Phosyn Analytical is a Top Certified Soil Analysis and Soil Testing Lab in Australia

Summary based on the writings of Dr. Werner Bergmann

The survival of human and animal life is dependent on the adequate production of agriculture, which increasingly depends on growers optimising crop quality and crop yields. This agricultural optimisation, in turn, is in part a function of soil analysis and soil testing with the aim of providing accurate information so the right fertilisers and micronutrient applications can be applied.

In addition to radiant energy and adequate water, soil and plants also need a variety of chemical elements called plant nutrients, for the synthesis and accumulation of organic compounds as well as CO2 and H2O. Soil analysis and soil testing is a key component in ensuring agricultural plants get the nutrients they need to thrive.

Without the optimal combination of nutrients, plants suffer, and yield and quality decline. In some cases the lack of proper nutrients can result in metabolic disorders in plants which are not visually apparent. Soil analysis and testing can help identify these nutrient deficiencies and serve as a basis for rectifying them by providing detailed reports outlining imbalances of elements and communicating them to growers or agronomists.

The key nutrients that are of the greatest importance are the macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Soil analysis and soil testing can also identify inadequate quantities and imbalances of micronutrients: boron, copper, iron, manganese, and zinc.

Large amounts of other chemical elements which are not necessary for growth, such as aluminium and heavy metals, can also be detected by soil analysis and testing. These elements can lead to disturbances in plant metabolism, which can reduce crop yields and quality. A report prepared by a certified agricultural soil testing laboratory familiar with Australian soil conditions can serve as an important step in creating a remediation plan to reduce the effects of these unnecessary elements.

It is clear that these negative conditions, if left unaddressed, can lead to financial losses for growers. Because of this, growers and the agronomists who help them achieve their crop yield and quality goals, cannot afford to leave these soil nutrition imbalances unaddressed because they will lead to nutrient imbalances in the plants. Visual diagnoses should be accompanied by analytical diagnoses (via soil analysis and testing) during pre-planting, growth and development phases. These two methods are complementary methods and should be employed to achieve optimal crop yield and quality.

The preceding information, as it related to agricultural soil analysis and testing in Australia, is primarily based on the work of Dr. Werner Bergmann as published in “Nutritional Disorders of Plants” ISBN 3-437-35420-5

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Soil Analysis and Testing Helps Identify Major, Minor & Trace Element Deficiencies

One of the most important aspects of having a comprehensive soil analysis and testing report completed by a certified lab is to help achieve balance between the interaction of various trace elements. It is important to note that these trace elements and nutrients interact and influence each other. Some stimulate the uptake of other elements while others are antagonistic to the uptake of others (for instance, and generally speaking, Mg stimulates the uptake of P while being antagonistic to the uptake of K). The recommended way to identify and properly rectify deficiencies in your soil is to undertake chemical analysis of the soil.

Below we have outlined the role of a few nutrients and a very brief overview of the importance of the examples discussed. Chemical analysis of soil and soil testing can help provide the necessary information to correct imbalances.

Calcium is an essential plant nutrient and is particularly important to dairy producing livestock. Often, the importance of calcium is underestimated although according to some experts it is second in importance only to the major nutrients supplied in most fertilisers including N, P, K. It is important to note that Potash fertilisers using Potassium Chloride leads to large amounts of Calcium to be leached from the soil. If large amounts of Nitrogen fertilisers are applied, soil that originally contained sufficient Calcium may become acidic. It’s been determined that many crops are sensitive to acidity and failure may occur at pH5 or below. One solution may be to apply lime, but that can reduce the concentration of elements that are soluble in acid soils such as Mn, B, and Cu.

Zinc is another nutrient that has become increasingly recognised as being critical to the health and growth of plants. The addition of zinc has made it possible to cultivate previously exhausted land and has resulted in the production of citrus fruit crops. As discussed regarding Ca, for some crops zinc is second in importance only to N as a plant nutrient. Zinc assists in the oxidation of plant cells and is important in the production of chlorophyll. It also promotes the absorption of water, which helps prevent stunting. While zinc is usually found in small amounts in soil, deficiencies have been observed with pH values from 4.0-8.5. The addition of Ca to soil to correct for low pH and the use of phosphate fertiliser increases the likelihood of zinc lock-up thereby reducing its availability to crops.

As previously stated, this is by no means intended as a thorough examination of major, minor & trace elements and the importance of individual elements to specific crops. These examples have simply been included to show the importance of elements which can be overlooked and the interrelationship between them. Additionally, it shows how the addition of one element can inhibit the presence or uptake of another element. Comprehensive soil analysis and testing can not only provide an accurate “picture” of the elements present in your soil and in what amounts, but can also serve as the basis for planning appropriate fertilisation or micronutrient application for your specific crops and goals.

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Plant Tissue Testing and Analysis in Australia

(The following summary is also based on Dr. Bergmann’s “Nutritional Disorders of Plants”)

An ideal regime will include soil analysis and testing, coupled with plant tissue testing. A combination of these soil and plant test reports, in conjunction with visual analytical diagnosis of the plants, provides the most thorough basis for a fertilisation and/or micronutrient application plan to improve crop yield and quality. The outward manifestation of nutritional deficiency symptoms in the plant material depend on the functions of particular essential nutrient elements in plant metabolism. Since the functions of the different nutrients vary, certain symptoms of each deficiency will be apparent.

These symptoms can be integrated into a generalised “simple pathway key”, which can help growers and agronomists assess symptoms in the field. Two common “pathway keys” are molybdenum and manganese deficiencies. Assistance in identifying both of these can also be provided by analytical plant tissue testing. A third “pathway key” is a zinc deficiency group.

According to plant analysis research conducted by W. Bussler (1973), molybdenum deficiencies were most apparent in the deformity of leaves of younger plants. Bergmann discusses identification of molybdenum deficiency in leguminous plants and points out that these plants will display symptoms similar to nitrogen deficiency. This similarity highlights the importance of utilising chemical analysis of plants and soil, rather than primarily relying on visual assessments.

Research by A. Finck (1968) discusses zinc deficiencies which predominantly appear in the juvenile stage of plants, but which later disappear in later stages of growth. He goes on to note that these symptoms do not appear in younger leaves when root growth allows for greater uptake of manganese.

Below is a brief summary of the “pathway key” of the following groups:

  1. Symptoms most apparent in older plants
  2. Symptoms apparent in younger plants
  3. Symptoms in younger and/or older leaves and organs differentiated according to species and the time of the appearance of the deficiencies

Older leaves mostly affected – Potential deficiencies of N, P, Mg, or K.

Younger or top leaves (also middle leaves) affected – Potential deficiencies of Mn, Fe, S, Co, Ca, B

Symptoms appear on younger and/or older leaves or organs – Potential deficiencies of Mo, Zn

Although a full exploration of these deficiencies of trace elements is outside the scope of this entry, we have included these few highlights to indicate the importance of chemical testing of plants and soil to accurately determine deficiencies and potential remediation. Contact your agronomist or Phosyn for a full range of symptoms for individual species, or to have a comprehensive analysis undertaken.

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