Knowledge article

Trace elements: do they have a place in the fertilisation plan or not?

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With last year's harvest just off the field, it is time to look toward the coming growing season. And a fertilization plan is an important part of crop preparation. Naturally, the most important main elements nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are the primary considerations. The soil pH and the organic matter content are also important factors, which are fortunately getting more and more attention. After all, the pH and the organic matter content have a major effect on the availability of nutrients in the plant. But do you pay enough attention to the presence and availability of trace elements?

Importance of trace elements

Trace elements are essential for good crop growth and quality. Besides the main nutrients (N, P, K) and secondary elements (S, Ca, Mg), trace elements (or micronutrients) such as iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), boron (B) and molybdenum (Mo) are also essential, but in small quantities. The reason for this is that trace elements are used less often to form dry matter in the crop. But, on the other hand, trace elements often play a crucial role in plant metabolism. For example, many enzymes are completely dependent on trace elements to function properly.

As early as 1840, the German scientist Justus von Liebig already stated that crop growth is determined by the nutrient that is present in the relatively smallest quantity. This 'Liebig's law' is often depicted in the form of a barrel whose staves symbolize different elements. The barrel can then never be filled above the shortest stave. In short: a shortage of trace elements can also lead to deficiency symptoms and loss of yield.

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When should you fertilise with trace elements?

There is an ongoing debate about the usefulness and necessity of fertilizing with trace elements. Often use of animal manure will provide enough trace elements to meet the needs of a crop. But providing nutrients in the soil (fertilizing) is still not the same as making nutrients available to the plant (giving nutrients to the crop itself). For example, the availability of many nutrients decreases rapidly with higher soil pH. If the organic matter content is low, nutrients are sensitive to leaching, while with high organic matter content, specific elements, such as manganese, are properly fixed. Weather conditions, especially drought, also play a crucial role when it comes to the availability of trace elements.

The (correct) use of foliar fertilisers as part of your fertilisation plan

Correct fertilisation with trace elements is specialized work that must be tailored to each situation.

The soil analysis below shows that the chance of a manganese deficiency is very high on this plot. Due to the high pH, soil fertilisation will have insufficient or very little effect, so foliar fertilization will be recommended here.

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When developing its foliar fertilizers, Soiltech focuses on correct crop nutrition. Effective absorption of nutrients without creating an imbalance is paramount here. But the ability to pour and combine foliar fertilizers in a tank mix are also determining factors for the correct effect in your crop.

We conduct a lot of research into the effect of foliar fertilization, both in our in-house research greenhouse and in field trials. The figure below shows that the lack of manganese in a nutrient solution leads to a significant yield loss. This can easily be prevented by applying a foliar spray with Soiltech's Optima Leaf-Mn+.

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