This is the year that people should be going back to using micronutrients.
After all, to open the door, you have to have the key. As a critical factor in regulating enzyme and hormone balance within a plant, micronutrients are that lock and key mechanism.
“They’ve laid off (micronutrients) two years now … People are going to continue to try to push yield up,” says Tommy Roach, Director, Product Development & Specialty Products with Nachurs. “They’re going to have to use micronutrients, and other small additives to get to the next yield goal, whatever the goal is. They are not going to be able to get to it by using traditional NPK fertility.
“You may lose five to 10 bushels off the end by not using a simple port of zinc up front at planting (corn),”
Yet for those who are pulling back, they must decide how to spend their next dollar efficiently — and micronutrients will often be the first to go.
“We’ve had lots of conversations with suppliers and customers on chelates; they have inventory left over and sales were pretty poor. Farmers are definitely more cost-conscious this year and we’re seeing that in the sales results,” YaraVita Director Toby Goodroad says. Many chelates are procured overseas, and because of the long supply chain they have to be pre-ordered so they can be available for the season. This year, growers delayed their decisions on crop inputs, and once the season broke, micronutrients were cut from their program.
“Growers are more focused on nitrogen and other macronutrients, and are looking at how to utilize precision agriculture because now they can be more efficient. Micronutrients are a tough sell at any point. They require selling and reselling. We as a company know they’re very important, but there has to be a certain level of basics covered from a macronutrient standpoint to get any kind of agronomic response,” Goodroad says. “If you’re not providing the macronutrients that (the crop) needs, it’s not a micronutrient that is going to save it and push it to the next level of yield.”
Although most precision ag today is heavily nitrogen-focused, Goodroad says “there is a day for sure that I could see variable-rate micronutrient applications in season. They are doing that today from a dry standpoint or even a liquid standpoint at seeding — putting on a micronutrient and variable-rate fertility across the field today in some cases. As we get more intensive that’s something that will happen.”
Efficiency is the Word
From a foliar perspective, Goodroad says YaraVita has had a decent year for the more intensive fruit-and-vegetable crops, while interest in products for broad acre crops has declined. The liquid system needed to use chelated micronutrients is simply out of reach for many growers who are not already set up for it in this difficult market.
For YaraVita, the plan of attack is Procote, its liquid technology for coating prilled and granular fertilizers with micronutrients. Procote’s appeal is clear: It’s a low-cost way to feed the plant micronutrients when it needs them, and since it’s already on the fertilizer when the grower buys it, it doesn’t require any extra steps. For the grower that doesn’t have the necessary data on their acreage, it’s a surefire way to supply essential micronutrients like zinc, boron, copper and manganese to the crop.
Paul Reising, Senior Product Manager of Micronutrients with Compass Minerals, says that sales of its Nu-Trax P+ fertilizer — which adds the benefit of a starter to a dry fertilizer application — have grown significantly in 2016, and it will continue to focus on building that business in the coming year.
“Farmers didn’t want to spend money on a liquid starter product, and Nu-Trax P+ could provide the early-season zinc and phosphorus that’s important for their crops,” Reising says.
Reising notes that while the total micronutrient market has shrunk, sales of Compass Minerals’ Wolf Trax DDP Nutrients have fared well in comparison to granular sales, thanks to the product’s EvenCoat technology which farmers like for its efficient coating of micronutrients on macronutrient fertilizer blends.
Reising adds: “We encourage retailers and growers to take a good look at the zinc content in the fertilizer sources they are currently using. In 2015, third-party research indicated that many starter fertilizers are not providing the total zinc needed all season by corn crops in some regions. When we added Wolf Trax Zinc DDP to the program, the trial saw a significant yield increase. Some farmers may need to adjust their programs and supplement their liquid starter. Broadcast applications of Zinc DDP are economical and may increase corn yields.”
Focusing on the needs of retailers, operational efficiency is vital, says Reising. “We have a major emphasis on handling equipment that allows for operational efficiency and dust mitigation when working with our Wolf Trax DDP Nutrients and Nu-Trax P+.”
Lyndon Smith, Chief Executive of Bio Huma Netics, says the company is seeing more demand internationally than domestically for micronutrients, but business is still up all around. Bio Huma Netics approaches the market by promoting value by way of its unique Micro Carbon Technology, which makes micronutrients speedily available to the plant. “Many companies sell micronutrients but they are not readily available — they take time to become available for plant structure. With Micro Carbon Technology, we see within 24 to 48 hours immediate uptake of the nutrient to solve deficiencies quickly, so you’re not losing quality or yield at the end of the day.”
Product efficiency, he says, is key to what the company is doing and part of an emerging trend in the industry, as opposed to use efficiency. The ability to apply a fraction of the actual nutrient in pounds per acre and get more into the root zone and plant and hold it there, instead of leaching or volatilizing, is also a bonus in terms of sustainability.
Smith says: “We try to educate growers that they need a full nutrition program to give them health, quality, and yield. If they have those three, they will use less pesticides, and it will cost them less. If they have good yields, then even in a down year the increased yield is going to help them to have greater success in meeting their minimum budgetary needs to break even. Last but not least, quality will always give them a market. Quality will allow them to sell at a higher price than others.”
Get The Data
As is the case with all downturns in ag, macronutrient levels in the soil start to decline, but those inputs will eventually have to be put back into the system again. That might lead to further dips in micronutrient sales, but Goodroad is unwaveringly optimistic. “With projections of pricing for crops and lower input costs going forward this year, there may be more interest. With more revenue, growers will have those extra few dollars to put into a micronutrient that might be limiting. We always coach growers to soil test, tissue test, and get data before making those decisions. If that data is not available, lean on your local experts to give you an indication of nutrients that are limiting in your area and essential for the crop you are growing.”
Instead of pulling a one-off tissue test and going out and spraying immediately, correlating with soil tests and making a plan for the coming year is a better approach, he says. Historical data is important. Cover your bases on the macronutrient side first.
Helena is using its Extractor tissue analysis program to continue to detect and educate farmers on their situations, says Phil Thien, Northern Business Unit BioScience/Nutritional Product Specialist. The program allows Helena to make the best recommendations from its product line to be sure the crop is receiving and utilizing vital nutrients.
“We have an extensive data set from across our region that describes the success that we have in this approach, and it continues to provide a very good ROI for our customers. Willingness of the farmer to invest more in their crops will continue to be a challenge in 2017, but we believe that our customers trust Helena to assist them in doing what’s right and using their dollars to the best advantage in growing a crop,” Thien says.
Thad Taylor, Eastern Business Unit BioScience/Nutritional Product Specialist, CCA, adds, “Selecting the right micros for certain tank mixes, such as orthos on starters, glyphosate combinations and others, is a way we protect the farmer’s investment and make sure they are getting a compatible and easy-to-use micronutrient package. Moving forward, we will work to demonstrate how our AGRIntelligence services tie in to variable rate and customized applications. 2017 will continue to be challenging, but we do expect growth ahead.”
Goodroad also pointed out the importance of procuring only high-quality nutrients. He brought up a recent case in South Africa, wherein a low-grade nutrient source used on acres of pineapples left residues that rendered the entire crop unsellable. Lesson learned.
Like YaraVita, Nachurs has also seen growth in micronutrients for foliar application, as growers strive to save and make fewer passes across the field. Roach says it all goes back to the “4R initiative”: using the right source at the right time, at the right place, at the right rate. As Nachurs occupies the NPK in-furrow space, EDTA chelates are key.
Nachurs spent three years trying to find the right product that pairs well with a herbicide, fungicide, or insecticide in the tank, and came up with Finish Line, a balanced NPK fertility with a high load of zinc and manganese, and lower amounts of copper and boron with an organic acid. Says Roach: “Over three years of not only field research but real-world grower situations, just by adding a quart of this new product, we have increased (corn) yields 3.38%.”
Joe Dedman, Vice President of Agronomy with Monty’s Plant Food Co., says that the company’s micronutrient business is up compared with last year, helped in part by increased sales of its Microhance foliar-applied micronutrient blend. He says more and more growers are seeing nutrient deficiencies showing up in their crops even where they hadn’t had them before. “It’s all tied to soil health,” he says, which is often overlooked due to an understandable preoccupation with weed issues.
Beyond micronutrients and macronutrients, the plateau in corn yields has pushed the need for microbial products to stimulate the soil to the forefront, he says. Monty’s is in the process of bringing a product to market next spring with a 25-plus microbial package that provides “huge diversity,” according to Dedman. He adds that Monty’s also saw great acceptance with its corn stalk decomposition aid, Humi-Till, since its launch last fall. The humic technology in the product breaks down corn stalks in a matter of months instead of the usual five to six years, and works as a microbial stimulator as well.