By Luke Schulte, CCA, Beck’s Field Agronomist
For many reasons, fertilizer prices have been on the rise for some time. Due to significantly higher pricing, some farmers may have opted to apply less or perhaps skip dry fertilizer applications all together. However, adequate nutrition is fundamental to maximizing yield potential and is increasingly important to profitability in this time of high commodity prices.
Foliar nutrition products are often labeled “snake oils.” While some foliar products haven’t been consistent, it is important to recognize that it is not as simple as prescribing a product containing the nutrients the soil or crop lacks. Relative to dry fertilizer, the volume of nutrients in a foliar feed program is minute. Therefore, it is imperative to focus on successfully getting the low volume of nutrition into the plant to capitalize on its’ efficiency. The inclusion of the following components into a foliar program will lead to a greater likelihood of plant uptake.
Components to maximize uptake.
- Fulvic acid: Fulvic acids are powerful chelators and are very small molecules. The size and ability to form strong complexes with nutrients significantly impact nutritional intake.
Fulvic acids also serve as antioxidants. Simply put, they help plants combat stresses, such as excessively wet or drought, by minimizing the compromising of neighboring cell components. By minimizing cell destruction, the plant doesn’t expend energy on cell repair, thus more energy towards growth and dry matter accumulation. The Versa Max line of products from Rosen’s Incorporated each contain a fulvic acid.
- Potassium acetate: Potassium is a large molecule and difficult to foliar feed. However, the source of the potassium can significantly impact absorption by the plant. Foliar feeds derived from potassium acetate are much more likely (> 500%) to be absorbed by plant tissue. Potassium plays a pivotal role in soybean flower initiation and regulates water vapor exchange (keeps the plant hydrated). Potassium acetate is also an antioxidant.
- Water conditioners: The most significant component within any spray solution that touches the plant is the water component. Water sources vary considerably from area to area, but much of the water sourced from wells is considered “hard.” Hard water is caused by high levels of cations (primarily Ca, Mg, and Na) and often possesses an alkaline pH. These hard water minerals can be antagonistic, inhibiting the effectiveness of the spray solution. BRANDT Indicate 5 works as a water conditioner that counters the effect of hard water and an acidifier. This conditioner has a built-in pH indicator that turns the spray water pink when a pH level of 4.5 to 5.5 is reached. Choice Trio works as a water conditioner by sequestering, chelating, and complexing hard water cations.
- Adjuvant technology: Adjuvants are designed to help get more of a pesticide, fungicide, or foliar nutrient into the plant. How they do so will vary, but those that successfully increase the speed of absorption and moisture retention typically perform more consistently. The MAX-IN products (listed above) by Winfield United contain CornSorb technology, which is a crop-based adjuvant designed to do just that — increase humectancy and uptake.
- Time of day: As you read this, many corn and soybean acres are entering crucial yield determining stages — flowering and ear initiation (approximately V5/V6). Plant health, vigor, and nutrition all play a pivotal role in maximizing the volume and size of these plant components. Applying foliar nutrients in the morning, or during cooler hours, is more effective and profitable than applications made in the heat of the day.
This occurs for several reasons.
- Dew and respired water are more abundant on the leaf surface in the morning. This added moisture can serve as an additional carrier to get more nutrition in the plant.
- Cooler temperatures allow plants to retain moisture longer, slowing evaporation rates.
- The stomata (the small pores or openings on the underside of the leaves) are open in the morning, allowing for increased uptake.
Whether you chose to apply dry fertilizer before this crop or not, nutrition is key to maximizing growth and efficiency and conquering abiotic stress. Don’t just check the box; it’s better ensure your foliar investment makes it in the plant and makes a difference.