Should You Apply Sulfur For Corn For High Yields?

A nutrient that once was free for the taking for corn in the atmosphere is now harder to come by due to emission regulations on coal-burning power plants.

Published on: May 2, 2012

Twenty years ago someone trying to sell sulfur for corn production usually got the same reception that people trying to sell moondust products often thought of as snake oil often got. They weren't successful in most cases. That was then- this is now. Many believe you can make a case for paying for and applying sulfur on corn today along with other nutrients, especially if you're shooting for high yields.

Regulators on still bent on shutting down or at least tightening regulations on Indiana's coal plants, but Steve Dlugosz, a crops consultant with Harvestland Co-op in east-central Indiana, says that the reduction in sulfur levels in the atmosphere in Indiana over the last two to three decades are believed to be because utilities are already taking a large amount of sulfur out of emissions that once went into the atmosphere. He believes it's a factor in why more people report early-season deficiencies of sulfur in corn these days, compared to in past times.

Should You Apply Sulfur For Corn For High Yields?
Should You Apply Sulfur For Corn For High Yields?

Plants low on sulfur are usually stunted, spindly and lighter green in color than normal plants. The lighter color typically appears in upper leaves first, according to the Purdue University Corn & Soybean Field Guide.

Interveinal yellowing of leaves or a condition called leaf striping can occur. Other micronutrient deficiencies cause similar symptoms, so you may want to have an agronomist confirm your diagnosis if you believe you are spotting plants deficient in sulfur. If the problem is not corrected, sulfur deficiency can contribute to a delay in maturity.

Do you need sulfur or not? Or better yet, do you need it bad enough in some fields that applying it will return an economic gain over the cost of the sulfur. If it is applied with a fertilizer application you were going to make anyway, then you can skip adding in the cost of application.

One way to answer these questions would be through replicated trials. Short of that, you can treat part of the field with sulfur, and leave part of the field not treated, Dlugosz says. It may not be as scientific, but it may be more practical and may still give you an indication of whether you believe you may see r a pay-off from adding sulfur or not.