Calcium is perhaps the most important mineral in the soil, significantly influencing numerous chemical, physical and biological processes. This potato crop was left behind by McCains as they harvested other crops hit by disease. When they returned two weeks later, this crop had increased its value by $400/ha.
Do your cows suffer from milk fever, mastitis, or go down at calving? Does your stock get Barbers Pole Worm? Do you have to combat facial eczema? Are you using bloat oil? Do you have difficulty with calf rearing?
Whatever the disease or problem, there are long-term solutions you can use as part of your calcium-magnesium fertiliser programme that, once corrected, do not have to be repeated year after year.
When the ‘trucker of all minerals’ enters the plant, it takes many other minerals from the soil and helps transport them into the plant. Balancing calcium levels and correcting any soil deficiencies may therefore be the first priority in any fertility restoration program.
Among many other benefits, calcium:
Some deficiency symptoms are:
These symptoms all relate to poor cell division in the plants growing points, which includes the fruit. A continuous supply of calcium is needed for peak yield and quality.
Calcium is the most dominant cation in the soil and should occupy 60-70% (PAL soil test) of the negatively charged sites of soil particles. The closer the base saturation percentages are to their ideal the harder the magnesium ion will hold onto the colloid.
Note: crops can still perform when calcium is more or less than ideal, but it is the quality and disease resistance that is compromised, along with soil structure, humus content, soil life, organic matter decay and subsequent nutrient release, and nitrogen-fixing microbes.
Calcium flocculates while magnesium disperses – so a balance is needed to get good pore space. Pore space provides oxygen and water for plant roots and microbes to thrive in.
A common symptom of the calcium-nitrogen interaction is seen in leaf tests where nitrogen levels are excessive and calcium is deficient. It is the nitrate ion that combines with calcium to form calcium nitrate which is then leached away in the soil.
Calcium is very immobile in the plant hence deficiencies are found mainly in the younger leaves; a main constituent of cell walls which play a role in resisting insect and fungal attack.Calcium is necessary for growing points of leaves and roots, and stimulates seed germination. It does not transport from one part of a plant to another, so newly formed roots, stems and leaves need a continuous supply from the soil.
Golden Bay Dolomite with, 24% Ca and 11.5% Mg, is the best material to improve soils where both magnesium and calcium are required. To ensure the soil calcium-magnesium quantum remains balanced, a mix of dolomite and lime may be necessary.The finer lime is ground, the better. Hydrated lime, calcium hydroxide or burnt lime, or calcium oxide are some other forms.Remember, for every one percent you increase calcium, magnesium is reduced by one percent (provided it is not badly deficient).
Lime takes precedence over magnesium for many farmers. This Lucerne crop is no exception. Lime was applied without consideration of magnesium. Once the this crop was harvested, the remedy was applied.
Chlorophyll provides the vital interface that connects the light energy from sun to all life on earth via the process of photosynthesis. The magnesium atom is at the centre of a chlorophyll molecule; without it photosynthesis would not be possible. It is like the plug on the end of an extension lead, and it plugs all life directly into the suns energy.
Magnesium plays a similar role in plants to that of iron in the structure of haemoglobin in animals. Managing plant growth is about managing photosynthesis. The more energy from the sun the plant can collect, the more it will yield. Any limiting factor that inhibits maximum photosynthesis is one that will limit crop productivity.
Look for luxury levels of magnesium in leaf analysis. It is vital for photosynthesis and phosphorus uptake; the energy system of the plant. You can apply as much nitrogen as you like, but without adequate magnesium you will receive poor photosynthetic responses.
Magnesium reacts with phosphorous to enable phosphate compounds (Magnesium ATP) to be carried around the plant; particularly helpful in translocation of phosphorus into seeds of high oil content and for superior seed germination.
Ca:Mg percent is the most important relationship in soil fertility. Light soils will require more magnesium than heavy soils. This is due to the properties of the magnesium atom which are much smaller than Ca and aids in the tightening of the soil structure to prevent excess leaching. Required at 10.1-12% of base saturation, but should be up to 20% in very light soils.
Magnesium has more impact on soil pH than Calcium due to its smaller atomic size (more surface area available to alkalise soil).Calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium are all alkaline cations and the more of these ions instead of hydrogen and alminium, the more balanced the soil will be. Magnesium can be easily leached, so magnesium deficiencies are more pronounced on acid and coarse textured soils. If low levels are present, use a combination of slow and quick release forms to ensure availability for the duration of the crop, e.g. Dolomite and Kieserite. The base saturation is made up of a combination of predominantly calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and hydrogen. Any significant increase or decrease in any of these elements can ultimately increase or decrease magnesium base saturation.
After decades of using serpentine and its blends on the soil, why do we still have widespread magnesium deficiencies?
Dolomite is a magnesium and calcium carbonate combination that raises pH and soil magnesium levels and is very useful when both magnesium and calcium are required.Magnesium carbonate, (Mag 2000) increases pH when magnesium but no calcium is required.
Magnesium oxide is created by the burning of magnesium carbonate to drive off CO2 has the highest concentration of all Mg fertilisers. Thermal alteration dramatically affects the reactivity of magesium oxide since less surface area and fewer pores are available for reaction with other compounds. Serpentine, a hard silica rock is also ineffective at raising soil magnesium, unless applied at very high rates, or is applied to very acid soils.
Magnesium sulphate is a good source when both magnesium and sulphur are needed, and can be used at the reproductive phase.
Defoliation can occur if magnesium is deficient while carrying a heavy crop. Monocots (grasses including sugar cane, cereals, maize, bananas) leaves’ can become striped; often along the full length, resulting in necrosis in the tip of the leaf. As maize plants age they have a more spotted appearance. It is relatively easy to build magnesium in the soil, but not so in the plant. We would like it to be 50 ppm, but realistically it is often less than half that figure; more often than not it is below 10 ppm. That may not be due to low magnesium, rather than low sulphur. Building sulphur may not solve it either. Calcium may be the key in this situation.Magnesium is quite mobile and is translocated from older leaves to younger leaves under normal conditions, and is particularly obvious when there is a deficiency in the soil.
Dr. Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel Prizes stated: "In my opinion, one can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency."
Phosphate is applied whether it is needed or not. It has become a habit, not a necessity. From an informal survey, quite independent of the article below, 90% of arable and dairy land has too much phosphate. 86% of hill country does not have enough.
Below is a passage written by Jerry Brunetti*, as part of an article titled “Cows don’t have carburettors” and was published in Acres USA, May 2012. The title seems absurd; it is extremely relevant.
Unfortunately, livestock operators, especially in New Zealand, are being sold a big lie as to how to grow forages, applying huge amounts of urea and super phosphate for yield while dropping the energy levels of the forages, increasing the “funny protein” (unattached nitrate), obliterating the biodiversity of forbs (forage herbs) rich in phenols, carotenoids/terpenoids, and complexing those vital elements in the soil, namely calcium, magnesium, sulfur and boron that are responsible for creating quality protein and forage diversity.
Many New Zealand farms have acidic soils (e.g., pH of 5.5). Yet, their soil analysis showing a P2O5 “deficiency” was derived from an “Olsen Test,” to be used on alkaline soils. Thus these soils show a continued “need” for super phosphate, even though some soil tests that we reviewed contained 4,000 pounds per acre of phosphate when they were analysed. All of this excessive phosphate locks up whatever calcium and magnesium is present, denying the plant an ability to synthesise both quality protein and quality forage calories in the form of pectins and hemi-cellulose.
Moreover, the excess phosphate drives the critical mycorrhizal fungi out of the rhizosphere, depriving that organism’s contribution of phosphatase enzyme, needed to extract complexed phosphate and trace elements out of the soil. Thus over-applying phosphate ironically leads to a deficiency of plant phosphorus, needed to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency in the Krebs cycle for both plants and animals.
What does it all mean? Neal Kinsey, of Kinsey Agricultural Services (KAS), a true adherent to the Albrecht principles of soil fertility, advises all his clients, (which include countless consultants in over 75 countries around the world), to use Perry Agricultural Laboratories (PAL) for their soil tests. PAL uses the Bray II (root acid soluble) test for soils with pHs up to 7.5. Once pH is 7.5 and above, they provide an Olsen P test result. Since there are at least 12 tests to choose from, why do NZ labs use the wrong one? The Americans use it appropriately and we in NZ have been led to believe it is a true measure of our soil P, when it is not.
On average, most of acid phosphates tie up or complex with aluminium, iron, manganese and calcium, within six weeks; sometimes within hours of application. But, super’s big marketing ploy is its low cost. How cheap is a material that is on average not very effective? Remember, chemical agriculture is a self-serving, input-driven system. You are advised to apply an unbalanced fertiliser to an unbalanced soil to help sustain a state of imbalance, which will then require constant chemical intervention. Now we have an inappropriate P test and an inappropriate product. When compared to alkaline phosphate products the answer comes out very much in favour of alkaline products such as guano, Sechura RPR, dicalcic and DAP. If needed, you can quickly build soil P levels with those products without the tying-up problems.
Sinclair** et al (1997) took the average curve and examined how good it was at explaining the relationship between % relative pasture yield and Olsen P values at 17 of the 19 sites. The result (Figure 4.1.16 of the Massey University “Sustainable Nutrient Management in New Zealand” manual) is somewhat sobering! Sinclair et al concluded that Olsen P soil tests from farms could not accurately predict relative pasture yield. These data, however, did show that when Olsen P values exceed 20 a near maximum relative yield can be produced.
When we add the demise of mycorrhizal fungi (VAM) into the equation, the situation becomes even clearer. There is little or no reason to use superphosphate, as the VAM increases the effectiveness of phosphate uptake of roots by up to 1000 times. Loss of VAM leads to increased soil erosion and leaching of nutrients from the soil. When the VAM is lost, some other organism will take its place. Usually, it is a pathogenic organism. Since properties I have worked with have no facial eczema, it seems a good bet that those using alternative phosphates will also not be bothered by that terrible affliction.
As for excess phosphate in the soil, on reviewing soil tests taken on flats, 90% had an excess, being in the 700 - 3,800kg bracket. The hills were a different proposition as 86% were deficient.
Not only do we have criticism from USA regarding the use of the Olsen P test; we also have it from New Zealand. It appears the use of the Olsen P test was chosen in the 1970’s for no other reason than it being the latest test. It appears fertiliser companies have used the Olsen P test ever since for the purpose of selling superphosphate, a product that they manufacture; not because the farms actually need it.
In general, and depending on location, Kiwi Fertiliser finds P levels of NZ soils to be excessive. Where phosphate is required, we recommend Sechura RPR.
* The late Jerry Brunetti was managing director of Agri-Dynamics, which specialises in products for farm livestock and pets, and consults on a wide variety of other issues. He used to be reached at Agri-Dynamics, P.O. Box 267, Martins Creek, Pennsylvania 18063, phone 877-393-4484, email firstname.lastname@example.org, website www.agri-dynamics.com
(**The late Dr A G Sinclair, AgResearch, Invermay Agricultural Centre.)
A potassium deficient crop of Lucerne.
Regarding the order of deficiencies found, Potassium and Sulphur are invariably at the top of the list. Potassium (K) is involved in nearly every aspect of plant growth. It does not become an integral part of the plant, unlike silicon and calcium that become the main components of the cell wall; and magnesium and nitrogen that are the main components of the chlorophyll molecule. This is the reason why cut hay is so vulnerable to potassium loss due to rainfall.
Potassium excess does not exhibit itself in any particular way but may block off several other nutrients including boron, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, sodium, and zinc. Blocking may be stopping another element from performing it's function correctly, or may mean that more of the element is required to fulfill it's function.
Potassium is second only to nitrogen in terms of quantity taken up by a plant. K is involved in the regulation of around 50 enzymes in a plant. It is needed to convert nitrogen into protein thereby reducing the amount of non-protein nitrogen (nitrate) in the system. It facilitates the movements of sugar and starches and is important in sizing up fruit and grain and preventing build-up of sugars in chloroplasts. K influences stomata regulation. Stomata can open to seven times their original size, therefore influencing gas exchange for photosynthesis and drought resistance and/or water efficiency.
K helps plant roots penetrate to access deeper soil water.
Faster closing of the crop canopy.
When the crop canopy closes, the ratio of transpiration to evaporation increases, which means more of the available water is used by the crop.
Greater osmotic gradient.
The more K inside the plant cell, the better it can attract water from the soil, and control water loss.
Adequate K ensures plants get through to the critical pollination period before possible drought.
Stomata can open approximately seven times their original size. Therefore if potassium is deficient the plant will not receive adequate CO2, moisture and nutrients from the environment or foliar sprays. That will also affect the plants ability to cool itself. K is quite mobile in the plant and moves to the young leaves, therefore symptoms show in the old leaves first.The visual signs of K deficiency are similar to nitrogen deficiency; yellowing of the pasture, browning off of the tips of grass blades, and prominent urine patches. If clover growth in urine patches is much stronger than in the rest of the pasture, K deficiency is likely.
Potassium is an alkalising mineral, so when potassium is low the fruit can be acidic and therefore taste sour. It is also due to the fact that potassium is not sufficient enough to transport good levels of sugars and nutrients into the fruit. The plants resistance to pathogens is reduced. Fungi tend to attack crops at low pH. Low pH simply means too much hydrogen and not enough nutrients.
About 90% of the potassium found in soils is insoluble. This source is released by microbial activity and weathering over time. K+ is attracted to, and hence stored on, the negatively charged clay colloid. The humus colloid has less attraction, but is also capable of storing potassium. Plants access potassium via the soil water.
In sandy soils, there are very few storage surfaces for potassium, so some is carried away in the soil water. In light soils, (i.e. soils with a CEC <10) humus can make a significant difference in increasing the potential for potassium retention and storage. Leaching is particularly prevalent in light sandy soils where spoon-feeding potassium may be the better strategy.
Animal urine contains 80-90% of the potassium excreted by animals.Excessive magnesium leads to tight soils which in turn traps potassium in the clay layers. Improving the Ca% in the soil alleviates this problem. In high Mg soils, more K is required to reach that soils higher production potential. The problem of tight soils is alleviated by opening up the soil structure, leaving more space on the external colloid for K to attach to. When pH exceeds 6.5 there are no or few sites for increasing K levels on the colloid. Sites are filled up with existing cations rather than hydrogen, which can be readily bumped off. The same problem essentially occurs in dry soils where the soil solution and diffusion needed does not occur. K levels cannot be built when pH is 6.5 or higher; unless you use compost or manure. If you have a high pH, just use maintenance levels of K until the pH comes below 6.5. When the base saturation of potassium gets greater than 7.5%, weed pressure increases, boron is tied up and often pastures become less palatable. Soil structure tends to decline because the K ion is dispersive (much like sodium), which contributes to poor soil structure and eventual collapse of the soil particles. Crops will struggle (particularly wheat) when the K% is greater than Mg.
Adding K to the soil is easily achieved for crops, but can be problematic where livestock are concerned. It needs to be done with caution and after magnesium and calcium levels have been addressed. It may be safer to apply up to 60 units after mating, but this does depend on individual farms’ soil balance, particularly having correct Mg & Ca levels.With PAL test results, sodium should never be higher than K. If K + Na exceed 10% of base saturation, manganese uptake will be blocked. That may show up as excess bull calves born over heifer calves. When the soil is properly balanced, the ratio can be 60:40 in favour of heifers.
Potassium Sulphate is superior to Potassium Chloride! Potassium chloride raises the brix of many weed species, lowers the brix of many crop species and acts as a biocide. Sulphate costs more per unit, but delivers better value. Money spent on potassium sulphate (K2SO4) will purchase less fertilizer by weight than will one dollar spent on potassium chloride (KCl) but the dollars spent on potassium sulphate will buy significantly more crop growth energy. 47% of KCl is choride and of little use for crop growth. In contrast almost 100% of potassium sulphate is useable by the plant.
Lower Salt Index. K2SO4 has a salt index of 46. KCl is 116. The higher the index, the greater the chance of damaging germinating seeds, seedlings and soil biology.
Better Uptake of Potassium. Uptake of potassium requires it to be in the phosphate of potassium form. When there is an excess of chlorides the bonding of potassium with phosphate is blocked. The end result is less potassium uptake into the plant in the preferred form. The sulphate form does not overwhelm the soil solution with chloride ions and consequently more potassium is taken up by the plant.
Microbial Stimulation vs. Microbial Suppression. Sulphates have a stimulating effect on the microbial system in the soil whereas chlorides at high levels are very hard on soil biology and are never recommended by creditable sources. A small amount of chloride is actually beneficial for soil microbes. This modest requirement may easily be met by the 1-2% in potassium sulphate. High rates of chlorides can destroy soil carbons. Humus destruction leads to greater N leaching as soil N levels are dependent on humus levels. The better the humus percent, the more anions (particularly nitrate, sulphur and boron), that can be held in the soil.
Plants and soils need Sulphur. Most soils are sulphur deficient. In order for plants to make oils and sulphur bearing amino acids such as cysteine and methionine the plants need an adequate supply of sulphur in the sulphate form. This is exactly what potassium sulphate supplies.
Better palatability. Pastures, crops, vegetables and fruit taste poorly when the potassium comes from potassium chloride (that’s right, cows prefer K2SO4). This happens because chlorides are also taken up by the plants. Fruit and vegetables grown with calcium chloride taste bitter; this is the main reason why children do not like some vegetables.
Less is more. The application of 100 kg of potassium sulphate will give a greater plant response than 200 kg of potassium chloride. This relates to a soil where the cations are balanced and soil potassium is adequate.
A Northland crop of chicory and lucerne on the Hikurangi swamp.
Sulphur is important for protein synthesis being a component of two essential amino acids, cysteine and methionine. It is required for the formation of vitamins and chlorophyll, as well as the development of legume nodules. It is a component of certain oil compounds creating a distinctive odour and flavour to plants such as onions, garlic and brassicas.
Sulphur aids in the translocation of sugars and starches to the roots. Early morning brix levels may be high when sulphur is low. It activates nitrate reductase, so is essential for the conversion of nitrate to amino acids. When sulphate is deficient nitrate accumulates and protein levels decrease. Disease pressure will increase. Sulphur is required in amounts similar to phosphorus.
Deficiency symptoms are very similar to nitrogen deficiency symptoms i.e. pale green leaves, but usually on young leaves, although can be on older leaves in some plants such as tobacco and cotton. Symptoms include small and spindly plants; delayed maturity; reduced nodulation in legumes and fruits that do not fully mature. Other symptoms are dependent on species e.g. spotting on potato leaves.
In the soil, sulphur occurs as a negative charge sulphate ion: not attracted to soil clay, therefore easily leachable
Monitor soil levels regularly, particularly sandy soils; good organic matter levels will hold onto sulphur.
Sulphur is good for leaching excess cations. E.g. 2 kg of sulphur will reduce 1 kg of calcium, potassium or sodium if they are in excess. If excesses of calcium, magnesium, potassium or sodium exist, sulphur levels will not build in the soil. Sulphur may leach calcium or other cations when they are not in excess in coarse, open volcanic soils, particularly those found on the central plateau.
The main form taken up by plants is sulphate (SO4). Crops also have the ability to take up sulphur through their stomata in the form of gaseous sulphur dioxide, SO2.
In animals sulphur is a component of protein. It is important for collagen synthesis, being present in large amounts in hair, skin and hooves. Sulphur is also involved with the B vitamins biotin and thiamine, and the hormone insulin. Sulphur must be present for stock to receive essential amino acids.
A superior crop of lucerne. Lucerne and other crops fix nitrogen via root nodules. Bacteria living in the nodules require cobalt among other nutrients to be able to fix N. if nodules are white, the N process will not be working. They need to be pink to red to be fully functional.
Nitrogen is the most abundant nutrient required for plant growth. It forms 16% of all plant proteins, and is a vital component in chloroplasts - the factories that synthesize energy from sunlight. N management is one of the most important issues in our quest to build both profitability and sustainability. Excess N burns out organic carbon and contributes to the “Greenhouse Effect”. Nitrogen toxicity is a significant cause of loss in production when nitrogen is overused or misused. Potassium and calcium will inevitably be deficient when plant nitrgen levels are excessive. Nitrogen and potassium imbalances in plants is also a major disease "calling card".
Currently nitrogen losses account for up to 50% of applied nitrogen. Nitrates contaminate waterways, groundwater and drinking water; remove oxygen from the blood and are proven carcinogens. Excess nitrates in plants encourages pest and diseases to flourish. Brix levels in plants cannot be raised with excess nitrates. Excessive N causes the top to outgrow the weakened roots i.e. “nutrient dilution” which seriously reduces yield and quality.
Good nitrogen management increases quality - the key to increased profitability. We need to concentrate on capturing free nitrogen from the atmosphere; each hectare has the equivalent of over 74,000 tonnes of nitrogen above it in the atmosphere.
Deficiency symptoms include yellowing of older foliage (being mobile in the plant it transfers from older to younger leaves); reduced plant-leaf size and "ground" cover. This all amounts to fewer solar panels -> less photosynthesis -> less sugar -> lower yield and quality. Fewer stems; dwarfed plants; thin and upright habit; stems and petioles rigid; reduced tillering in cereals. 150 - 200 million tonnes of N are utilised in agricultural each year. The vast majority of nitrogen comes from the atmosphere via nitrogen fixation by soil microbes into plant available ammonium and nitrate, as well as lightning and rain which oxidises nitrite to nitrate.
Most nitrogen is applied in large amounts early in the season results in large amounts of nitrate at the crucial, fruit-filling phase of crops. The pH of plant and soil go out of balance therefore the crop is subjected to nutrient deprivation, pest and disease attack plus misuse of all important photosynthates needed for maximum yield.
Nitrogen management - keeping excesses to a minimum.
1) CEC of your soil. Lighter soils require spoon feeding. When ammonium can’t store on clay or humus colloid, nitrate conversion is guaranteed.
2) Soil balance improves nitrogen efficiency; calcium is “the trucker” and is essential for uptake, while sulphur is necessary for conversion of nitrates into essential amino acids. High or low magnesium soils require at least 50% more nitrogen to achieve the same yields as soils with correct magnesium.
3) Crop rotation, pasture composition; legumes can leave considerable quantities of nitrogen in the soil for use by other crops.
4) Levels of humus and organic matter. Undigested OM present during a crop cycle can consume considerable amounts of nitrogen during decay causing nitrogen drawdown. Begin stubble digestion with shallow incorporation immediately after harvest.
Radioactive tagging methods have shown that every 1 kg of nitrogen supplied over and above plant requirements will burn out 100 kg organic carbon. Microbes devour nitrogen and carbon in set proportions.
Adding compost protects valuable soil organic carbon. Always add carbon to nitrogen.
5) Cover crops protect the environment from free-roaming nitrates. Winter cover crops help reduce nitrogen leaching. Barley, oats and triticale are planted between vine rows of vineyards and similar to help capture nitrogen and recycle it following incorporation. By the time the primary crop is harvested, the remaining nitrogen is in the nitrate form via nitrification. Cover crops take up nitrates for early vegetative growth and convert them into proteins, thereby stabilising the nitrogen. Decomposing protein then releases ammonium to be taken up by plants or converted back to nitrate where it is still in a plant available form.
6) Manure and compost application: the nitrogen content should always be factored into the equation.
Nitrogen forms the basis of amino acids and proteins, the building blocks of life; an essential constituent of nucleic acids, DNA, RNA, and enzymes, which are all made up of proteins. It is a necessary component of vitamins biotin, thiamine, niacin and riboflavin.
Nitrate is paramount to the formation of chlorophyll which is the green pigment within chloroplasts where photosynthesis takes place. The central part of the chlorophyll molecule consists of a magnesium atom surrounded by four nitrogen atoms plus carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Protein is decomposed by aerobic soil organisms and the nitrogen is released from these organisms as ammonia gas which is quickly converted to plant available ammonium in ideal situations.
Forms of nitrogen in fertilisers and their impact on soil and plants.
Ammonium – ammonium sulphate, mono-ammonium phosphate, di-ammonium phosphate
Nitrate – potassium nitrate calcium nitrate magnesium nitrate
Urea (NH2-CO-NH2) is in the amine form. The most commonly used nitrogen source in agriculture. The cheapset product, but notoriously unstable, and with negative down-stream consequences.
Zeolite: capable of holding onto nitrogen (especially ammonium) and is a permanent addition to the soil and increases its water and nutrient holding capacity.
Humates: as liquid or granules which dissolve at the same rate as urea; can extend the life of nitrogen in urea by 60 days. Humic acid should be used at a rate 5%-10%. Humic acid also provides a source of food for microbes.
Ammonium can attach to negative soil particles or form compounds with nitrates, sulphates or phosphates, and will be plant available and secure from leaching.
However, in warm, moist conditions, microbes quickly convert ammonium to nitrate which can then be leached away. Stabilising with humic acid and zeolite will help slow down nitrification.
The conversion of ammonium to amines to amino acids occurs in the roots. The energy used causes plants to send more sugar to the roots. The plant is then stimulated to produce more chlorophyll.
The increase in photosynthesis is the reason why ammonia turns leaves dark green and actually results in net gain of energy to the plant.
Nitrate is the end product of nitrification. Most fertiliser applications force plants to take in nitrogen in this form during the production phase of the crop. This goes against nature’s intentions. That is, nitrate should go in during the vegetative stage of the crop and ammonium during the reproductive stage of the crop. Nitrate conversion to amine (NH2) is an energy expensive process which relies on sunlight and Molybdenum to enable the nitrate reductase enzyme to be activated. Ammonium from decay is released near live plant roots and taken up before nitrification takes place.
The pH surrounding the rhizosphere is low to stimulate soil microbes and promote the uptake of nutrients to stimulate further production of chlorophyll. Nitrates are needed for cellular pH maintenance, obtained through decomposing organic matter on the soil surface which goes through nitrification. Also nitrogen is made available from atmospheric oxidation of nitrgoen, nitrate and rain carrying nitrate to roots.
A spectacular crop of sorghum, with 12ha grown in 2011-2012. The yield was 11 tonnesDM/ha in 90 days (122kg/day) sorghum and similar crops accumulate more silicon than most plants. This crop was made into baleage for winter feed. The cows wintered well on it and loved eating it.
A major mineral is missing in many soils and most soil tests do not even monitor its presence. This mineral can increase stress resistance, boost photosynthesis and chlorophyll content, improve drought resistance, salt tolerance and soil fertility and prevent lodging. lt can also reduce insect pressure, frost damage and destructive disease while lowering irrigation rates, neutralising heavy metal toxicity and countering the negative effects of excess sodium.
Silicon is a much-underrated nutrient ignored by mainstream agriculture to our detriment. It is like a mediator that evens out the highs and lows of soil-plant nutrition. When we rely too heavily on chemistry, chemical reactions in the soil between applied products and resident compounds can lead to wastage of the applied compounds if they are the wrong products to use. “Cheapest is best,” may turn out to be the worst decision that can be made. All plant types can be affected by conditions that include iron chlorosis which results in poor photosynthesis and is seldom diagnosed. Silicon can mitigate most of these flaws we unknowingly accept as part of the cost of doing business. Follow the trail below.
Based on current literature, silicon shows its significance for the life of plants and the performance of crops in the following aspects, but not confined to these.
(1) Essentiality for some forms of life. Animals, (Diatoms, Bacillariophyta), and plants, (horsetails (Equisetaceae)).
(2) Enhancement of growth, yield, and quality, up to and during handling, transport, and storage.
(3) Promotion of mechanical strength, plant erectness and resistance to lodging.
(4) Better light interception and promotion of photosynthesis.
(5) Improved performance when insufficient sunshine or too much shading.
(6) Improved plant surface properties.
(7) Required by and promotes fungi, and non-rhizobia bacteria.
(8) Increased root and root hair growth.
(9) Resistance to plant diseases involving fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes.
(10) Resistance to herbivores ranging from phytophagous insects to mammals.
(11) Resistance to excess metal toxicity.
(12) Resistance to salinity stress.
(13) Inhibition of transpiration and resistance to drought stress and inefficient water use.
(14) Resistance to high temperature and chilling or freezing stress.
(15) Resistance to UV radiation or monochromic exposure.
(16) Enhancement of root oxidizing power and root activities and hence alleviation of reduced toxicity under low Eh. (Oxidation-reduction conditions as measured by the redox potential (Eh), expressed in volts.)
(17) Effects on enzyme activities.
(18) Alleviation of stress from other mineral deficiencies or excesses e.g. potassium, phosphorus, manganese and iron, nitrogen, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, lead, zinc, copper, and boron.
(19) Promotion of nodule formation in legume plants and hence promotion of N2 fixation.
(20) Promotion of formation of log-term stable carbon and hence having implications in carbon bio-sequestration of atmospheric CO2 and global climate change.
(21) Used by earthworms to grind up soil parent materials.
(22) Biology is stimulated by calcium but may then run short of silicon. Silicon not only stimulates the biology but sequesters aluminium, sparing magnesium and phosphorus that otherwise would have been tied up, or complexed by bicarbonates.
Baled Bermuda grass is grown in Californian and shipped to China, Japan and other asian countries. Those countries grow protein, but end up short of carbohydrate feeds for animals.
Soils in southern California can be high in sodium. If that is the case, the Albrecht/Kinsey way of dealing with it works exceptionally well. In some cases, 9-10 tonnes of lime/ha have been applied to reduce sodium and magnesium to levels where the land supports viable crops.
Sodium (Na) should measure between 0.5 and 3% on the base saturation. It is rarely deficient (there are 6 ppm in rain), and should not (but sometimes does), exceed potassium in base saturation as sodium will be taken up by the plant instead. On hot days, this can lead to cell walls bursting and the plant dehydrating. In severe cases, the plants, including pasture, can die.
We have yet to see a situation where sodium is seriously deficient, but we do not allow sodium to become so and usually add a small amount when below par levels are seen for two years. This is primarily to ensure the microbes have enough for them to support plant growth.
We have observed the negative effects of excess sodium, when applied to fodder beet. In this case the Colorado river is the source of sodium, adding it via irrigation.
These figures from Perry Agricultural Laboratory soil audit showing excess sodium that inhibited sugar beet production. Calcium 46.03%, magnesium 30.29%, potassium 3.04%, sodium 17.14%, pH = 8.1.
17 months later, after adding 10 tons of lime to the acre, the corresponding figures are,
61.86%, 24.50%, 4.12%, 6.61%, pH = 7.9.
(On this soil, the target is Ca 69%, Mg 11%. pH will never be less than 7.5 or more.)
If sodium is in excess, correct the calcium first, then use sulphur to reduce sodium if it is still in excess.
Sodium is involved in osmotic (water movement) and ionic balance in plants. Na may be important in some plants such as sugar beet, but is less so in fodder beet.
Boron is one of the 'Big Four' nutrients. The plant on the right is deficient in boron.
Boron (B) is necessary for uptake and efficient use of calcium in the plant. It is a calcium synergist and a temperature regulator. Boron is essential for cell division and development, particularly in the growing points of shoots and roots, also promoting flowering. It affects pollination, pollen viability, fruit and seed set. It is required for the movement of sugars (e.g. energy) within the plant and hence plays a significant role in photosynthesis.
Typical Boron deficiency symptoms include: hollow stems in cabbages and cauliflowers; woody taste in strawberries; poor seed set generally; crosswise cracking of celery stalks; external and internal cork in apples; lop-sided fruit and heavy fruit shedding of citrus; ‘shot’ berries and poor fruit set in grapes; flower shedding with deformed and bumpy fruit. It also affects growing tips (i.e. dieback) and leaves. Small clover leaves may indicate boron deficiency.
In the soil boron is an anion and therefore is found mainly the soil solution or complexed with humus.
Marine soils may have high B reserves. Deficiencies can be worse in long dry spells and in high pH soils. Kiwi Fertiliser recommends Organibor, a natural magnesium-calcium borate from Argentina. Organibor is non-toxic. however, it is relatively slow acting, particularly in a dry season, so may need to be applied early in the season, or some Ulexite may need to be added as well, particularly for short-term crops such as turnips. Organibor boron levels in the soil stay higher for longer with Organibor.
Without boron, the plant cannot transfer sugar from leaves to the roots. This process is also interrupted by various cultural practices, i.e. girdling.
In animals, boron helps regulate both calcium release into the blood and calcium absorption. Boron helps convert vitamin D into an active form which facilitates calcium absorption. Silicon and calcium together are cell strengtheners but they both require boron to deliver their benefits. Boron encourages silica to form silicic acid which then moves into the plant to form nutrient highways which then help to move the poorly translocated calcium into the plant. Required at 2ppm in the soil.
An excellent crop of Fodder beet early in the season. This crop was not measured.
How Iron and soil microbes influence plant growth
Iron is the most abundant element in the earth but is not always plant available. Humic acid may be a key to make it available. Iron draws heat into the leaf, promoting growth. It is essential to the function of chlorophyll, fixing magnesium to the chloroplast. Iron absorption is hindered in cold soils (as is P), and in small root systems.
Adequate sulphur reduces the chances of iron deficiency.
In animals, iron is concentrated in haemoglobin and is used by the liver and immune system. It is found in many enzymes, proteins, and in DNA synthesis. Ruminants require 100-200 ppm and humans 20 mcgs per day. Symptoms of deficiencies include nutritional anaemia and pale mucus membranes. Beef, liver and tuna are very good sources of iron.
Always ensure iron exceeds manganese at all times. There are at least 500,000 hectares of iron deficient hill soils in NZ. Maintain at least 100 ppm in the soil. Kiwi Fertiliser consultamts will always prove the need for iron before recommending it. Since soil probes are shallow and iron may be present in deeper profiles, the addition of iron sulphate may be unnecessary. Proving a need may involve a test plot, leaf test or a deeper soil test.
Plants are only organisms that can directly utilise the sun’s energy. They transfer 30% of their energy from the leaves to the rhizosphere and in doing so stimulate soil microbes. If this process is interrupted, (e.g. girdling), diseases are more likely.
Plant exudates feed microbes that in turn can deplete soil oxygen. Ethylene is then produced at the anaerobic micro-sites at 1-2ppm to inactivate the microbes. Oxygen demand reduces and oxygen diffuses back into the soil.
Presence of ethylene in undisturbed soil indicates the soil is healthy. Agricultural soil has little or no ethylene. Plant pathogens are unimportant in the former, but prevalent in the latter where inorganic fertilisers and pesticides are used, increasing production costs.
Agricultural soils fail to produce ethylene because of the changes in soil nitrogen. Virtually all nitrogen in undisturbed soils is in the ammonium form. Modern farming techniques encourage a specific group of bacteria that convert most nitrogen to the nitrate form. Nitrate nitrogen inhibits ethylene production. Ammonium nitrogen does not.
When oxygen is consumed at a rhizosphere micro-site, a series of complex chemical changes occur. In adequately aerated soil, virtually all the iron is ferric (oxidized) and immobile. If oxygen is consumed, the minute iron crystals break down into the highly mobile ferrous form. Ferrous iron is a specific trigger for ethylene production. When oxygen is depleted and nitrate nitrogen is present, the production of ferrous iron is inhibited or prevented.
However, a precursor produced in senescent vegetation is required to react with the ferrous iron before ethylene can be produced. In intensive agriculture most of the older leaves are removed by (over) grazing animals, by harvesting or by burning, so little is left to decay.
A major limitation to plant growth in most agricultural soils is an inadequate supply of plant nutrients, regardless of the supply in the soil. Iron crystals have a large surface area and are highly charged. As a result, nutrients such as phosphate, sulphate and trace elements are tightly bound to the crystals and unavailable to plants. If anaerobic micro-sites are able to develop, the crystals break down, releasing the nutrients for plant uptake. Ferrous iron is released into the soil. Other nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium and ammonium, are held on the surface of clay and organic matter. The release of ferrous iron displaces these nutrients into the soil solution where they are available for uptake by plants.
Modern farming techniques encourage the aeration and oxidation of the soil and give a short-term increase in plant growth. Unfortunately, those practises also rapidly create long-term problems of nutrient depletion and increased plant diseases. Treatments that stimulate rates of nitrification (conversion of ammonium to nitrates,) such as excessive use of nitrogenous fertiliser, or excessive removal of plants by overgrazing, or forestry operations require moderation and re-examination. Regenerative techniques are part of this solution.
Based on research by Dr. M.A. Smith, Principle Research Scientist, NSW Dept of Agricultural, Biological and Chemical Research Institute. PMB 10, Rydalmere 2116, Australia. Published in the Australian Plants Periodical Vol. 9 Dec. 1977.
This pasture is in the first stages of converting off NPK via Total Replacement Therapy. Nitrogen applications were reduced 33% in the first year without compromising pasture growth which was much better as clover, formerly hard to find, returned. Yellow creeping cress was also rampant. It reduced during the first 12 months. This photo captures white clover and yellow creeping cress, one ascending, the other decreasing. A release of excess manganese can be seen in the clover. That is a side effect of the chemistry as the soil readjusts from an oxidised to a reduced state. (Mn and some other nutrients are more available when reduced.) This reaction is not necessarily to chemistry alone, but also to weather and other complex conditions. The effect is only temporary as biology adapts to changing circumstances.
Manganese accelerates seed germination and early maturity of crops; it is important for nitrogen metabolism. Mn becomes more available at low pH - toxicity can be a problem. High iron or phosphorus can tie up manganese. When K and Na base saturation together exceed 10%, then manganese uptake is blocked.
Found in the mitochondria, it is key component of energy metabolism - may be linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Critical in cartilage formation and neurotransmitter synthesis (Alzheimer’s is linked to a decline in production of acetyl choline – a key neurotransmitter).
Ruminant levels range from 75-200 ppm of the ration. Nuts, whole grains and black tea are rich in manganese. Deficiencies may lead to infertility in animals and humans. Manganese is required for growth, bone formation and it is also an enzyme activator. Symptoms of manganese deficiency include decreased signs of oestrus and poor conception. A deficiency may manifest as ‘knuckled under’ legs in new born calves, or an excess of bull calves. Take-all in wheat is Mn deficiency.
Sources of manganese include trace mineralised salt, licks, and commercial supplements. Apply manganese sulphate to the soil to maintain a minimum of 75 ppm, building to an optimum of 125-250 ppm. However, do not allow Mn to exceed iron levels, maintaining at least a 5 ppm gap between the two. Mn over (or too close to) Fe will cause the iron to oxidize in the leaves, leading to Fe deficiency.
A classic symptom of copper deficiency is a brown coat over winter and spring. This is a bought in animal that will require no remedial treatment on the property it is on in the photo where soil copper is 8ppm.
Copper is the element linked to protection from fungal disease. It is the "protein nutrient", increasing the uptake of ammonium form of nitrogen; it is essential for chlorophyll production, sugar synthesis and root metabolism, and it increases stalk strength and elasticity.
Although necessary for some microbes, copper can also have a fungicidal effect in the soil.
Copper is widely used and abused as a fungicide resulting in a toxic build-up in the soil, but Humic acid will help to buffer the microbe-killing effect. High copper also antagonises phosphorous, iron and zinc. Get copper into the leaf by way of building soil levels, rather than onto the leaf as a more sustainable disease control option. Cu sprays on the leaf cause a physiological change which may make the leaf more susceptible to disease agents.
Copper is critical for iron transportation in the blood and formation of hemoglobin, and is an anti-oxidant. It is also critical in the formation of the myelin sheath and is associated with elastin. It is a component of catalase and tyrosinase. Ruminants require 25-100 ppm in their feed; human optimum daily intake is 2-4 mg/day.
Organ meats, shellfish, legumes and mushroom are rich in copper. Copper is an important coenzyme linked to immunity and detoxification. Symptoms of deficiency include severe diarrhoea, abnormal appetite, poor growth, and a course bleached coat. Split bark, lodging and brittle branches result from copper deficiency. High OM, molybdenum, iron or sulphur can induce copper deficiency, as can excess phosphate. Sources of copper include copper sulphate, licks, powder, blocks etc.
The minimum soil level is 2ppm; but get to 5-15ppm for better plant and animal stock health.
Zinc is the "energy micro-nutrient" required for correct functioning of many enzyme systems, being an important enzyme activator, second only to magnesium in terms of the number of enzymes to which it is linked. It is essential for phosphorous uptake, and is needed for ADP and ATP production. It regulates plant sugar and transforms carbohydrates. Zn is critical for uptake of moisture through roots. Zinc is required for synthesis of nucleic acids and is critical for soil organisms.
Crops sensitive to Zn deficiency are; maize, linseed, green beans, fruit crops, pastures and cereals, (being involved in filling grain properly). Zinc governs the production of auxins which determine leaf size, starch formation and may give the largest response of any trace element. Zinc must be properly matched with phosphorus in the soil. If phosphorus is high, zinc needs to be high. If phosphorus is low, zinc needs to be low. If they are out of kilter, the high one can block the low one.
Zinc antagonises iron, copper and sulphur so these should be “background nutrition” if they are marginal when applying zinc. Copper fungicides can induce a zinc deficiency. Zinc is essential to cell growth, replication, sexual maturity and reproduction. It works alongside vitamin A. It is essential to the immune system, natural killer cells and the thymus gland. It improves disease resistance, reproduction and reduces skin and feet disorders.
Zinc deficiency is directly linked to prostate cancer and breast cancer (our two largest cancers). Ideal human intake is 15-20 mg/day. Cattle rations need to have 50-100 ppm. Beef, shellfish, cheese and dark chocolate, leafy greens are rich in zinc; it is needed for the healing of wounds and for robust rumen organisms.
Symptoms of zinc deficiency include decreased weight gains, lowered feed efficiency and poor wound healing. Required at 6-19.5ppm in the soil depending on phosphorus levels.
Diseases, pests and insect problems can easily be avoided by having a balanced soil. You cannot treat each nutrient in isolation; it is not that simple. Every nutrient, major or minor must be in balance. To achieve that, adding minute quantities may keep symptoms away, but not remove the potential cause of a particular problem. It takes approximately 2kg of a particular element to raise soil levels by about 1ppm.
Having a balanced health-giving soil means all nutrients are balanced, not just a few.
Soil applied nutrients delivered through forage, supply the correct bio-available forms to the animals that eat them. Supplemental feeding, in many cases is merely treating symptoms, not addressing the causes. E.g. feeding animals manganese may not prevent brucellosis, but applying it to the soil may. Once the soil is adequately supplied with all relevant minerals, they take a long time to deplete.
These beautiful heifers grazing on a property in Manawatu fertilised by Kiwi Fertiliser, are a credit to the property owner, Phillip Hinds.
The B-Group vitamins are arguably the most important nutrient deficiency in the soil and in humans. Krasilinokoff measured soil fertility based on the relative presence of B vitamins. Microbes cannot manufacture vitamin B12 without cobalt. B12 comes from Co and is ignored in many soil programs. Vitamin B12 is a major human deficiency (over 74%).
Cobalt supports nitrogen fixing organisms. Vitamin B12 is important for fertility, cellular longevity, nutrient absorption and metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. Ketosis and Johne's disease may be related to cobalt deficiency. The ideal human intake is 1 mcg daily. Ruminants require from 0.10-1.0 ppm in their rations. Cobalt is important for the growth and vitality of rumen microorganisms.
Symptoms of a deficiency include poor appetite, decreased milk production and rough coat; also lack of nodules, or small white nodules on clover.
Sources of cobalt include Cobalt sulphate added to the soil, trace mineralised salt and vitamin B12 supplements. It is required at 1-2ppm in the soil, but rarely is at this level.
Cobalt for Soil and Animal Health
Posted on March 19, 2005 by Jerry Brunetti •
The amazing alchemical phenomenon exhibited by ruminants in converting fibrous raw materials from forages into nutrient-dense meat and milk containing quality proteins, fatty acids and other lipids found in meat and milk is due in large degree to fermentation occurring in the “first” stomach, the rumen. Fermentation by ruminal micro-organisms is dependent upon a myriad of influences, and one of these is the presence of the trace element cobalt. Cobalt is a core element of vitamin B12 or cyanocobalamin, which was isolated in 1948 and was recognized as the reason why liver consumption could cure pernicious anemia in humans, since B12 is found in generous quantities in the liver.
Vital to Ruminants
Ruminant animals such as cows, sheep, goats and deer can produce vitamin B12 if there is adequate cobalt in the diet. Monogastric (“one stomach”) animals such as pigs and chickens are much more dependent upon the intake of actual B12, “ready made” in the diet, since they do not have the advantage of an additional gut capable of synthesizing B12. Thus, ruminant animals play a vital role in the food chain as producers of vitamin B12.
Ruminants utilize the process of gluconeogenesis for providing tissue demands for glucose. This occurs by a breakdown of propionate (one of the volatile fatty acids synthesized via fermentation in the rumen) into glucose via a specific pathway, and B12 plays a critical role in this process. So when we talk about cobalt in animal nutrition, we are really talking about vitamin B12, since 3 to 13 percent of the cobalt in the diet of a ruminant animal is incorporated by rumen microbes into vitamin B12.
Although the liver of ruminants can store sufficient amounts of B12 for up to several months, vitamin B12 production in the rumen drops off rapidly within days if there is a cobalt deficiency in the diet, affecting digestion health and efficiency.
Deficiencies (called “pining” in livestock) include loss of appetite; thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiency; reduced plasma levels of ascorbate, glucose and alkaline phosphatase, elevated plasma levels of pyruvate, pyruvate kinase, serum GOT forminino-glutamic acid and thyroxine, which affects the functioning of the hypothalamus.
Cobalt deficiency is associated with the incidence of Johnne’s disease, the ruminant analog of Crohn’s disease in humans. Johnne’s disease or paratuberculosis is a huge problem in today’s confinement dairy system.
Ketosis may be partly associated with B12 (cobalt) deficiency and it is known that cobalt interacts with iodine to promote normal thyroid function.
Feeding luxurious amounts of cobalt to ruminants enhances ruminal digestion of feeds, especially poorer quality forages, apparently because it stimulates the production of certain microbial populations that have higher cobalt requirements. Good hay will contain adequate cobalt; Kentucky bluegrass, known to nourish the most magnificent horses, is relatively high in cobalt.
Cobalt appears to have properties or characteristics unique to itself as a trace element, regardless of its indispensable role in vitamin B12 production. Cobalt contributes to resistance against parasites and infection, in concert with other trace elements such as copper, zinc and iron.
For example, as an integral ingredient in a multi-trace element formula, cobalt contributed to reversing incurable brucellosis infection in cattle, this according to Lady Eve Balfour (founder of the British Soil Association), in her article “9,600 Miles in a Station Wagon, Some Findings by Agricultural Scientists” published in 1951. Back in 1940, Dr. Ira Allison, MD, utilized a multiple-trace mineral formula containing cobalt to treat 322 patients with the human variant of brucellosis, called undulant fever. All patients recovered, and three and a half years later, there was not one relapse.
In New Zealand, cattle and sheep around the Rotorua tableland country, particularly sheep, did not thrive. The land was known as “cattle sick” country until a soil specialist discovered a cobalt deficiency in the soil. The land was treated with 2 ounces cobalt per acre, which quickly solved the problem.
Similarly, Russian sheep grazing on cobalt-deficient pastures showed severe lung infection, and when treated with cobalt, the result was a greatly reduced incidence of this bacterial infection. Cattle in Florida suffering from cobalt and copper deficiency were afflicted with chronic hookworm infestation, as published in the Journal of Dairy Science (74) back in 1937.
A condition in cattle and sheep known as “Phalaris staggers” results when these animals graze upon a grass known as Phalaris tuberosa on cobalt-deficient soils. Animals will succumb to symptoms of muscular tremors, lack of coordination, rapid breathing and heartbeat. Phalaris contains a mylelin-destroying neurotoxin, and applying 4-5 ounces per acre of cobalt sulfate, or supplementing cobalt in the ration, is capable of preventing this problem. The detoxification pathway is located in the gastro-intestinal ecosystem because injectable cobalt is not effective. A similar condition occurs is South Africa on animals grazing Ronpha pastures, and is also remedied with copper and cobalt.
In his book Metabolic Aspects of Health (1979), Dr. John Meyers states that cobalt in the soil makes worm control a relatively easy matter. In Russia, sheep grazing on cobalt-deficient pastures showed severe lung infection by gram-negative cocci, and treatment of the sheep with cobalt resulted in a greatly reduced incidence of infection by this bacterium. In Florida, “salt sick” cattle (a dual copper and cobalt deficiency) had chronic hookworm infection.
As for humans, Meyers discusses at length how cobalt seems to possess amazing properties that reconcile the following symptoms: profuse nose bleeding (by strengthening the integrity of the blood vessels); herpes simplex blisters; improving light sensitivity of the retina while reducing irritation from light glare (when used along with copper and iodine); stimulating adequate eye mucous for lubrication; allowing the cuticle and the nail to grow faster and more soundly; assisting the skin to become stronger and more pliable; arresting and even reversing the growth of warts.
It is important to recognize the relative ration requirements between (especially) cobalt and copper, zinc and iodine. Excessive amounts of antagonistic minerals may create shortfalls of cobalt, even though tissue test, hair analysis, or blood tests indicate adequate amounts of cobalt. The best test indicator for cobalt in livestock is a liver analysis.
Cobalt and the Soil
The optimum source of cobalt for livestock are forages grown on cobalt-rich soils. The North American continent, which at one time was one of the largest soil mineral reservoirs on the planet, has been severely degraded, especially the last 100 years, due to the plowing of sensitive grasslands leading to unspeakable amounts of erosion; the over-use of chemical-based fertilizers, primarily nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, caused numerous trace elements to be leached and also oxidized the humus in the soil. Humus is the living fraction of soil that is the “inventory box” of nutrients that are natively found in the soil, or that have been applied to soils.
Additionally, these high-salt fertilizers, chemically very unstable, react with other slow-release nutrients that crops harvest from the rhizosphere or root ball of plants in the legume family. These chemical reactions cause complexes, or tie-ups, that reduce nutrient availability to the crop.
Cobalt is actually a plant “bio-stimulant,” similar to molybdenum, because it is required by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, especially on the root nodules of legumes.
Like all trace elements in the soil, cobalt is a precursor to enzymes. Enzymes are produced by plants and microbes in order to increase the uptake of elements as well as assist in the synthesis, within the crop, of raw materials that are necessary to produce completely nutrient-dense foods suitable for consumption by livestock and humans. These nutrient-dense compounds found in the pigments are necessary for the plant to resist fungal and insect attack. Consumed by animals and humans, these compounds act as anti-oxidants, immune fuels, endocrine balancers, anti-microbials, tissue repair enhancers and free radical scavengers.
Cobalt thus belongs to the family of rare elements that contribute so much to the soil organisms, to plant performance and to healthy animal physiology.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts , the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2005.
Jerry Brunetti was managing director of Agri-Dynamics, a 27-year-old company engaged in holistic livestock husbandry and soil, forage, water and plant tissue analysis and recommendations. Jerry's experience also includes a cow/calf operation, natural animal medicines, biological products and services for the golf course industry and providing seminars and workshops on alternatives in human health. An honorary board member of the Weston A Price Foundation, in 1999 Jerry was diagnosed with cancer (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma), and given six months to live. He did not submit to chemotherapy, but rather, developed his own unique dietary approach to enhance his immune system. His DVDs include "Keys to Herd Health," "Holistic Veterinary Care" with Hugh Karreman, VMD and "Cancer, Nutrition, and Healing."
Jerry died in January 2015.
Selenium is a key component in glutathione peroxidase, (anti-oxidant activity). It is involved in thyroid hormone conversion and binds heavy metals. Selenium is part of enzymes associated with immune support. It should be combined with vitamin E for maximum performance. Deficiency symptoms include weepy eyes, white muscle disease, retained placenta, zigzag pattern droppings, low tail carriage and therefore dirty rear-end. This mineral can limit sub-clinical mastitis. Sources include oil meals, Lucerne, oats, veterinary and commercial supplements which may contain 1.0-3.0 ppm.
Finnish potato research reported a 30% increase in mean tuber weight of potatoes with selenium supplementation. This was linked to enhanced photo oxidative stress tolerance. Chinese researchers report an increase in rice yields. European research showed leaf levels as low as 10 ppm of selenium served to reduce aphid populations by 50%. Selenium is found in seafood, Brazil nuts, brewer's yeast, butter, garlic, kelp and molasses.
One of the many crops of Lucerne we are fertilising. Molybdenum is one of the nutrients needed to convert inert nitrogen from the air to nitrogen able to be utilised by plants for free.
Molybdenum plays an important role in detoxification, preventing nitrosamine formation. Lamb, lentils, squash, green beans and carrots may be rich in molybdenum. Molybdenum is part of the enzyme xanthine oxidase. Symptoms of deficiency include weight loss, emaciation and diarrhoea. Molybdenum is included in some stock food supplements. The plant processes involving conversion of ammonium nitrogen into protein take place in the roots. This always involves energy, so the roots signal the above-ground plant to increase photosynthesis and thereby boost glucose delivery. This is one of the reasons for the greening effect associated with application of ammonium fertilisers.
Nitrates awaiting conversion in the roots move into the leaf where they are converted to amines, amino acids and protein. This energy draining process requires an enzyme called the nitrate reductase enzyme. This enzyme is dependent upon sulfur and, most importantly, Mo. If you have ignored molybdenum, the nitrates remain unconverted in the leaf, the insects receive a calling card and consumers get to eat food filled with toxic nitrates.
Low level molybdenum toxicity can seriously affect fertility. Molybdenum needs to be at 1ppm in the soil. We have seen dozens of soil tests where it is around 6-8 ppm. If that is the case, get the copper up pronto. I have only recommended molybdenum to be applied to one crop I have tested. That was citrus and the grower pointed out the visible symptoms that were later confirmed by the PAL soil test. The Mo level was 0.95ppm, but those deficiency symptoms were quite visible. Required at 1-2 ppm in soil. Rarely deficient.
Many thanks for the extra data very interesting soils, so low in magnesium and the high molybdenum is a very big issue. The molybdenum if coming through in the plant tissues will antagonise copper severely, and cause a severe copper deficiency.
Copper is required to switch on iron, and iron is already low on theses soils and may also be in the plants. Iron is required to carry oxygen around the body in the red blood cells, without iron the animal will become anaemic, silent heats will occur, they will show lack of vigour, and ill thrift, they will have pale eyelids, gums and inner vulvas.
The low copper can result in falling disease, sudden death with seemingly no symptoms, because the blood vessels have collapsed, and heart attack has occurred, side wall cracks in hooves and overlong toes will be seen, the animals will have a roan colour to their coat, and be hairy. Low magnesium lets potassium dominate which can cause poor microbial balance in the rumen and cause a sodium, potassium imbalance so bloat is more likely as is grass tetany and milk fever and osteoporosis.
Magnesium is also a calming mineral so animal behaviour may also be erratic. Any tissue tests on the paddocks they may have would be very useful additional information. Phosphate is obviously not the limiting factor. Magnesium is a phosphorus synergist carrying P into the plant. If there is not enough P getting into the plant in high P soils i.e. 500kg P2O5, then there is inadequate microbial activity in the soil and inadequate magnesium arriving at the plant.
The Thiamin disease you referred to is a Vitamin B1 deficiency. This is induced by high sulphur and or moly and very low copper levels in the feed the animal is eating. Symptoms are blindness, head pressing (tipping the head to one side) and circling before finally sitting down on their haunches and dying. Thiamin can be injected, but is only good at keeping the animal alive short term. The key is to supplement with copper and B group vitamins. Kelp is very good for the supply of all B vitamins and maybe even better is yeast, and copper can be injected or supplied in a rumen bolus or even as a lick of copper sulphate.
These animals will not gain weight or be productive until the problem is addressed.
B App Sc AgDip
Nutritional Balancing & Hair Mineral Analysis
Full Circle Nutrition
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Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid (synthesises thyroxine) and ovaries. It is involved in energy metabolism, Vitamin A metabolism, body temperature, growth and immune function. Seafood, kelp, eggs and free range hens are rich in iodine. Ruminant ration ranges from 0.5 - 2.0 ppm. Symptoms of deficiency include big neck in calves and enlargement of the thyroid gland. Brassicas like kale and swede can be goitrogenic (inhibit iodine uptake to the thyroid).
15 to 20 mg of iodine per cow per day may be required to compensate (or 2mg of iodine per kg of dry matter). Chloride and fluoride are halogens which can inhibit iodine.
Kelp is the best natural source of iodine.