When it comes to cutting costs, it's often easier to cut out one segment of a budget than it is to trim back the entire budget. However, when it comes to trimming a fertilizer budget, easy is seldom sensible. The likely result is yield loss from an out of balance approach to meeting crop nutrient needs. Helping customers understand and make the right decision is simply the right thing to do, said Dick Camp, Kronos Micronutrients.

"We encourage people to look hard at their micronutrient needs and explain that micronutrients are often like the catalyst in epoxy glue. The main components don't work without it," he said. "When you sit down and draw a zinc response curve, its nothing new for most of these guys."

"This is the time to really study soil tests and consider using tissue tests to track nutrient use," advised Jeff Ivan, marketing manager, Tiger-Sul. "To get the best yields at the best return, it is critical to keep soil fertility in balance and not cut back on nutrients that may be limiting crop yield."

Kipp Smallwood, Tetra Micronutrients, is confident such marketing messages resonate much better with growers than they would have not too many years ago. He believes they realize they need micronutrients as well as N, P and K.

"They realize they have to deal with the entire spectrum of a plant's nutrient needs," he said. "Years ago, they would have just cut micros out.

Research and education have played important roles in that understanding, added Ivan. That is especially true of sulfur, once a common soil ingredient, thanks in part to atmospheric sulfur deposited by rainfall. As sulfur pollution has been reduced, indirect and direct yield response to applied sulfur has increased, especially over the past four years.

"We have shown that without sulfur in the soil, nitrogen losses can be as great as 30 percent, when compared to a NPK only treatment," Ivan said. "Sulfur also plays a critical role in the formation of amino acid proteins and in chlorophyll production. We've also shown dramatic increases in yield and starch formation with our sulfur and zinc formulation."

Ivan said the company is continuing research on its crop-specific sulfur and micronutrient blends and crop mixes. "Tiger Corn Mix PPI contains a high percentage of sulfur embedded with zinc for either a pre-plant broadcast and incorporated treatment with potash, or placed in-furrow, he said. "Independent research indicates that while you can see an impact on starch levels from sulfur, it is even greater with zinc in the formulation." At the 100-pound per acre rate, the crop will get two pounds of actual zinc, and the sulfur needed for optimum uptake of nitrogen, he said.

Brian Kuehl, West Central Inc., is equally confident that growers facing iron chlorosis problems in soybeans won't turn away from that company's SoyGreen, a water soluble, dry flowable, iron product. He credits research work carried out by North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota for laying the groundwork for verifying efficacy of SoyGreen and its exclusive chelating agent.

"We had been looking for an iron product that would solve the iron chlorosis problem, and university level research pointed out the importance of the chelating agent," said Kuehl. "Although they were looking at seed treatments, it was clear that an ortho/para EDDHA [ethylenediaminedi (o-hydroxyphenylacetic) acid] detracted from efficacy compared to an ortho/ortho EDDHA."

Adequate seed treatment levels left seed so wet it plugged planters. West Central tried foliar, broadcast and in-furrow treatments, settling on in-furrow as the most effective. Rates vary from one to three pounds, depending on the level of the problem. Kuehl said most growers have a good idea of how bad the problem could be depending on variety planted, soil and environmental conditions.

Because iron chlorosis shows up in the same areas in given fields, Kuehl said it is an ideal condition to be treated with variable rate, precision applications. Growers who have iron chlorosis sporadically throughout entire fields have benefitted from in-furrow SoyGreen applications of 2 to 3 pounds per acre to the entire field with the level of response depending on the severity of the chlorosis.

"I know growers who apply at 3 pounds per acre to areas that tend to have chlorosis problems," he said. "Our highest documented yield response was 40 bushels per acre in a chlorosis hot spot. SoyGreen was able to bring soybeans to harvest that would have died."

West Central has also demonstrated yield response at the 1 pound per acre rate in sugar beets. However, in a definite "more is not always better" situation, yields fell off at a 2-pound rate. Kuehl noted that too much iron can interact with other micronutrients and suspects the higher rate tied up some needed manganese.

Getting the right rate on at the right time is key to efficacious micronutrient delivery, as many have learned in recent years with manganese deficiencies following glyphosate applications. In a worst-case scenario, adding manganese to glyphosate not only doesn't treat the manganese deficiency, but according to micronutrients specialist Smallwood, can also interfere with weed control. "Purdue and Kansas researchers had the same results putting manganese in the spray tank with glyphosate," he said. "Adding it to a fungicide application two weeks later, after the glyphosate has run its course in the plant, gives a good response. We've seen increases from 5 to 25 bushels per acre, depending on how deficient the soil was to start with."

Again a solid field research program can affirm in the grower's mind that he is getting a response. Smallwood suggests using in-season plant tissue tests for soil-applied micronutrients. However, he warns against them following foliar applications, noting that product may be detected on the plant surface as opposed to inside the tissue. "An in-season point emersion soil test can detect how micronutrients are tracking, and then if there is a problem, do a foliar application," he said.

As always, micronutrient response varies according to soils and conditions. Smallwood reported excellent results in manganese deficient soils in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and Indiana and in the Southeast from the Carolinas through Georgia and Alabama.

When it comes to getting a response from an application of zinc, Kronos' Camp is especially concerned about wonder products as farmers again deal with tight margins.

These are the zinc or other micronutrient products that are promoted as being "nine times better" or with other miracle claims. The problem he said is that the industry has been so successful in its mission that in many cases there are micronutrient levels in the soil that allow the miracle claim to appear valid for a year or so.

"Ag people tend to be innovative and early adopters and they like to try new things," Camp said. "We need to encourage crop consultants and farmers to be sure they are actually getting what they think they are. We are trying to help farmers avoid an expensive tuition, learning that a wonder product is just mining the soil and then they have to come back and rebuild levels instead of simply maintaining."

Kronos is preparing an intensive education program they plan to introduce this coming fall. The goal, Camp said, is to show farmers what is chemically possible. That will be easier today given current knowledge levels, he added.

"Generally speaking, full-service ag retailers and farmers alike really understand the role of micronutrients," Camp said, who credits crop consultant certification training in part. "When I attend growers' meetings, I see soil lab people and other experts talking about micronutrients and the farmers show up and pay attention."