Trevor Smith, left, First Farmers Cooperative agronomist, reviews WinField's NutriSolutions program with grower Trent Blankenship at his Parsons farm shop.
Trevor Smith, left, First Farmers Cooperative agronomist, reviews WinField's NutriSolutions program with grower Trent Blankenship at his Parsons farm shop.

As low commodity prices continue to challenge bottom-line profits, farmers seek ways to squeeze higher returns from their 2015 crop nutrient investments and other inputs. A valuable source of information is this season's tissue sampling data, which can provide a reliable snapshot of current plant nutrition programs and the basis for next year¹s plans.

A number of significant regional and national crop deficiency trends emerged from the 2014 WinField NutriSolutions tissue sampling program. Results were based on more than 65,000 tissue samples taken from 40 different crops across 38 states.

Individual crop results from national data showed approximately 75 percent of all corn samples had a zinc deficiency; more than 60 percent of soybean samples had a copper deficiency; approximately 85 percent of alfalfa samples had a calcium deficiency; and approximately 75 percent of wheat samples had a boron deficiency.

"Some of the nutrient losses we¹re seeing were due to heavy rains during the past two years, which have moved plant nutrients deeper into the soil profile, making them unavailable to plant roots," says Darrin Holder, agronomy manager, WinField. "Also, high yields during the past two years have removed a large amount of crop nutrients from the soil, causing deficiencies."

Protect In-Season Yield Potential

Plants have different nutrient needs at different growth stages and under different weather and stress conditions throughout the growing season. Tissue sampling and analysis allows farmers to monitor plant nutrient levels in season and provides an opportunity to quickly apply missing nutrients before yield potential is compromised. It also can save farmers from making costly plant nutrient applications that aren¹t necessary.

"Tissue sampling helps take the guesswork out of crop nutrient applications," Holder notes. "By pinpointing nutrient deficiencies and applying only what the crop needs, farmers increase the potential for seeing a greater return on crop nutrient investments."

Best results are seen when tissue sampling is completed at key growth stages throughout the season. In corn, sampling is recommended at V4 to V5, V10 to V11 and VT to R1. Soybean samples should be taken at V4, R1, and R2 to R3. Tissue samples are immediately sent to a NutriSolutions certified lab for processing, with analysis completed within a few days. If sample results indicate the crop is at the responsive or deficient levels in any essential plant nutrients at the current growth stage, farmers can quickly protect yield potential.

"More growers are finding that they can't continue with their same fertility program and expect to increase yields," Holder notes. "Methods, practices and products will have to change to keep pace with today's high-yielding genetics. If a specific nutrient deficiency isn't clearly identified through tissue testing, then adding more of it isn't going to provide a yield response."

Make Data-Based Decisions

More than 300,000 tissue samples have been taken through the NutriSolutions tissue sampling program over the past six years, building a robust plant nutrition database to help with planning. By combining this information with traditional soil testing and other advanced technologies, farmers have the tools to identify precise plant nutrient programs that deliver the best return potential.

"As farmers continue to tissue sample over several years, they will identify if they're addressing their crops' nutrient needs adequately to achieve yield goals," Holder says. "Knowing you ran out of potassium or another key plant nutrient at VT stage in corn this season can help you plan to use a different rate or placement strategy for next season."

For more information about tissue sampling and in-season plant nutrition, contact your WinField agronomist or visit winfield.com.