Foliar Feed Plans

In an issue of the Minnesota Farm Guide an article entitled "Foliar Fertilizer Feeding Leaves Plants Feeling Full" discussed the idea of using foliar feeding as an accepted agricultural practice.

By Jim Halbeisen, Director of Research

In an issue of the Minnesota Farm Guide an article entitled "Foliar Fertilizer Feeding Leaves Plants Feeling Full" discussed the idea of using foliar feeding as an accepted agricultural practice. The author referred to a custom agricultural applicator who was having success with different foliar products from a company that listed ways they thought foliar feeding would fit in with various farming operations.  The article was very informative even though the company's foliar spray experience is quite limited.

Because this paper circulates in Minnesota, the University of Minnesota felt they needed to respond.  The article, shown in figure one, appeared in a similar publication within a few weeks.  It is apparent the U. of M. doesn't believe foliar feeding of nutrients to plants gives economic benefits.

The U. of M. article caught the eye of our District Manager/customer Ben Bechtel who farms in northwestern Wisconsin. He felt this article was hurting his Growers Mineral Solutions (GMS) business.  Ben also knew that foliar spraying GMS had been quite successful on his own farm, so he rebutted U. of M's. George Rehm with his own letter, figure two.

Since nutrient foliar spraying acceptance is growing very quickly, by now farmers potentially interested could be confused by these recent opposing ideas. So how do they address these differing opinions?

When a farmer evaluates seed corn or measures the influence of an aphid spray, he has to run test plots to see what pays.  When GMS came into existence in 1955 Dr. V. A. Tiedjens and J. P. Henry asked farmers to first check the profitability of GMS on test plots.  This is still the case today. Growers Chemical Corporation says test plots will show farmers which responses give the best economic returns.  We at Growers Chemical Corporation feel the science behind the foliar spraying of nutrients is very good, that foliar feeding has tremendous economic possibilities for all farming operations and it bears farmers' investigations.

Historically, water soluble salts of various elements, some of which came from manure and water mixtures, were first used in foliar feeding. The first published reports on foliar feeding nutrients appeared as early as 1844, and numerous others have substantiated its viability since.  A great boost to the study of foliar absorption of mineral nutrients came with the availability of radioactive tracers in 1938.  For the first time, accurate measurements of uptake and transport of elements were conducted, and a means of distinguishing between nutrients absorbed by the foliage and the roots was available.

Early doubters suggested that the above ground portions of plants could not absorb fertility elements. However, research sponsored by the United States Atomic Energy Commission using radioactive isotopes conducted at Michigan State University and reported in scientific publications in the early to mid 1950's, demonstrated conclusively that fertility elements applied as foliar sprays to plant leaves could be absorbed and utilized by plants.

Dr. H. B. Tukey, who was then head of the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University, stated to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, for the 83rd Congress of the United States that when "we apply fertilizer nutrient materials to the above ground growing portion of the plant we have seen that materials are absorbed by the plant and move rather freely in the plant. The amounts may at first seem relatively small, but to offset this handicap, the efficiency is high. In fact, this is the most efficient method of applying fertilizer to plants that we have yet discovered.  If we apply these materials to the leaves in soluble forms, as much as 95 percent of what is applied may be used by the plant. If we apply a similar amount to the soil, we find about 10 percent of it to be used." This is important!

In the 1930's Dr. V. A. Tiedjens participated in research showing that when dry fertilizer was dissolved in water and applied to the soil, it significantly improved its absorption into the plant.

Later he worked on the idea of using less quantities of fertility elements applied directly to plants, and, in the process, discovered he needed to substitute higher grade raw materials for those normally found in dry fertilizers.

In 1935 Dr. Tiedjens invented soilless culture equipment, and, in the 1940's, he was employed by The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey to establish hydroponic vegetable gardens on the islands of Aruba and Curacao in the Dutch West Indies.  Drawing on this experience, he found which elements were not only necessary for healthy plant growth, but, also, what balance or ratios between them was best.

Dr. Tiedjens experimented to determine how these elements could be supplied in an economical, safe and easy to use format in the real world of farming. He demonstrated that small amounts of balanced fertility, in the proper form, correctly sprayed on the plant, showed results that were economically competitive with plants grown with larger amounts of dry fertility conventually spread on the soil. Thus he became one of the first practical advocates of foliar fertilization of the above ground portions of plants, which, incidentally, can by-pass or eliminate the soil's tendency to tie-up ground applied fertility.

Several positive articles concerning foliar spraying of plant nutrients appeared in the 2003 agricultural press (see Fluid Journal and American Fruit Grower at, press release section).  In addition, research at Purdue University suggests certain inserted genes influence uptake and tissue concentrations of certain micro nutrients in GMO soybeans.  This research is causing some agricultural chemical people to remark, "If this influence can cause micro nutrient deficiencies, and if these deficiencies can impact growth and development, they may be responsible for a portion of the 'yield drag' associated with glyphosate resistant soybeans." We agree with those who express the idea that timely foliar spraying of micro nutrients could help replenish these deficiencies.

As a result of the farming style North American agriculture has pursued in recent years, foliar nutrition has today firmly established itself as a useful technique in the Mineral management of crops.  Meanwhile, Growers Chemical Corporation's many years of experience has given it the expertise needed in the series of complex and interdependent events that take place during the foliar application of nutrients.

These events, and conversations with many GMS farmers over our sales area seem to indicate a very high level of interest in the foliar feeding of nutrients.  Those farmers seriously looking into foliar feeding crops should definitely consider working with a company with over 50 years experience with the art of foliar nutrition.

Figure 1


Figure 2
This is a rebuttal on the article on "Foliar Spray" in the Country Today written by an Extension Agent/Professor from Minnesota.

All I have to do is recall 1988. Everyone can remember the severe drought.

That year was my second year of using foliar spray.  We had corn waist high that had been rolling and curling for about 10 days.  There was no rain in the forecast and the crops were getting worse every day.

I called the Director of Research at Growers in Ohio and asked him about foliar spraying the corn crop. He told me they had been spraying one gallon of food pure 10-20-10 foliar solutions every 7-10 days on their crops and getting good results.

The next evening - 19th of July - we sprayed 25 acres of corn that was growing on sandy soil at Radisson, WI. I used two gallons of their 10-20-10 food pure solution.

On the 22nd day of July we had 5 1/2 inches of rain. (Just 3 days after spraying). Later it looked like spring all over again.  Everything was green and healthy.

We harvested that crop the last week in November.  We measured one acre and weighed over the scale, 137 bushel per acre at 20% moisture.  The corn had very good feed quality.

I picked my neighbor's corn; he used the conventional dry program. It made 45 bushels at 30% moisture and poor feed quality.

In 1998 another drought happened in our area.  We went 38 days without rain.  It was July 6 - August 14th.  I sprayed 2 gallons of Growers on the 10th of July and again on the 1st of August.

My corn that year cribbed at 135 bushel/acre of very high quality feed. 10.25% protein for ground ear corn No mold or aflatoxins.

After talking to my neighbors who used the conventional dry program, I found that had yields of 38 and 68, up to than 90 bushels per acre less. They also had aflatoxins and mold in their corn.

So, Mr. Extension Agent, you might tell some people that foliar spray doesn't work but there are a lot of farmers that know it does work very well.  It also produces high quality feed.

Mr. Extension Agent, there is a right time to spray; it must be at a certain stage of plant growth, time of day, and it must be a food pure solution before your plant will accept it.

I feel there are a lot of factors you seem to have overlooked. If you would like to further discuss foliar program versus conventional programs you can contact me.

Bernard Bechtel
N1937 Count Road G
Conrath, WI  54731

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