TRACKING SULFUR. Visible signs of sulfur deficiency in a corn plant. Researchers believe tissue tests are more reliable than soil tests to confirm available S because 90-95% of the nutrient is in organic form and much of it comes from microbial activity and soil health.

How To Benchmark Crop Macro and Micronutrient Status

The effectiveness of soil and tissue tests depends on the crop, field conditions and the nutrient in question, and no-tillers should back up the results with scouting and on-farm strip trials.

Peter Kyveryga says he’s been hearing more and more discussions among farmers about nutrient deficiencies in corn and soybeans during the growing season.

The operations manager for analytics at Iowa Soybean Assn. On-Farm Network suspects the reasons are related to yearly increases in yields, adverse weather conditions, deteriorated soils and high input costs relative to commodity prices that pushed some farmers to reduce fertilizer applications.

Many farmers try to get better information about nutrient levels in fields by taking soil and tissue tests, but there’s a lot more to understanding these reports than just looking at the numbers, Kyveryga says.

While there’s been a surge in tissue testing in recent years, Kyveryga is concerned that some of the modern soil and tissue tests don’t have reliable calibrations or that their calibrations were developed 20 or 30 years ago.

“It’s very important to realize that the value of soil and tissue testing is actually in calibration,” he says. “It’s not in number values, but how good the calibration is for a test. The well-calibrated test should tell when and where, at what probability, a crop will respond to a nutrient.”

No Easy Answers

There are a handful of methodologies that commonly apply to soil and tissue testing, and they all have their benefits and limitations, Kyveryga says.

The sufficiency concept, applied both for soil and tissue testing, centers around finding which nutrient in a crop is deficient, whether it’s potassium, nitrogen, sulfur or something else. With this philosophy, a nutrient is…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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