Are your crops getting enough potassium?
There is no denying the importance of potassium (K) to a growing crop. Uptake of this nutrient by cotton, corn and soybeans is second only to that of nitrogen. Its functions and responsibilities in the plant are numerous and necessary to achieving quality and consistent yields. Over time however, Helena Agronomists have noticed a startling trend; this critical nutrient is consistently showing up low in tested crops. During key reproductive growth stages, as many as 3 out of 4 tissue samples are reporting deficient potassium levels in the plant. This begs the question – Are your crops getting enough potassium?
“The importance of potassium to a growing plant cannot be understated,” stressed Derek Emerine, National Agronomist for Helena. “It has a direct impact on the yield and quality of the crop we’re trying to harvest.”
Potassium plays a critical role in a variety of complex plant functions. It’s necessary for enzyme activation, translocation of sugars, protein synthesis, and the movement of water and nutrients throughout the plant. To put it simply, these are the steps plants go through to set yield potential and develop value.
“If you’re a corn grower, you’ll see the benefit of potassium in your stalk strength. If you’re a cotton grower, you’ll get higher fiber quality,” explained Emerine. “When it comes to soybeans, we see a much higher rate of uptake than other crops, and that shows us how important potassium is to plant health.”
Without potassium, crops are subject to water loss and more prone to drought stress. They are more susceptible to disease, and suffer from poor performance during critical growth stages. To monitor in-crop nutrient levels, Helena uses Extractor, its exclusive tissue analysis program to measure and report these levels. With Extractor, Helena utilizes multiple data layers, combined with field experience, to create a comprehensive tissue sampling program designed to identify in-season needs and offer custom Helena solutions. Extractor highlights a variety of nutrient needs, and most often, the nutrient found deficient across all geographies is potassium.
“What Extractor shows us is that you can fertilize correctly, and potassium levels can look great in the soil. However, once your crop starts reproducing, and it’s performing well, the soil can’t keep up with the demand, and you have to supplement foliar potassium,” said Emerine.
The need for potassium is at its highest during the flowering and fruiting stage when the crop is making the grain, developing soybeans, or filling the cotton boll with lint. Up until this point, soil potassium is enough. However, at reproduction, when demand is skyrocketing, root activity is decreasing. Since soil potassium is taken up early with water, foliar K can provide a solution when there is a greater chance of limited moisture late in the season. Other factors in the soil such as low pH and elevated levels of calcium and magnesium can also interfere with uptake, making the need for a foliar supplement even greater.
Once a tissue sample reveals a potassium deficiency, Helena works with the grower to create a foliar nutritional plan to correct the problem. Josh Byford, Brand Manager for Coron and Nutritionals, said the goal is not to replace dry fertilizer, but to supplement it with the right product at the right time. He recommends Coron Metra 10 or K-Leaf Versa. These foliar nutritionals supply a safe source of potassium, with added efficiency and tank-mix compatibility.
“We try to recommend nutritional products that will fit easily into the foliar applications you’re already making,” said Byford. “By adding a nutritional to the tank, you can satisfy that hunger for K when it matters most without an extra trip across the field.”
Reversing the potassium deficiency trend won’t happen overnight. It requires a long-term commitment to managing in-season nutrition. Now that we have the ability to ask our crops what they need, all we have to do is listen. To get started, contact your local Helena representative to put Extractor tissue sampling to work in your field this season.