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Don't overlook corn micronutrients -- study

Jeff Caldwell 11/06/2013 @ 8:51am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Nitrogen's the nutrient king when it comes to corn production. But, new information shows that it's the lesser-considered micronutrients that may have just as much to do with the success of a corn crop today.

The results of a study released recently by Purdue University agronomists shows micronutrients like zinc, iron and copper have a lot to do with optimal corn growth and development, and they work in concert with nitrogen in their uptake and ultimate availability to a growing corn plant. The net result is an emphasis on micronutrients in an overall crop nutrient management and fertilizer system, says Purdue agronomist and leader of the recent study, Tony Vyn.

"This study raises the question of whether we need to pay more attention to micronutrients in fertilizer management," Vyn says in a university report. "In high-yield systems, it's not just that corn requires more macronutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus - which is what farmers normally think about -- more micronutrients are needed as well. If you have soil that is deficient in micronutrients, you could be limiting your yields."

And, having these micronutrients present in the soil isn't enough; once a crop's removed, chances are a lot of those nutrients are removed too. Keeping a steady supply of them, Vyn says, is important.

"For many years, we didn't have to worry about micronutrients," he says. "But if you're in a cash crop situation where you're producing bigger plants and more grain, you are exporting more micronutrients away from the field at harvest. If you're not replacing them, the soil is going to be depleted over time."

Another part of the study, co-authored by Kansas State University crop production specialist Ignacio Ciampitti, points to the importance of not just quantity of these micronutrients in the soil, but their availability. And, that's influenced by factors like soil pH.

"Nutrient availability is more complex than soil nutrient concentrations," Ciampitti says. "Nutrient availability is also related to the plant's ability to take up each nutrient at the soil-root interface.”

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