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When You Might Need Sulfur and Zinc for Corn

When You Might Need Sulfur and Zinc for Corn
Agronomists examine if these nutrients should be applied today.

More farmers are applying zinc and sulfur today than in the past. Betsy Bower, an Indiana Certified Crop Adviser and agronomist with Ceres Solutions in west-central Indiana, says that farmers who have irrigation can add what the crop needs through irrigation water. Others will have to make a foliar application if they wait until later in the season to decide that they need one or more extra nutrients.

CONSIDER TISSUE TESTING: Tom Stein says that tissue testing can help determine if plants need more zinc and sulfur.

In the case of sulfur, no one in Indiana worried about it much until a few years ago. For decades there was plenty of sulfur available free in the atmosphere, largely due to coal-fired utility plants. As the Environmental Protection Agency cracked down on emissions, including sulfur, less is available in the atmosphere. That trend may intensify if President Obama gets his way and the EPA tightens emission regulations even further.

Tom Stein, manager of the Ceres Solutions branch at Templeton and also a CCA, says that zinc and sulfur are just as necessary for plant growth as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – they're just needed in smaller quantities. Soil tests are one way to determine if levels are adequate, especially for zinc, he notes. He says soil tests are more sketchy for sulfur since it's more mobile than zinc.

Related: Tissue Sampling: Another Tool For The Yield Management Toolbox

Tissue testing of key nutrients at early growth stages is an excellent way to measure uptake of these nutrients, Stein explains. They can be a good tool to help you know if you need to find a way to apply sulfur, zinc or any other nutrients to the crop during the growing season to prevent possible yield losses this year.

If you follow a routine tissue testing schedule and pull samples on a timely basis, you should catch possible deficiencies and be able to make the corrections yet this season, he concludes.

Not everyone is as supportive of routine tissue testing. However, most say it is a useful tool in certain situations.

For more on this topic, look for Crops Corner in the April issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer due out later this month. It features information provided by Stein and other Indiana CCAs.

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