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Inadequate Zinc Constricting Idaho Wheat Crops

Wheat growers in Idaho are losing a surprising 3.5-4 bushels per acre every year due to widespread zinc deficiency that results in slow emergence and a lack of seedling vigor.  While most now recognize that zinc is widely deficient in the soil profile, the larger issue of how to solve it still remains. “Because the soil is deficient, our seed stock being produced is going to be deficient as well,” explains Logan Redden, Seed Care Account Manager with The McGregor Company, “Without seed-applied micronutrients, no matter where we plant it back, the seed is at a disadvantage.”

When it comes to zinc availability in the soil, pH and temperature at planting can significantly hinder the seed’s ability to access adequate levels of zinc.  Cooler soil temperatures in early spring planting, or under irrigation, will limit zinc availability. Similarly, soil profiles with a pH of 7.5 or higher will also see significantly reduced levels of available zinc.

As the main component in the plant growth hormone, Auxin, zinc is not only critical for plant health early in the plant’s life – it is required to initiate and stimulate germination.  “Think of zinc as a forklift moving sugars to the plant embryo,” says Cat Salois, Director of Research and Technology for The McGregor Company, “Without access to zinc at the time of germination, sugars can’t cross the membrane layers to the embryo.  The consequence of this is weakened stands and slower emergence.” 

Salois notes that, “Roughly 70% of the zinc required by cereal grains is demanded within the first 30 days of life.”  The best solution to zinc deficiency therefore lies in giving the plant immediate access to zinc at the time of germination. “Without supplying the micronutrient needs at germination, even the best varieties will struggle to reach their full yield potential.” explains Redden.

But not all zinc products are created equal when it comes to delivering performance as a seed treatment.  The most common forms – zinc EDTA, zinc oxide, and zinc sulfate – each impact the plant differently.  Undeniably, research shows that the slow-release nature of an EDTA chelated nutrient is not the appropriate tool to meet this large early demand.  EDTA products such as StepUp and Pro-Ceed are “late to the party,” says John Hobson, Director of Seed Care at The McGregor Company, “EDTA chelated nutrients are designed to be accessible in small amounts over the growing season and cannot supply a large peak demand.” 

Instead, recent research points to zinc oxide as the superior seed-applied nutrition source.  New MicroFuze Technology, found exclusively in The McGregor Company’s SeedStart line of products, delivers zinc oxide particles at such an advanced level that “the nutrient accessibility is significantly enhanced,” says Jamie Slocum, Seed Care Account Manager with The McGregor Company, “Immediate access to zinc at the time of germination promotes rapid emergence and root development, which leads to earlier access to the additional nutrient package placed below ground, and gives the plant a 1-2 punch at nutrient availability to carry through the plant life.” 

Independent studies have proven SeedStart to consistently have superior plant uptake efficiency during the first few weeks of life compared to both EDTA and zinc sulfate.  SeedStart with MicroFuze Technology “allows the zinc particles to more densely affix directly on the seed, and thus be more readily available at the time of germination,” explains Salois.  In addition, EDTA zinc delivers 83% less zinc per pound than SeedStart – and at an average increased cost of $18 per pound of zinc.  In essence, growers using seed treated with any zinc form other than SeedStart with MicroFuze Technology are paying more for less performance.

With the current landscape of commodity prices and input costs, it is more important than ever for growers to focus on early stand establishment to achieve maximum yield. “Better stand establishment in the fall leads to more efficient use of fertilizer and better water retention in the soil profile. With high fertilizer costs and ongoing drought conditions, these are two of the most pressing issues in our region.” says Redden. “As we start evaluating seed varieties and seed treatment offerings for fall planting, we need to make sure we have adequate disease protection for the seed. Once those needs are met, the best return on investment for growers is the use of seed-applied micronutrients with SeedStart.”

Not all zinc products are designed to deliver performance on the seed piece and choosing the right zinc product to accomplish this task is critical.  SeedStart is intentionally designed to optimize nutrient availability by adequately placing zinc nutrition at the right time and in the right place to optimize efficiencies for both the farmer and the plant.  Powered by unique MicroFuze Technology, SeedStart is the only seed-applied zinc nutrition that is readily accessible at germination, proven through research, and loaded with 4X more zinc. For additional information on superior seed care, visit or contact (509) 397-4355.

The McGregor Company serves growers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon with the seed, crop inputs, equipment, research, and advice needed to raise healthy, sustainable crops. Our customers throughout the Inland Northwest benefit from over 135 years of McGregor expertise and consumers worldwide rely on the crops harvested by these dedicated growers.

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