Copper: an Essential Micronutrient

Copper: an Essential Micronutrient

Micronutrients are essential for plant health and high nutritional profiles. The macronutrients NPK can make a field look good, but micronutrients give plants resilience. In our ever-changing “normal,” resilience is key to successful farming.

Copper (Cu) is one of the eight essential plant micronutrients. Boron, chlorine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, nickel, and copper are necessary for optimum plant health. None of these elements is needed in large amounts, And, under certain soil conditions, many of these micronutrients will bond with each other to create multiple deficiencies.

Soils naturally contain Cu but the soil pH, amount of organic matter, and the presence of iron and aluminum oxides determine the plant-available Cu. Proteins, photosynthesis, cell wall structure, and even plant hormonal signaling are all affected by the deficiency, optimum, or excess amount of Cu.

Zinc and nitrogen availability are both tied to an optimum amount of Cu as plant-available ions. Excess nitrogen fertilizer on your fields will lead to the binding of Cu ions to nitrogen ions so neither will be optimally available as plant nutrients.

Copper Isn’t Mobile – for Good and Bad

We’re always worrying about the leaching of nutrients from our croplands. That’s not a worry with Cu. In fact, Cu doesn’t even move readily through a plant. It tends to be more abundant in the roots and base of the plant. Plants have evolved specific pathways and micronutrient ions that move Cu through the plant to where it’s needed.

Cu naturally occurs in soil as positively charged Cu2+ ions. These ions bind tightly with negatively charged organic matter and other soil minerals.  That means Cu sticks around in your soil for years. The good part, if you have a Cu deficiency it can probably be fixed in one year. The bad part, if you have a Cu excess it’ll take several years to fix.

An excess of Cu not only impacts your crops but also impacts soil microbial communities and earthworms. Both allies in creating greater crop resilience.

Copper is Necessary for Plant Growth

Plants need copper, but there are fine lines between deficient, optimal, and excessive levels of Cu. Plant physicochemical processes are complex. The qualities that make Cu needed can also be toxic. For example, Cu has redox properties that are essential for plant health and also play a role in the creation of toxic free radicals.

Incredibly, plants have developed homeostatic mechanisms to get the proper amount of each micro and macronutrient in many environmental conditions. Nature creates balance when our farming practices align with the needs of the soil and our crops.

Farming that incorporates regenerative ag practices are less likely to have any micronutrient deficiency or excess, including Cu.

Copper and Your Farm

That dreaded “hidden hunger” for micronutrients can be the cause of lower yields or decreased nutrient profiles in your crops. A deficiency of Cu, as well as other micronutrients, means your plants will be more susceptible to disease and less resilient. On the other hand, excess Cu in your soil will reduce the absorption of water and other mineral elements by your crops. Again, this makes your crops less resilient.

The first step in determining the Cu level in your soil is to have your soil tested. You can even test soil in the middle of winter, as long as it’s not frozen solid.

You should use all available tools to monitor micronutrient availability in your fields. Scouting for visible signs of plant stress, soil tests, yield maps, and just looking at weather over time are all valuable for accessing field and plant health.

Our team of certified crop consultants at ST Biologicals uses the Haney and PFLA soil tests. If a Cu deficiency is detected we recommend Attest as an effective foliar spray. It helps to increase Cu as a catalyst for photosynthesis and plant respiration. Foliar application transports Cu through the vascular tissue of the plant. Attest gets Cu in the right amount, at the right time, in the right place.

Contact our team at ST Biologicals to learn more about the importance of the right amount of copper on your farm. We’re here to help you succeed. Soil speaks, we listen.

Copper: an Essential Micronutrient

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