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Update from the Field: Sulfur Deficiency, Why and How?

Posted by Dave Dyson, Agronomist on July 19, 2021



Sulfur deficiency is a common problem this growing season. When scouting fields, the lower leaves of the corn plant are a normal shade of green but upon closer inspection, the uppermost leaves are a pale color, often with striping. The presence of stripes of green and pale green on the newest leaves can be a result of a multitude of different deficiencies. For proper diagnosis of nutrient deficiencies, send tissue samples into an analytical lab.  

Sulfur is an important nutrient to the cropping system. It is classified as a secondary nutrient alongside calcium and magnesium. Prior to the Clean Air Act, the Eastern Corn Belt would receive a free application of sulfur throughout the year in the form of acid rain. The large amounts of sulfur deposited into the atmosphere by diesel vehicles, power plants, and steel plants was great for the soil and crops. The Clean Air Act has scrubbed most of the sulfur out of the air, requiring producers to apply more and more sulfur to crop producing fields.   

A corn crop requires about .1-.12 pounds of sulfur per bushel produced. This means a 200 bu/acre corn crop will require 20 pounds or more of sulfur per year to maintain yields. Atmospheric deposition of sulfur has decreased 20 pounds per year between 2001 and 2015, Figure 1. Elemental sulfur does not get absorbed into the plant. S2 must be converted into a usable form before the plant can take advantage of the sulfur application. Sulfur is mobile in the soil so applying multiple applications is the wise course of action. I suggest applying elemental sulfur in the fall, followed by a high quality, low-salt starter with sulfur applied at planting. A foliar application is highly recommended to prevent deficiencies from occurring. Once visual symptoms of deficiency appear, yield has already been negatively impacted.

Figure 1: This picture from the U.S. EPA shows the drastic decrease in sulfur deposition in the Easter Corn Belt from 2001 to 2015, causing an increase in sulfur deficiencies in crop production.  https://assets.syngentaebiz.com/images/Table%20One_CMS.png

In conclusion, be observant and look for sulfur deficient corn. Sulfur is immobile in the corn plant so the deficiency symptoms will present as alternating pale green and green stripes in the newest leaves. If deficiency symptoms occur, consider applying 2 gallons/acre of Over Pass® 22-0-2. The slow-release nitrogen and potassium with help bring the sulfur and boron into the plant’s tissue, relieving crop stress. If you need any help scouting or diagnosing problems with your crops, don’t hesitate to contact your trusted Ag Advisor from The Andersons. 

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David Dyson

Dave Dyson is a regional agronomist for The Andersons’ Farm Centers which are located throughout Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He is an Indiana native and grew up on a dairy farm in Miami County. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Crop & Soil Science, Dave has a deep knowledge of various agronomic topics and is committed to helping growers improve their crops. If you have any questions, Dave can be reached at david_dyson@andersonsinc.com

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