Guess the Pest! Week 9 Answer: Sulfur Deficiency

David Owens, Extension Entomologist, owensd@udel.edu and Jarrod O. Miller, Extension Agronomist, jarrod@udel.edu

Congratulations to Ben Coverdale for correctly answering sulfur deficiency on corn. Ben is going to be the proud new owner of a sweep net, to which all sorts of useful equipment could be attached on the handle, like a soil probe or a knife to take nutrient samples. Now if a sweep net could be included with a swiss army knife… All other correct guessers will be entered for an end-of-season raffle.

From Jarrod Miller
Sulfur deficiencies have been observed in the last couple of weeks across the state. Sulfur deficiency starts on the new growth because S is not mobile in the plant. In fact, S deficiency can cause the whole plant to be lighter in color. Another symptom of S deficiency is the appearance of stripes (interveinal chlorosis), as seen in this photo. While these stripes may also indicate a micronutrient or magnesium deficiency (and those who guessed magnesium are also entered for the end of season raffle), the most likely cause of this striping is a lack of S. We feel confident that S is likely the cause of this symptom, as we have observed it in similar conditions; corn grown on sandy, low organic matter soils. Plus, we have confirmed S deficiency with tissue testing in past seasons. Crops used to get more than enough S from the atmosphere. However, S deposition has been greatly reduced as technologies have reduced S release to the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels. Now, the primary source of S to growing crops is soil organic matter. Unfortunately, Delaware soils are typically low in natural organic matter. In addition, the sulfate form of S is easily leached below the root zone; S leaching is also more likely in sandy soils. We recommend tissue testing to confirm S deficiency for sandy soils, especially if the field has not recently received manures or S containing fertilizers. Sample the whole plant up to 45 days after emergence or the 3rd leaf between 45-80 after emergence. If S in tissue is below 0.18% or if the N:S ratio in tissue is greater than 15:1, the corn is S deficient. If caught early in the season, apply 30 to 40 lb/acre of S. Apply a lower rate if you have evidence of S deeper in the soil profile (deep soil sample), or if you already added S with your starter fertilizer. However, remember that excessive application of ammonium sulfate (or a reduced form of S) can have an acidifying effect, resulting in lower soil pH. Soils receiving regular applications of acidifying fertilizer will require more frequent application of limestone to manage soil acidity in the long-term.