Plant Tissue Sampling Aids Precision Fertility

Kurt LawtonGeneral

Without in-season plant tissue testing to see if crops are nutrient deficient, you may be leaving yield in the field. Unseen nutrient deficiencies can stunt growth, harm plant health and limit yield.

Tennessee Farmers Cooperative began working with A&L Labs this year to train co-ops on proper sampling, and some are adding this service to their precision agriculture programs, according to this story in Tennessee Cooperator magazine.

The only way to know whether a crop is adequately nourished is to have the plant tissue analyzed during the growing season, says Oscar Ruiz, agronomist with A&L Laboratories in Memphis.

“Many times a low nutrient status may not be obvious — it’s a ‘hidden hunger,’” says Oscar. “While soil tests are great for determining a base line for a fertility program, a plant tissue sample can help make crucial in-season adjustments that can improve the crop’s nutrition and increase profit.”

Although it’s been used heavily in the horticulture industry for years, plant tissue sampling is now becoming an important tool for row-crop growers who are employing more intensive management practices on their farms.

“The Co-op system relies heavily on preseason soil tests to formulate fertility programs for farmers, but that doesn’t account for in-season nutrient deficiencies that can occur because of weather, variety differences, and cropping systems,” says Alan Sparkman, TFC agronomy marketing manager. “Tissue sampling can allow growers to really fine-tune nutrient management and correct deficiencies before yields are negatively impacted. For those who are using precision agriculture practices on their farms, this becomes the next logical step.”

Weakley Farmers Cooperative, which has locations in Martin, Gleason, and Greenfield, recently established a precision agriculture program and added tissue sampling to its menu of services, which also includes grid sampling, variable-rate lime and fertilizer application, and nitrate nitrogen testing. The Co-op also hired a precision agriculture specialist, Emily Clark, a recent University of Tennessee at Martin graduate and TFC training program participant, to handle these new programs.

After receiving extensive training from A&L Labs technicians, Emily began tissue sampling corn and soybean fields this spring and summer and says the results have been “eye-opening” for her and the growers.

“These tests show something we’ve never been able to see before — what the plant’s nutrient status looks like in the middle of the growing season,” says Emily. “Even if you took soil samples this winter and everything came back fine, you still may not be getting what you need into that plant. These tests can either give producers peace of mind that their fertility program is doing what it should or find problems that we can fix so the crop will reach optimal productivity.”