Manufacturers of foods, especially breakfast cereals, often tout their products as “Iron Fortified.” And for good reasons. Iron is vital for making hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.
The same is somewhat true for plants. Iron helps carry crucial elements, especially oxygen, throughout the roots, leaves and other parts of the plant, producing the green color that lets you know that your crop is healthy. A plant will turn yellow, mimicking a nitrogen deficiency because, without iron, plants can’t process nitrogen coming in from the roots.
The good news for growers is that iron is the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Plants absorb iron from ferric oxide, a chemical in the dirt that gives soil its red color. Unfortunately, most of the iron in the soil is not in a form that plants can utilize, allowing much of it to leach down to lower levels of the soil. If the pH of the soil is too high or too low, even less iron is available for plant absorption. This loss of availability matters because iron plays a role beyond moving oxygen through the plant’s system. It maintains chloroplasts, is involved in photosynthesis, and is essential for many enzyme functions and nitrogen fixation. An iron deficiency in the soil is as bad for crops as it is for the human body.
Identifying an Iron Deficiency
Farmers in the western corn belt are all too familiar with iron deficiency or iron chlorosis. Soils with high amounts of calcium, a pH greater than 7.5 and little or no organic matter will tie up all the iron in forms not usable by plants, which will be stunted and yellow.
Another form of iron deficiency is hidden hunger. Plants don’t show visible symptoms like yellowing or stunting but will have slower growth, reduced plant size and lower yield. Identifying iron deficiency will take some detective work. Routine soil sampling, combined with tissue sampling before and after treatment, is the easiest way to detect an iron problem. Soils with less than five ppm of extractable iron may need treatment.
Treating an Iron Deficiency
At Agnition, we’ve done extensive research on how iron benefits plants and have seen some extraordinary results with iron. We have included iron in our Generate® and Commence® seed treatments for many years, and when we built out the newer product lines Procure® for Corn and Procure® for Soybeans, the heavy carrier in those formulations is iron. Because in our greenhouse and research farms, we’ve seen firsthand how critical iron is to all species of plants.
Moreover, our patented Microbial Catalyst® technology provides it, which stimulates existing microbes by unlocking enzymes, making plants more efficient. This technology takes minerals such as iron and delivers them in a completely soluble and available form for plants and microbes.