With so many different soil geographies, it can be difficult to keep track of the various issues that might arise in your plants in a given year. In this post, we’ve listed some common nutrient deficiencies, how to identify them and what’s at stake for your plants.

You will notice that many nutrient deficiencies look very similar in the way that they affect plants. It’s easy to fall into the trap of applying more of one specific nutrient because it looks like that’s what your crops need. With that method, you could end up applying more iron, when in reality your crops are deficient in manganese.

Rather than leaving it to guesswork, the best thing to do is know what’s already in your soil, vs. what’s in your plant tissue. That way you know exactly what nutrients your crops are lacking and you can plan accordingly. The first step is to take a soil test to see how your soil fares.

Another great way to ensure your crops have the adequate nutrients and in the appropriate amounts is to work with your agronomist to develop a fertility plan that allows your crops access to nutrients that may have been tied up in the soil or in your fertilizer.

There are also some visible signs that can help you start recognizing potential nutrient deficiencies in your crops. Here are five nutrients your crops may be deficient in and how to recognize them.

1. Phosphorus

Identifying Deficiency: The best way to identify a phosphorus deficiency is by stunted growth in the early development stages. Corn crops also may develop a purple discoloration on the leaves and stems due to an accumulation of sugars.

Consequences: A phosphorus deficiency can lead to impaired growth, irregular seed development and slowed crop maturity.

2. Zinc

Identifying Deficiency: Similar to phosphorus, a zinc deficiency can be recognized by a stunted growth in corn plants, and smaller leaves.

In soybeans, a zinc deficiency could cause leaves to turn yellow or brown, or develop stripes. Severe zinc deficiency could cause older leaves to turn brown or purple and wither.

Consequences: Since zinc is necessary for energy and growth regulation, a zinc deficiency could lead to delayed crop maturity. Zinc deficiency can also reduce root growth.

3. Copper

Identifying Deficiency: Copper deficiency is a little more difficult than the rest to identify visually. Some telling factors are wilting leaves that are paler than normal, potential yellowing of leaves, and possible stunting of growth.

Consequences: Copper is essential for efficient plant reactions that involve carbohydrates and nitrogen, so deficiency can cause growth complications. Adequate copper supplies are also useful for cellular strength and the prevention of wilting, which is why wilting is sometimes seen in copper-deficient plants.

4. Iron

Identifying Deficiency: Easily identified in soybeans as Iron Deficiency Chlorosis (IDC), an iron deficiency is characterized by yellowing of leaves and dark green veins, often referred to as interveinal chlorosis.

IDC occurs in soils containing a lot of iron but the iron is not in a form that is soluble for plant uptake. These soils have ferric iron (Fe3+) vs. the more soluble ferrous (Fe2+) form. Iron deficiency can also commonly be found in soils with high pH values or a high level of calcium carbonate.

Consequences: Iron deficiency reduces a plant’s ability to properly regulate chlorophyll and perform other metabolic processes. The irregularity of these processes can negatively impact plant health or even cause plant death.

5. Manganese

Identifying Deficiency: The visible symptoms of a manganese deficiency are quite similar to IDC, with the same interveinal chlorosis. Brown spots may also appear within the yellowing areas of the leaves. The edges of the leaves are usually the first to turn yellow.

Consequences: Deficiency in manganese can impact crucial crop processes including photosynthesis, chloroplast formation, nitrogen assimilation and other biological processes. If a plant is deficient in manganese, it may also experience more susceptibility to root pathogens, and subsequent plant disease.