Using micronutrients to relieve stressors is gaining popularity in some circles, given high commodity prices.

Julian Smith, domestic sales director with Brandt, a Springfield, Ill.-based micronutrient supplier, says company and third-party researchdemonstrates that farmers should be willing to think outside the box and evaluate micronutrient use. Brandt manufactures several micronutrient products, including the Smart System line of foliar micronutrients.

"Micronutrients are becoming an important resource for traditional and non-traditional protocols. We find that micronutrients can be used as physiological tools that can assist gene expression, not just solve the traditional zinc deficiencies in corn and manganese deficiencies in soybeans," Smith says. "Micronutrients can be part of a season-long strategy for efficient nutrient management."

When micronutrients are applied with herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, Smith says Brandt’s research shows that mineral content in corn and soybeans is altered and may increase element availability. For example, some say that higher iron levels may help soybeans manage disease stress.

Ray Schneider, soybean plant pathologist with Louisiana State University (LSU), has researched the effects of minor element nutrition on soybean diseases, including iron. His work to date focuses on Cercospora blight, the biggest disease problem in many southern states, and a close relative to frogeye leaf spot.

"In general, micronutrient use and effectiveness depends on the disease and the element. We see large effects with iron in southern soybeans affected by Cercospora," he says. "The Cercospora pathogen produces a toxin and causes severe defoliation in soybeans. We have found in field trials that iron inhibits production of the toxin and controls the disease."

Iron works with the fungus physiology, not the soybean physiology, Schneider says. "We apply iron as a foliar spray at first flower, before any disease symptoms are present. Our soybean yield measurements indicate an increase in yield over non-treated plots, but we need another year of the research before we will report results. This is a new vein of research to explore these mechanisms and their effects in various crops."