Foliar feeding: Data-driven decisions affect ROI
Foliar feeding – applying nutrients to the leaves of plants – can provide the next level of forage production with enhanced yield and quality benefits. However, before you invest in a foliar feeding system, consider the following factors that may impact success. Data-driven decisions will deliver a higher return on investment (ROI).
1. Soil tests
Step one is to work with your agronomist or extension agent to perform sound soil tests. You need to know the phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) content of your soils, as well as the soil pH. Soil pH is an important variable as it affects many chemical processes and nutrient availability.
Foliar-fed nutrition cannot compensate for large deficiencies in soil macronutrients. Rather, once the soil fertility foundation is built for your forage crop, foliar feeding nutrients can be explored.
2. Plant health
A tissue sample can provide a snapshot of current plant health and will identify nutrient deficiencies in growing plants. It is critical to understand how your laboratory numbers are calibrated with sufficiency ranges. Sufficiency ranges, which describe the nutrient level at which a plant has enough nourishment to function and grow properly, are developed for specific plant growth stages and plant parts. Sufficiency ranges are developed with research from field trials in which yield is measured from plots where nutrients are or are not applied. Reading the results will provide a prescription approach to your foliar feeding program.
Be aware that environmental interaction with genetics can also mask success. For example, reduced root growth – perhaps during periods of excess moisture or extremely dry conditions – can limit nutrient uptake. Therefore, a visual inspection of the plants for physical challenges can greatly improve your odds of a positive ROI.
3. Nutrient uptake curves
A successful foliar-feeding program builds bridges to supplement nutrient needs not met by soil nutrients during critical times of the plant’s growth cycle. These bridges can provide additional yield and higher quality feeds.
Certain nutrients – such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S) and copper (Cu) – will follow a sigmoidal or relatively constant uptake curve throughout a plant’s growth cycle.
In contrast, other micronutrients have a more complicated uptake pattern. For example, the ear size of a corn plant is determined at stages V4 to V6. Boron (B) and zinc (Zn) are two micronutrients that can be applied at this time. Affecting ear size with proper foliar feeding is one component to recognizing higher yields. Foliar feeding can also create additional biomass, leading to higher corn silage yields through additional pounds per acre.
Make data-based decisions
When it comes to foliar feeding, use data to improve your bottom line. You want to base your decisions on well-designed research that shows foliar feeding your corn or alfalfa crops is likely to create higher-quality and better-yielding forage. Talk with your Vita Plus consultant about strategies to enhance your forage program.
This article was originally written for the April 25, 2021, issue of Hoard’s Dairyman.
About the author: Steve Murty joined the Vita Plus team in 2018 as a forage product specialist. He attended Iowa State University to earn a degree in animal science with a minor in agricultural systems technology. He previously managed the grain, agronomy, seed and retail departments at a local cooperative before transitioning to a sales role with a seed dealer. Murty is also a certified crop advisor (CCA) with a passion to work with farmers and help them meet their forage production goals. Living in Iowa, Murty is a local 4-H club leader, a member of the Tama County Cattlemen, and an active member of his local church.