A robust micronutrient management programme is vital for spring crops, but this year it’s even more important than usual. Following a miserable winter and dry beginning to spring, micronutrients will play a vital role in ensuring a resilient spring cereal crop – especially as recent data has shown high rates of deficiency.
“We’ve seen more drilling of spring cereals this year to replace winter cereals,” says Natalie Wood, Country Arable Agronomist at Yara. “Many farmers are feeling pressure to achieve results in a tighter timeframe. Micronutrient applications can help to do so – make sure you take action for the best chance at driving resilient crop growth.”
Every year, Yara Analytical Services (YAS) receives many tissue samples from across the country for analysis. In 2019, several deficiencies were found in spring crops – with spring barley notably deficient in the majority of samples. “Magnesium (Mg) seems to be a common deficiency, especially in spring barley,” says Natalie. “Last year, 76% of samples were deficient and well below guideline levels.”
Magnesium deficiency can be destructive. As an important component of chlorophyll, crops cannot photosynthesise without it. In turn, this will lead to less efficient energy conversion – and ultimately weaker yields. “For a simple analogy, magnesium-deficient crops are like a faulty solar panel,” says Natalie. “On the surface everything might look fine, but the hidden mechanism is not functioning – you’re not getting the energy conversion that actually produces growth and yield.”
Other nutrients had an even poorer showing. The same data set revealed yet higher levels of boron (B) deficiency, with spring barley showing deficiencies in 80% of samples. Spring wheat had the most striking results – a shocking 100% of samples showed deficiency in boron.
“I’m surprised by the lack of boron,” says Natalie. “Boron is required for pollination, flowering, and most importantly grain set. Unless your boron levels are right, your yield will suffer. The costs of applying boron are very low whereas the cost of not applying it could be very high.”
Knowledge is power
What’s the best way to get ahead this spring? Knowing your circumstances. Tissue testing is the most sure-fire way to know exactly what is going on with your crop – at least at the time of sampling – and thus knowing which nutrients to rectify with specific products.
Nutrient requirements can change over time. Even a robust nutrient management programme, if targeting the wrong nutrients, cannot address a hidden problem, and ultimately becomes an unnecessary expenditure. “Be attentive and diligent,” says Natalie. “Spring crops can move through their growth stages very quickly. You don’t want to miss a key timing. Testing removes a lot of risk and sets you on the right course.”
Even without your own data, there are other useful sources – such as the YAS statistics cited previously. “Making use of national data can be a valuable aid,” says Natalie. “While not a substitute for acquiring your own data, it can be a helpful guide. For example, Mg and B are clearly in need of extra attention utilising the data from last year, so using products to cover those deficiencies is a safe bet.”
With spring crops often making rapid progress through growth stages depending on conditions, it’s essential to get the right applications on at the right time. This should be timed as the crop extends, which will coincide with fungicide timings. Natalie also offers some extra advice for the particularly problematic nutrients identified by last year’s data:
“Magnesium’s key timing would be the T1 fungicide timing. For boron, it’s a little more complex. Ideally, we would want to split applications. Trials have shown this results in higher yields. If possible, apply 0.5L/ha at T1 and 0.5L/ha at T2. If you’re only able to make one application though, don’t worry. Apply the full 1.0L/ha in T1.”
Farmers are under a great deal of pressure – more so than usual. At this stage, it’s easy to overlook some of the small things. “Be careful not to underestimate the importance of micronutrients for your spring crops. Deficiency can directly impact your crop, with financial implications from loss of yield. Don’t let deficiencies undermine your hard work. Stay vigilant and apply wisely this spring to drive optimum results.”