Copper Deficiency In Cereals

Copper deficiency in cereal grains is becoming more common in the northern plains region. For the past several years, researchers in Alberta and Saskatchewan have been documenting copper deficiencies in wheat and barley.

Copper (Cu) is an essential micronutrient that is required in small amounts for plant growth. Copper plays an important role in chlorophyll production and protein synthesis. Having sufficient copper in the plant at pollination has been found to be critical. During pollination, plants with low copper levels tend to have florets that remain partially open. This creates an opportunity for disease organisms, such as ergot, to infect the plant and cause yield loss. Low copper levels may also affect other functions in the plant to cause yield loss.

Crops sensitive to copper from most to least sensitive are winter wheat, spring wheat, barley, oats, triticale and rye. Soil testing has proven to be the best way to predict if a copper deficiency will occur. On mineral soils, Canadian research has shown that soils testing less than 1.0 ppm copper may respond to applied copper when sensitive crops, such as wheat are grown. University research in the northern states is also being conducted on response of wheat to copper.

To address this recent research, AGVISE Laboratories has updated our copper fertilizer guidelines for small grains (see table) based on Canadian research. The fertilizer guidelines for copper also include the word “trial”. This is to indicate that the crop may respond to copper, but the application should be on a “trial” basis. Please give our technical support staff a call with any questions regarding copper in crop production.

Copper Application Guidelines
Soil Test Level(ppm) All Wheats
All Barleys
Alfalfa, Sunflower
Other Crops
0.00 – 0.30 5 3 2
0.31 – 0.60 3 Trial 2 Trial 0
0.61 – 1.00 2 Trial 1 Trial 0
1.01 + 0Trial 0 Trial 0