Farm Progress

Biological activity in soil Is key for today’s high-yielding crops

Today’s high-yielding crops require a greater amount of nutrients to be replenished each year. The soil’s biological activity is key to ensuring the crop receives the nutrients it needs.

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The soil’s biological activity, such as the oxidation of elemental sulfur, is a critical aspect to ensure plants receive the nutrients they need throughout the season. 

“Today’s hybrids and varieties are creating higher-yielding crops, which require more nutrients throughout the growing season,” says Dr. Matt Clover, manager of research and alliances for The Mosaic Company. “A high-yielding crop year means fewer nutrients are available to the plant for the next year, and therefore need to be replenished. This is why it is important to make sure your crops have the right nutrients available to them from the beginning to the end of the growing season.”

Sulfur (S) is one nutrient that can be readily available to the plant throughout the season, but it needs to oxidize in order to be available all season long. There are two forms of S needed: elemental sulfur (S0) and sulfate sulfur (SO42-). Sulfate sulfur provides plants with the S they need in the beginning of the season, and elemental sulfur oxidizes in the soil over the growing season to become available to the plant later. Elemental sulfur must oxidize into SO42- to be available for plant absorption. Sulfate sulfur can be applied directly to the soil, but is prone to leaching.

MicroEssentials® is a proprietary fertilizer specially formulated for use on most crops, and it provides plants with both elemental and sulfate sulfur. Through Mosaic’s patented Fusion® technology process, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), sulfur (S) are fused into a nutritionally balanced granule, creating a single source for balanced crop nutrition.

“To help reduce leaching, sulfur can be applied by top- or side-dressing later in the season,” adds Clover. “Another option is to utilize an elemental sulfur fertilizer, because the oxidation process occurs over the growing season, which is beneficial to the crop when leaching is a concern.”

The rate of oxidation is an important factor to consider, because it can impact the availability of S for the crop. Elemental sulfur’s oxidation rate affects the availability of sulfate sulfur, which ultimately determines the amount of S that the plant has available. Oxidation is a biological process, and the rate can be affected by five major factors:

  • Particle Size: The bigger the particles, the slower the oxidation process, because there is less surface area for the particles to colonize. Smaller particles are ideal for a faster oxidation process.

  • Temperature: As temperatures increase, so do oxidation rates. For every 18 degrees’ Fahrenheit increase in the soil temperature, the oxidation rate increases an estimated 3.6 times.

  • Soil Water Content: For oxidation to occur, water and oxygen are needed. For saturated soil, more oxygen is needed because the oxygen supplies are reduced in this type of soil. Conversely, in dry soil, more water is needed.

  • Soil Chemical and Biological Properties: Both pH and organic carbon directly impact the rate of oxization. The higher the pH and organic carbon content, the faster the oxidation.

  • Degree of Dispersion: When S0 is co-granulated into fertilizers, the oxidation process occurs more slowly. This allows S to be available to the plant for the duration of the growing season.

“These five factors play a huge role in whether sulfur will be readily available to the plant,” Clover says. “The soil’s biological activity of oxidizing elemental sulfur is a key aspect to ensure that the plant is getting the nutrients that it needs throughout the season after high-yielding crop years.”

For more information about MicroEssentials, talk to your local retailer or visit


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