Tissue Testing: The Next Step in Fertility Management


GMAC 300-250Fall and early winter are a great time for testing soil and seed and analyzing those results, to begin planning for the next growing season. Often, we do all of this planning but then never take the time during the year to check and see if we could be doing better or if the plan is working to our exact expectations. It’s common for many farmers to use yield as a measure of success, but have you ever hit your yield target and wondered if it was possible for that crop to yield even more? A tissue test could be a tool used to achieve more bushels and a higher quality.

Now, soil tests are always very important, don’t get me wrong, and this is especially the case when you are looking at tissue tests. Some assume you can do one or the other, but the real power is using both in conjunction with one another.

Soil tests often come back low in a single nutrient. Let’s use zinc as an example. Let’s say you use your soil test results and apply zinc to the soil and assume everything is managed. But is that zinc getting into the plants? You don’t know unless you test. A tissue test can help give a snap shot in time or a report card as to if your practices are working the way they are intended. If that zinc isn’t getting into your crop it may mean there are other soil interactions preventing it from being taken up by the crop, or maybe there is a more efficient practice of getting that specific nutrient into the crop.

Many assume that if they are running into issues with nutrients that they will automatically show up as a deficiency, but there is potential to lose yield before seeing any obvious signs. This is known as “hidden hunger”. A tissue test will show if levels are slightly below where they should be with that specific crop so you can apply that nutrient before it can severely hinder yield. Some will do several tests per year to see how their nutrient plan is doing as the season progresses which also provides a higher level of accuracy throughout the year.

Now, tissue tests are not fool proof. They are a snapshot in time and some specific precautions need to be taken such as taking the tissue test early in the morning. Secondly, you must try and avoid taking the tissue when the crop is experiencing stress as this can throw off the accuracy of the test. Anything from excessive moisture, drought, heat etc. can throw off the test. Lastly, you must take the proper portion of the plant as specified by the lab. Much like soil sampling you also need to avoid contamination, such as dirt on the leaves.

The growing season is months away, but planning for a tissue test now can be a big step in ensuring you achieve the crop you want.

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