Dry Dispersible Powder) Micronutrient products available, including its new Cropmix DDP, a blended formulation of zinc, manganese, boron, copper, and iron that is designed to get crops off to a good start. Kerry Green, managing director at Wolf Trax, says his team was encouraged by the rapid acceptance of the product, which the company introduced in limited quantities this year (along with a commercial turf formulation, Turfmix DDP). Both products sold out.
Green says many retailers recommend the DDP technology — where each fertilizer prill is coated with micronutrient — to customers because they like the consistent distribution they get across the field.
Green is also getting reports that the company’s new seed nutrition product PROTINUS is helping growers produce “larger, more vigorous seedlings and bigger root systems in a wide variety of crops. We expect these differences to positively impact yield,” he says.
Manganese (Mn), particularly in soybean/glyphosate production systems, is getting more attention. Lohry cites research from Dr. Don Huber at Purdue University that suggests soils that are less biologically healthy will benefit more from application of manganese on glyphosate-resistant soybeans.
Some of the company’s PureGrade dealers are adding manganese to foliar applications on beans as a matter of course. “So far, we don’t know if these efforts are actually overcoming the yield drag that many glyphosate-resistant beans have. It’s too early to tell,” says Lohry.
He says the biggest problem with foliar Mn on soybeans is the timing. He believes it should be foliar-applied at least five days before glyphosate application or at least 10 days after, necessitating another sprayer trip over the field. “I’m afraid growers are simply tank mixing chelated Mn with glyphosate and spraying,” Lohry says. He recommends that if mixing Mn with glyphosate, the EDTA chelated form be used.
Green says Wolf Trax has definitely seen an increased use pattern of Manganese DDP as a tank-mixing partner with glyphosate, particularly in soybeans.
“Wolf Trax Manganese DDP has been formulated for both fertilizer coating and foliar applications, and its patented Dual-Action availability provides growers with added flexibility for timing their applications,” says Green. He also noted an increased demand for manganese and boron DDP in other foliar applications as well.
While not a micronutrient, sulfur was also a big seller this season. “It’s by far in the highest demand as we have cut back on the use of other products that traditionally supplied some sulfur and cleaned up the air from acid rain,” says Froehlich. Mosaic’s MicroEssentials SZ showed a dramatic starter effect this spring that carried through to pollination — and will hopefully translate into much high yields this fall, he notes.
Jeff Ivan, manager of marketing and business development, Tiger-Sul Products, heard reports of surprising levels of sulfur deficiencies in regions that have typically been fine. He sees demand for sulfur increasing as fall approaches. “A fall-applied 4% zinc/sulfur formulation is seeing a lot of interest as it addresses both sulfur and zinc requirements for corn in the Midwest,” he says. In fact, “a lot of dealers are looking at blending our Tiger Micronutrients 4% Zinc granular fertilizer with potash to spread this fall. This application will improve zinc soil distribution and the sulfur will enhance NPK utilization. It makes sense in terms of application efficiencies and plant nutrient use efficiencies.”
Rod Riech, product manager, Brandt Consolidated, points out that foliar applications may be needed in a field. Soil tests may read adequate levels of micronutrients, but that doesn’t mean they’re available to the plant, he cautions. And environmental factors such as overly dry or wet weather can also determine if a certain micronutrient is available. “That’s why foliar applications are so effective in terms of delivering micronutrients to the plant — we’ve heard many success stories from the field,” he says.
A favorite this season? The company’s new Brandt Smart System and Manni-Plex formulations (which contain nitrogen, magnesium, boron, copper, manganese, and zinc) have been a help in tank mixes, says Riech. They’ve improved physical and biological compatibility of micros with pesticides, particularly glyphosate, he says.
“Retailers and producers are beginning to understand the need for micronutrients as we push yields to a higher level,” says Froehlich. More progressive dealerships are stepping up their efforts in promoting a balanced crop nutrition story and focusing on the factors limiting production. “Once N, P and K are balanced, micronutrients are the next step. Growers need to keep their minds open to new ideas and formulations that can enhance production,” he adds.
Stoller would put retailers into three categories: Those that sell and promote only micronutrients recommended by soil tests/tissue tests or by the state university for a particular crop in a particular region; those that have at least one person scouting the fields who knows how to identify micronutrient problems not only on leaves but on roots; and those that don’t handle or promote micronutrient use — they are primarily selling N, P, K and sulfur.
Stoller says dealer categories one and two are growing slightly every year. The driver? “Producers are wondering how they can increase yields. Consultants and crop experts feel that micronutrients may be responsible or a key to substantially increasing yields,” he explains.
Lohry is concerned about the long-term trend of lower levels of micronutrients in soils — as well as fewer nutrients in general. “We are seeing micronutrient deficiencies in areas that never had them,” he says. “More moisture, higher yields and continuous cropping are removing more nutrients than are being replaced. There is more yellower corn in the Midwest this year than I have ever seen.”
His advice is simple: “Do more soil tests and tissue samples now more than ever.”