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Make the most of your fertility plan with foliar nutrition

Read Time: 5 minutes

By Steve Ganczar June 13, 2023

Gain potential yield opportunities for your crop by adding a foliar nutrient application to your fertility plan

Is your crop stressed? A foliar nutrient application might be just what’s needed.

In 2022, I worked with a farmer who had a wheat field that was stressed from excess moisture and turned the field yellow after an in-crop herbicide application. This stressed wheat was unable to take up nutrients from the soil or photosynthesize and make energy. The farmer tried a foliar application of a multi-nutrient product and within 48 hours the crop turned healthy green and started growing again. This result not only saved the crop from potential yield loss but also brought the farmer peace of mind knowing that the wheat was healthy again. Although this may not be the exact result for every field and situation, it’s a great example of just how helpful foliar can be.

A foliar nutrient application applies a small amount of micro- or macro-nutrients to a growing crop which absorbs the nutrients through the leaves. It is often sprayed at the same time as a herbicide or fungicide pass. 

Why consider a foliar application?  

1. To correct a nutrient deficiency

When plants are stressed due to unfavourable growing conditions, they can struggle to take up nutrients from the soil. This can be worse due to:

  • -Nutrient shortages in the soil
  • Shallow roots or other factors preventing the plants themselves from taking up nutrients
  • Plant damage from wind or hail
  • Damaged roots (from fertilizer burn)
  • Poor growing conditions (ie. cold and/or saturated soils)

2. To ensure your crop is healthy and will reach its full yield potential

Crops that look strong and are growing in favourable conditions have higher yield potential. If you are planning for a 40-bushel canola crop but conditions are lining up for 50 bushels, the extra nutrient requirement for those extra bushels can be significant. In these situations, many farmers will apply a foliar nutrients to ensure the crop is “topped up”, ensuring no nutrients become the limiting factor.

How to tell which nutrients to apply

When creating your fertility plan for the year, make sure to factor in an in-crop tissue test during the growing season. Including an in-crop tissue test along with a pre-seed soil test in your practice can help tell you everything you need to know about whether your plants are taking up the nutrients they need from the soil.

Take the next step towards a foliar application

Keep in mind that foliar applications are unlikely to double your yield potential, instead, they will "top-up" your nutrients so your crop can finish the season strong. Below are some important tips when using foliar nutrient applications:

  • Quality is key
    Cost will always be an important factor but it’s also important to use a good quality product. Make sure the analysis on your chosen product is clear and you are getting a concentrated product that has a relevant nutrient load. 
  • Not all nutrients are created equal
    Not all nutrient sources are useable by the plants so make sure that what you’re applying is something your crop can use.
  • Timing is crucial
    Ensure your application timing is right by paying attention to the nutrient(s) you are applying and understanding when your crop needs them.
  • Make sure it can mix
    Verify your chosen foliar nutrient is compatible with the pesticide you are tank mixing. This is especially important with Group 2 wild oat herbicides. Many potassium and copper products can also be hard on the crop when tank mixed.
  • Get the right support
    Make sure the manufacturer has done their homework with tank mixes and will be able to support any issues that might arise.

The decision to use a foliar nutrient application is an agronomic decision that should focus on crop health and return on investment. Do not base yours on emotion and whether you can save money by not applying it. Increasing your net return per acre is the best way to use your land asset to its full potential. Our team will be there to support you through the entire decision-making process. Talk to your local Cargill representative to discuss foliar nutrients for your farm.

Steve head shot

Steve Ganczar

Steve started with Cargill in July 2020 as a Senior Market Development Agronomist. He received his diploma in Agriculture in 2003 and has been in the agricultural industry for over 20 years, starting as a Sales Agronomist and then spending 13 years as a Senior Ag & Commercial Lender before returning to agronomy. Crop production is a passion of Steve's because of how fast new products and practices are being developed to solve problems and increase yields. He loves working directly with growers to try new products or practices and proving them on a field level. Helping producers, big or small, learn more about their operations and working with them to maximize their potential while managing risk is what Steve does best!