Copper for Small Grains

Among crops grown in the northern Great Plains, small grains (cereals) are the most susceptible to copper deficiency. Copper (Cu) is an essential micronutrient required in small concentrations for plant growth and reproduction. Copper deficiency symptoms in cereals include pale yellowing, wilted and twisted leaf tips, and malformed seed heads. Severe copper deficiency will stop plant growth and kill plants during tiller formation. During pollination, copper deficiency will cause florets to remain partially open. This creates a vulnerable period for diseases, such as Fusarium head blight (head scab) and ergot, to infect the seed head and reduce grain yield.

Small grains sensitive to copper deficiency include barley, oat, rye, triticale, and wheat (including durum, spring, and winter types). Copper deficiency is most common on soils with less than 0.5 ppm Cu. Soils with low soil test Cu frequently include sandy soils with low organic matter (<3.0%) and organic soils (peat) with very high organic matter (>10%). Between soil and plant analysis, diagnosing copper deficiency with soil analysis is the most predictive. Plant analysis is less helpful because the plant Cu concentrations in sufficient and deficient plants are very close.

The most effective strategy to build soil test Cu on mineral soils is to broadcast-incorporate copper sulfate (25% Cu). building soil test Cu for many years. Do not mix copper sulfate with seed-placed dry fertilizer blends for air drills; copper sulfate is a hygroscopic (water holding) material that makes blending difficult and bridging is a concern. For seed-placed copper, use a liquid copper source injected in furrow. Liquid copper sources include dissolved copper sulfate and various chelated Cu products.

On organic soils, soil test Cu is difficult to build as copper readily forms complexes with soil organic matter. To reduce copper complexation, apply seed-placed liquid copper at planting and follow with foliar copper in the first herbicide application. Liquid copper sources include dissolved copper sulfate and various chelated Cu products.