Beating Zinc Deficiency in Corn

An essential micronutrient for corn growth and development, zinc deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems limiting corn yield in the U.S.

As a component of many enzymes and proteins, zinc plays a crucial role in enzyme activation, protein synthesis, growth regulation and energy production in corn plants. Understanding the causes, symptoms and solutions for zinc deficiency is a key for growers looking to unlock corn productivity and profitability.

Symptoms

Zinc deficiency symptoms usually appear early in the growing season, showing up first on younger leaves because zinc is immobile within the plant. Some characteristic signs of zinc deficiency in corn include:

  • Interveinal chlorosis: Pale yellow to white bands form on both sides of the leaf midrib, while the midrib and leaf margins remain green.
  • Stunted growth: Internodes and leaf size are reduced, resulting in short, stunted plants.
  • Poor root development: Zinc deficiency impairs root growth and decreases root volume.
  • Delayed maturity: Severe zinc deficiency can delay corn tasseling and silking.
  • “White bud” in severe cases: The whorl and upper leaves may turn almost white, and the growing point can die in extreme situations.

Tissue sampling is the most reliable method to diagnose zinc deficiency and should be tested for at multiple stages of a crop’s development. For young corn less than 12 inches tall, collect 15-20 whole plant samples cut off at ground level. For larger corn up to tasseling, sample the fully developed leaves below the whorl. Zinc concentrations less than 20 ppm in sampled tissue indicate deficiency.

Causes

  • Soil and environmental factors can reduce zinc availability, leading to the micronutrient’s deficiency in a corn crop:
  • Low soil zinc levels: Soils inherently low in zinc, such as sandy, highly weathered or leached soils, are most prone to deficiency.
  • High soil pH: Zinc availability decreases as soil pH increases, with deficiency most likely in soils with pH above 7.0.
  • Cool, wet conditions: Cold and damp soils in early spring slow root growth and zinc uptake, increasing risk of deficiency.
  • Low soil organic matter: Zinc deficiency often occurs in eroded or leveled soils with topsoil removed.
  • Phosphorus-induced deficiency: High soil phosphorus levels can reduce zinc uptake and utilization in plants, especially in soils with marginal zinc.
  • Calcareous soils: Free lime in the soil strongly reduces zinc solubility and plant availability.

Preventing and Correcting Zinc Deficiency

Proactive zinc management is crucial to avoid yield losses. To stay ahead of deficiencies, pull soil samples to assess available zinc levels and determine if supplementation is needed. Zinc fertilization is generally recommended when the DTPA-extractable zinc level is less than 0.8 ppm.

Concept AgriTek offers several innovative solutions to meet corn’s zinc requirements and support healthy growth:

  • Nutri Tek: a systemic, balanced micronutrient blend uses TransMaxx® technology to systematically move the nutrients through the plant. The product delivers seven micronutrients, including zinc, in a foliar application designed to boost early seedling development and provide essential nutrition ahead of reproductive pull.
  • Concept Z9: A fully chelated EDTA zinc solution that resists soil tie-up and remains plant available across a wide range of soil conditions.
  • Trans Zn® is a systemic foliar zinc that helps zinc to be absorbed more quickly and translocate throughout the entire plant. Zinc has limited mobility in plants and Trans Zn helps to resolve that issue.

Zinc deficiency can take a serious toll on corn growth and grain production if not detected and corrected early. By understanding the underlying causes, recognizing the symptoms, and implementing proactive zinc management strategies, growers can ensure their corn crop has the zinc it needs to reach its full yield potential. Concept AgriTek’s diverse portfolio of zinc fertilizers, backed by proven performance, provides effective solutions to prevent and treat deficiency. Partnering with the zinc nutrition experts at Concept AgriTek is a smart strategy to help corn achieve strong, healthy growth all season long.

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