Adding copper can prevent lodging, increase yields

Lodging in this year’s crop could have been caused by a lack of copper in the soil. 


Agri-Trend agronomist Ieuan Evans told last week’s 2013 Farm Forum Event in Saskatoon that using copper on soil can prevent crops from lodging and increase yields. 


Copper is a micronutrient that is essential to forming lignin, which contributes to stem strength in cereals, canola and peas. Two copper based enzymes must be present in crop stems to produce lignin.


Lodging that wasn’t caused by strong winds or storms might have been the result of a copper deficiency in the soil. 


Evans said copper is just as important to crops as potash, potassium and manganese. 


“Potash is important, but it does not form lignin,” Evans said. “It does not form the strength of the plant.”


He said manganese causes copper enzymes to become more mobile and potassium is important for enzymes to move in crops. However, deficiencies in either nutrient can lead to a lack of copper enzymes. 


Evans said land in areas such as North Dakota and Alberta is 60 percent copper sufficient. Twenty percent of land can be perpetually copper deficient if it is sandy or peat soil and another 20 percent could be copper deficient if the soil is wet, preventing crop roots from reaching subsoil. 


“Sometimes when you have good land, you don’t need any (extra nutrients) because good land has all the nutrients and micronutrients you need,” Evans said. “But we’ve been farming for years, and remember we live on the Prairies … and we get nine to 10 months a year of refrigeration. Things don’t break down.”


As a result, Evans said soil can remain fertile for a long period of time. It is a biological mass in which bacteria and fungi are breaking down crop residue from the previous year, he added. A high amount of organic matter can use up nutrients such as nitrogen and copper if the land is deficient in the nutrient. 


Cereals such as wheat and barley fight bacteria and fungi in the soil for nutrients. 


“When you pile up manure on a field, all you have is almost like a peat soil and peat soils tie up copper,” Evans said. “They sequester it. Copper and peat don’t get on well together.”


Evans recommended planting canola, peas, beans, soybeans, oats or alfalfa in manure-fertilized fields instead of wheat and barley. 


Copper can also increase yields. 


For example, he said farmers in Alberta and Manitoba produced 30 to 40 bushels per acre of lodged sample wheat last year on organic sandy loam soil. After applying $10,000 worth of copper to quarter sections at five pounds of copper per acre, producers this year yielded 75 bu. per acre of No. 1 and No. 2 wheat that matured early without lodging. 


“Micronutrients are every bit as essential as macro(nutrients) if they’re deficient,” he said. “If they’re not deficient, don’t worry. Do a soil test, put an acre (of copper) in, put two acres in.”

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