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Magnesium matters

Magnesium (Mg) is an essential nutrient for all living things. In plants, it holds the central position in the all-important chlorophyll molecule, which transforms sunlight’s energy into plant-usable energy or ATP (adenosine triphosphate). In animals and humans, a large part of magnesium’s essentiality comes from its combination with ATP. This Mg-ATP complex is required for the cells’ energy-producing structures, or mitochondria, to produce ATP. The mitochondria break down food energy (glucose and fat) into water, carbon dioxide and energy. Therefore, magnesium is central to the very batteries of life on earth.

How can farmers use any of this unique information in a practical way in Western Canada?

Here are a few thoughts in a checklist.

1.Check your soil samples and make sure you have per cent base saturation Mg levels between 10 and 20 per cent. Per cent base saturation Mg below 10 per cent likely means significant deficiency, while greater than 20 per cent means you have “tight” soils that negatively affect root growth, which affects water use efficiency and nutrient use efficiency. There are several strategies to attack both issues.

2.Look at early season tissue samples from the past years. If you don’t have (m)any, then get a few this year. You will learn tons about what your crop is dealing with, or dealing without. If early season Mg tissue levels are low, then the plant is telling you that its photosynthetic capacity is compromised. The magnesium atom is central to the chlorophyll molecule. Chlorophyll is the energy hub of your crop. If this system is compromised early in the season, then your yield potentials are as well. Research suggests 28 bushel per acre (bu./ac.) canola yield increases from soil applied Mg (56 bu./ac. to 84 bu./ac.) and long-term 8.8 bu./ac. wheat yield increases from foliar applications. These kinds of numbers excite me.They especially excite me because I know that more than 80 per cent of the tissue samples I look at every year are low to borderline for Mg content. Magnesium levels in the soil and the crop deserve your attention.

3.Start learning about abiotic stress and its influence on your crops. Every year we spend millions of dollars on fighting biotic stress (soil and seed borne diseases, weeds and insects and foliar diseases) and pay little heed to the much bigger yield losses associated with abiotic stress (cold, hot, too bright, salinity, wind, drought, too wet, etc.). It turns out that Mg is a serious abiotic stress fighter in all living things. Again, this deserves attention.

4.If you have tissue samples coming back low in Mg, consider playing with some Mg fertilizers to see if you can get crop responses. Remember that solubility rules when it comes to the effectiveness of Mg fertilizers. Put out simple strips across a few fields. Take tissues after, watch the crop, connect some dots and learn for today but mostly for the future.

In the next 40 years, we will have to grow the equivalent of all of the food grown in the last 10,000 years. We will not achieve this goal using the tools and the thinking we use today. As an industry we must think deeper, try new things and learn constantly so that our children and grandchildren may flourish. †

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