You applied fertilizer and lime to your plots, but the plants are still stunted, leaves curling back at the tips, some with dark spots or a yellow striped appearance.
Your plots are lacking certain micronutrients. Besides the big-three nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K)—provided in common fertilizers, plants also need an array of micronutrients to thrive, including copper, zinc, cobalt, manganese, and boron. These interact with the soil and major fertilizers in complex ways to promote photosynthesis, root formation, cell-wall division, and other vital plant functions. They also help control harmful types of fungus, and they assist beneficial microbes in the soil. A lack of them can cause any or all of the symptoms above. Just like N-P-K, they need to be replenished periodically.
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First, do a soil test to determine exactly what your micronutrient deficiencies are. In some cases, adding too much can be as harmful as having too little. Once you know your needs, you can buy granular forms of specific micronutrients and mix them with N-P-K or apply separately to your plots with a spreader. Or you can buy micronutrient fertilizers that you mix with water and spray on plants, such as BioLogic’s M.E.E.N. Green; or liquid forms, such as DeerGro’s PlotBoost and PureGrade’s zinc-iron-manganese-magnesium combination for soybeans.
One of the easiest and cheapest solutions is to use a seed-coating treatment, such as those sold by DeltAg. Here, finely powdered zinc, manganese, sulfur, and other crucial nutrients are mixed with seeds before planting. Also, consider getting a plant tissue analysis. This can be done at the same farm co-ops and agricultural colleges that do soil tests and will tell you in even greater detail what nutrients were lacking for your failed crop.
Finally, keep in mind that too high or too low a pH can electrochemically bind crucial micronutrients in the soil, making them unavailable to the plants, even if they are present in acceptable amounts. So be sure to keep the pH in a good range (ideally 6.2 to 6.8) if you want your fixes to work—and your plots to start pulling in bucks.