Corn is one of the most important and widely used crops worldwide. Many consumers think of it as just another part of their diet, but corn is used to feed livestock and produce biofuels. Increasing global demand for dietary and industrial uses is putting new pressures on corn growers to maximize their yields.
Fertilizers and micronutrients are proven to increase production—and one nutrient that offers substantial benefits to corn growers is boron
. Boron deficiency is a common cause of smaller crop yields, especially in the eastern half of the United States, yet until recently little was known about how corn plants use the essential mineral. Given how vital corn is to the global economy, growers will benefit from a better understanding of boron’s impact on their crops.
Why boron is essential to corn plants
Recently, researchers made an important discovery: boron plays an integral role in the development and reproduction of corn plants. Boron deficiency was already known to cause plants to grow at slower rates and have shorter internodes, but scientists at the University of Missouri found that even tiny amounts of boron play a key role in plant development
When boron levels are too low, the plant’s stem cells disintegrate. Stem cells are the essential growing points that form every organ in the plant. If stem cells disintegrate, plant growth is stunted, tassels fail to develop properly, and kernels do not set on the ear, thus reducing crop yields.
Several factors can affect the amount of boron in your soil. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, you may need to add boron to your fertilizer regimen.
- Soil pH: High pH reduces the availability of boron; low pH makes boron more available
- Leaching: Free boric acid in the soil solution is subject to leaching in high-rainfall locations or irrigated areas
- Organic matter: Since organic matter is one of the primary sources of boric acid, soil with lower organic matter content contains smaller amounts of boron. However, organic matter content can be a double-edged sword. Even though a soil test may show adequate boron levels in high organic matter soil, the nutrient might not be available in acceptable amounts. In this scenario, plant tissue testing is the only way to determine whether or not the corn is absorbing enough boron.
- Dry conditions: Too much water causes leaching, but excessively dry conditions might also decrease boron availability because boron depends on water to distribute it.
Experts recommend regular soil testing to ensure the correct pH and boron level for your area and growing conditions, as these can change due to weather and other factors.
While a lack of boron is detrimental to corn health, too much can be toxic, causing leaf tips to turn brown and appear burned. Boron toxicity in corn is extremely rare and is usually triggered by improper application of the nutrient. Always ensure your application rate is correct for individual field conditions and ideally use variable rate prescriptions to apply the boron.
Choosing the right borate
Applied granularly, easily mixed in water, liquid fertilizer systems, or crop protection products, boron may be just the prescription to give your corn yields a boost. But not all borates are created equal, so be sure to select the right type for different crops and regions. For optimal crop health and return on investment, choose a product that meets rigorous quality and certification standards and delivers the most water-soluble boron.
Our experienced agronomists understand the unique characteristics of your region and soil and can answer your questions about how boron can maximize your corn production. To speak with one, contact us today