Sulfur fertilization response in Iowa corn and soybean production
Sulfur (S) is often classified as a “secondary” plant essential element, mainly due to a smaller plant requirement but also because it is less frequently applied as a fertilizer compared to other nutrients like the “macronutrients” nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). This has certainly been the case in Iowa where research for many years had not documented S deficiency or fertilization need for optimal corn or soybean production. However, if deficient, S can have a dramatic effect on plant growth and crop productivity – more than the classification “secondary” would imply.
In Iowa, before 2005 more than forty years of field research with corn and soybean conducted at many locations across the state had measured a yield response to S fertilizer application only three times out of approximately 200 trials – an indication of adequate available S supply and limited deficiency. This began to change in the early 2000’s as producers in northeast Iowa noticed yellow plant foliage and reduced growth in areas of alfalfa fields. After investigating several potential reasons for the growth problems, such as plant diseases, research in multiple fields documented improved alfalfa plant coloration, growth, and forage yield with S fertilizer application (Lang et al., 2006). These responses, as well as questions about deficiency symptoms in corn, led to investigation of potential response to S application in corn and soybean.
This is a proceeding from Wisconsin Crop Management Conference 51 (2012): 39. Posted with permission.