Balance Nutrition for Crop Sustainability

In agriculture, long-term success – and sustainability – requires focusing not just on this year’s yields, but also on the larger soil health picture. Balancing four crop nutrients is essential for achieving long-term goals.

October 31, 2023
3 mins
Dr. Jason Haegele
North American Agronomy Lead, ICL

Sustainability can be described as operating today with the future in mind. It is also something of a balancing act.

In agriculture, we know that long-term success – and sustainability – requires focusing not just on this year’s yields, but considering the larger soil health picture. I recently sat down with Craig Davidson, President of Taurus Ag Marketing, to shed light on how ICL’s innovations are advancing sustainable farming and crop nutrition.

While ICL may be an unfamiliar brand for growers in the U.S. and Canada, we’ve been around for 100 years. We leverage our global footprint, mineral extraction expertise, and R&D facilities to create innovative solutions. Our company’s longevity is evidence that sustainability is a priority.

Responsible farming is not just about growing more; it’s about minimizing environmental impacts, improving soil quality, optimizing nutrient utilization, and increasing yields – all while producing crops to nourish a growing global population – and it has to make sense for the grower’s budget.

To maximize sustainability in crop nutrition, consider four key principles to achieve the proper balance.


  1. Multi-nutrient fertilizer capabilities

There are 17 essential plant nutrients. We often concentrate on these nutrients in isolation, for instance, focusing solely on nitrogen or potassium. In reality, these nutrients all interact in the soil and in the plant to influence crop productivity.

To be sustainable, we must think about the balance and ratio between all these different nutrients.

As part of ICL’s continued focus on research and innovation, we have developed a multi-nutrient product known as Polysulphate. Our Boulby mine in the United Kingdom is the world’s only source of the naturally occurring mineral polyhalite, which we market around the world as Polysulphate.

This fertilizer contains three secondary macronutrients – sulfur, calcium and magnesium – as well as potassium. All four nutrients are delivered in a single granule with an environmentally friendly and agronomically optimal release profile.


  1. Sustained nutrient release

Imagine if you sat down to breakfast this morning and were served all the food you would eat in a month. You certainly wouldn’t be able to eat it all and before long, you would be hungry again. Not to mention that most of the food would go to waste. So you would have wasted money buying the food, get only a portion of the nutrients you need, and wasted food that would be tossed out.

And we certainly want to avoid a situation like this when feeding plants. Sustained nutrient release enables us to spread those nutrients out throughout the growing season to help plants better utilize nutrients in relation to crop demand. For short-season annual crops like wheat and canola, if we can offer the four critical nutrients – sulfur, calcium, magnesium plus potassium – in one drilling and feed that to the plant in the early stage of its life and continue through the course of its life, we are achieving nutrient management efficiency without causing undue stress to the young plants.

Polysulphate gives us that ability. Plus, its nutrient-release mechanism provides a gradual, sustained release of nutrients that matches the crop’s uptake patterns, making it well suited to applying before the crop, whether in the spring or fall.


  1. Proper nutrient placement

With only about 100 days to grow a crop in most parts of the U.S. and Canada, focusing on soil and plant health is critical – as is stress management. When we avoid bringing stress into the equation, seedlings are able to mature in the most optimum setting, and the resulting harvest will pay dividends. Placing nutrients in the ground with or near the seed, especially immobile nutrients like potassium or magnesium, increases these nutrients’ efficiency tremendously.


  1. Apply the 4R principles

Perhaps the most basic practice – but also maybe the most important – is paying attention to the 4Rs: Right source, right rate, right time, and right place. This isn’t new, but it’s certainly one of the most effective ways to improve nutrient utilization: place the right nutrients in the right amount and location so they can be taken up by the crop that needs them. This allows the nutrients to feed out over the course of the entire season. Simply adding more nutrients or guessing about application timing won’t likely lead to higher yields, nor the most sustainable crop.

The 4R approach also reinforces sustainability – not only for crops and soil – but it also makes economic sense by keeping us from applying fertilizer that is not utilized.

It takes good balance to be sustainable. By maximizing crop yield on every acre while minimizing environmental impact, you’re being economically efficient and an environmental steward. That’s what makes a farm sustainable for the long-term.