Although factors like flooding, drought, and other adverse weather conditions are unavoidable risks that threaten farmers every year, there are steps growers can take in crop health and management to mitigate exposure to risk. One common culprit in poor plant health that can be easily addressed is boron deficiency. If your crops have ever suffered from boron deficiency, you know that trying to fix the deficiency in the middle of the growing season can be labor-intensive and costly, and often you will not be able to recover from the damage. Alternatively, there are proactive steps you can take to ensure that your crops are getting the proper amount of boron throughout the year.
Boron deficiency is a common micronutrient deficiency that is relatively easy and inexpensive to avoid. However, if you find yourself in a situation where your crops seem malnourished or underdeveloped, it is important to know what signs might point to a boron deficiency.
Symptoms of boron deficiency differ from crop to crop, but some of the most common boron deficiency symptoms are readily apparent:
- Corn: Short or stunted stalks; bent cobs and barren ears; blank stalks; poorly developed kernels; dead growing point
- Soybean: Yellow leaves; downward-curling leaf tips; chlorotic between veins; crinkling leaves; stunted roots; empty pods or poor seed set
- Peanut: Center of the nut is hollowed out and dark (“hollow heart”)
- Apple: Pitting; discoloration of the skin; cracking; corking
- Lettuce: Stunted growth; discolored leaves; very brittle
Many of these signs are painfully obvious to farmers who know their crops. However, since many of these symptoms can also be confused with factors such as drought, poor soil, or disease, it is important to take additional steps to confirm any suspicions of boron deficiency in any given crop. Keep in mind that a combination of these steps may be the best path forward to ensure you’re solving for the right problem.
Soil testing is a reliable method of testing for boron deficiency, which is especially prevalent in soils that are low in organic matter as well as acidic, sandy soils. If your fields are in humid climates where leaching is common, your soil is also more susceptible to boron deficiency. A soil test can help identify where the boron in the soil is below the normal range; where a quality boron fertilizer can be applied; and where boron levels are in the acceptable range. By understanding optimal boron levels for your crops, you can take the appropriate measures early and help ensure a healthier crop.
In addition to soil testing, plant analysis is a common way to check for boron deficiency. By analyzing the older tissues of a crop, agronomists can identify underlying issues even if a crop isn’t outwardly exhibiting any symptoms of nutrient deficiency. When a plant analysis is conducted, the plant tissue is studied to calculate specific quantities of micronutrients. If certain micronutrients are in lower-than-expected numbers (deficiency) or, conversely, in higher-than-expected numbers (toxicity), farmers can properly plan to either supplement or cut back on specific micronutrients. Note that if a boron deficiency is discovered at this stage, the plant likely has already suffered a loss that can’t be reversed; but immediate action to rectify the deficiencies can provide the support the crop needs to prevent further loss of yield for the season.
Consult a Local Agronomist
Be sure to contact your local agronomist and get an opinion and analysis for your crop. Agronomists are experts in plant physiology who understand the fundamental aspects of what it takes to nurture crops to help them flourish. They also know the local environment and climate. Their expertise on local soil, weather, and pests (among other knowledge) provides valuable insight into possible micronutrient deficiencies in your crops.
Boron deficiency is an all-too-common issue for crops around the world, and it can be extremely costly if not caught in time. Proactive testing for boron deficiency can be the difference between an unhealthy, low-yield harvest and one that thrives and produces a bounty. Any information you discover about your crop’s health will ultimately inform your decisions moving forward so that you can make sure that each harvest will be better than the last.