Tools of the Trade: Understanding Nutrient Availability

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David Kee
David Kee

No, this is not a keyboard malfunction nor am I suffering from a medical emergency. When verbalized, it reads “See Hopkins Café Managed by Mine Cousin Mocl),” a mantra I was caught quoting repeatedly in the spring of 1976.  People really look at you funny when you are repeating that mantra while walking down the street, (Thank you, Dr. Milford) but it was how I learned the 16 essential nutrients. We learned all plants require carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium (K), nitrogen, sulfur, calcium, iron (Fe), magnesium, boron, manganese, copper, zinc, molybdenum and chlorine in sufficient amounts to produce the desired growth.

Later we learned these nutrients had to be present in the correct form, and even later the form had to be available at the correct rate just prior to each growth stage.  The learning pattern was somewhat similar to building a brick wall.  You start with a good foundation, then add more and more bricks, until you master the subject, build the wall or produce a crop.

As you start growing the crop, one of those foundations is relatively simple; crop yield is a function of genetic potential and crop nutrition. Everything else, weed control, integrated pest management, etc., falls under crop protection. As you put together your cropping program, one has to remember half of that yield is crop nutrition. One of the foundations of crop nutrition is nutrient availability.

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan on covering this topic. Remember it isn’t just the nutrient rate, it is also the nutrient form and the availability of that nutrient in question to be effective. As Frank Phillips (Environmental Science Professor at McNeese State University) use to say, “If it ain’t biologically available, it’s a rock.”

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