If you are fine-tuning your farming practices to achieve higher yield or quality, foliar nutrition is one of your most powerful tools. The portfolio of foliar nutrition products continues to expand, with many products available for the majority of crops grown in Western Canada. To find the best product for your crop and farm, put your crop nutrition plan under the microscope.
Understand What The Crop Needs
Different crops have different nutrient requirements. Canola and alfalfa require higher levels of boron compared to a cereal or pulse crop. A soil test is the only way to find out if your field can supply the nutrients that the growing crop needs, and which nutrients are insufficient for crop requirements. Tissue testing is a technique that can pinpoint which nutrient(s) (or lack there of) is actually limiting crop growth during the growing season.
It is also important to consider the environmental conditions and how they could be affecting the crops nutrient dynamics throughout the growing season. In dry conditions, crops can benefit greatly from higher potassium levels. However, this nutrient is taken up in smaller quantities in dry soils. In saturated soil, root growth slows or even stops all together and crops generally take up less nutrition from the soil. This will hinder overall growth and yield production. All of this together means that determining the correct nutrient to foliar apply should begin with soil and tissue tests and be adjusted based on environmental conditions.
Choose The Right Foliar Nutrition Product
There are many foliar nutrient products available, and choosing the right one, at the right rate can sometimes feel overwhelming. Here are the 4R’s of nutrient management: the right source, right rate, right time and right place. When choosing a product, consider three things:
- The percentage of active ingredient in the product
- The weight of the product per unit
- The recommended application rate of the product
This information will allow you to determine the amount of nutrient provided per acre. Beyond the science, the economic factors and ease of use will also help you make the right choice for your field and farm.
Apply At The Optimal Time
To get the most out of a foliar application, the product has to be applied at the right time. Closely monitor moisture. If your crop is short on moisture, it will strive to preserve moisture by thickening the leaf cuticle and limiting how wide and long the stomata are open. This will in turn impede a foliar nutrient getting inside the plant. Applications should be done in the early morning or when conditions are warm (but not hot) and moist. This is when leaf tissue is most permeable.
Crops also require varying amounts of nutrients throughout the growing season based on their stage of development. Applying particular nutrients at specific times can significantly improve the effectiveness of foliar applied fertilizers. This is exemplified by the application of K and MG during fruit development, which supports the development of large, healthy fruit. There is an increased need for available boron during flower development and fertilization. Boron plays a role in pollen tube formation in flowers. Phosphorus is most significantly required early in the growing season to support aggressive root development and crop establishment. The degree to which crops benefit from foliar applied nutrients varies throughout the growing season and is further influenced by the environmental conditions.
Keep Planning Ahead
To continue to achieve high yields and quality, take the time to do a deep-dive into your farm’s long-term crop nutrition plan. Understand what nutrients are available in each field, what your crops are removing and what you’ll need for upcoming rotations. Know when to build the nutrient bank so fertilizer never becomes the limiter on yield or quality.