Molybdenum: The Micro-est of Micronutrients

Molybdenum (Mo) is an essential plant nutrient, necessary for nitrate assimilation and biological nitrogen fixation. Legumes, relying on symbiotic nitrogen fixation, have greater Mo requirement than non-legumes. Nevertheless, the Mo requirement of plants is the lowest among all micronutrients, with critical deficiency concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 1.0 ppm in plant leaves. The very low Mo concentration lies near the detection limit for most laboratory instruments used in commercial soil and plant analysis, so you may see Mo concentration reported as “below instrument detection limit.”

Plant-available Mo in soil is present as molybdate (MoO42-). Unlike most other micronutrients, molybdate availability in soil increases with soil pH. On soils with pH greater than 6.0, Mo deficiency is exceptionally rare. In the northern Great Plains and Canadian Prairies where most soils have high pH, Mo deficiency is virtually unknown, and background plant Mo concentration in legumes ranges from 4 to 8 ppm, indicating that plants obtain sufficient Mo from soil naturally. In the upper Midwest where low pH soils are more common, crop response to Mo fertilization has been limited to legume crops grown on strongly acidic, sandy or peat soils.

Since Mo deficiency is so uncommon and most soils are limed above pH 6.0, no reliable plant-available soil test method for Mo has been developed in the region. The acid ammonium oxalate method was infrequently used in the southeast United States, but the prediction of crop response to Mo fertilization aligns more closely with soil pH than soil test Mo. If soil pH is less than 6.0 and Mo fertilization is necessary, a molybdate fertilizer seed treatment or foliar application is usually sufficient. Overapplication of Mo fertilizer is not a concern for grain production. In forage production however, overapplication is a serious concern because excessive Mo in forages can cause Mo-induced copper deficiency (molybdenosis) in ruminant livestock.