A plant tissue analysis offers an inside look at the current nutrient levels of a plant, which can help to determine the next fertility steps if a nutrient deficiency is detected. Dan Clarke, Executive Vice-President of Business Development and Agronomy with A&L Canada Laboratories Inc. explains that a plant tissue analysis can help bridge the gap between planting and harvest. “Most producers have a good fertilizer program in place in the spring but they can’t just walk away during the growing season thinking everything will be alright.”

The process followed at A&L Canada Laboratories is to analyze samples to find key nutrient levels present in the plant such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, boron, iron, manganese, iron, zinc, sulfur, and nitrogen and phosphorous. These primary nutrients or lack of them can greatly affect yield and according to Clarke being proactive is key, which is why conducting plant tissue samples at critical stages of plant growth can go a long way to improving yield.

“Whether it’s a specialty crop or row crop this analysis helps to be certain if the plant has enough nutrition to provide the type of yield that the farmer wants to achieve,” states Clarke. “This is where you want to be proactive and not reactive, being proactive will maintain crop yield while being reactive, where you can visually see a deficiency within the crop, some yield potential will already be lost.”

Clarke says the tissue analysis will detect any unseen hidden hungers within your crop. Toxic levels may also be detected. “Combined with data from a soil analysis, a tissue analysis is an important tool in determining nutrient requirements of a crop,” says Clarke.

Collection and Preparation of a Sample
According to Clarke it is very important to use a clean container and never use a metal container. “If it is galvanized metal it could easily contaminate a tissue sample.”

Two cups of lightly packed material provides a sufficient amount to conduct an analysis. If plant samples have soil, dust, fertilizer, or spray residues on them, they will need a light washing. A&L Canada Laboratories offers complete instructions for this process in its Plant Tissue Guide.

Clarke also points out to use perforated bags to allow air movement and a degree of drying in transit. He stresses that you should never send fresh samples in sealed plastic bags as degradation of the sample could also occur.

When and Where to Sample
Clarke notes that plant staging and location of samples taken is key. Instructions for petiole and leaf sampling may differ. “It’s very important to determine proper timing in terms of plant growth but to take tissue samples in multiple areas will help to determine any corrective action if necessary.”

A&L Canada Laboratories offers a reference guide to critical stage growth for timing plant tissue sampling and which plant tissues to use.

Many crop deficiency symptoms look the same which is why it is important to diagnose the right problem. Deficiencies of magnesium, sulfur, and zinc can visibly appear the same. Without testing to determine the precise cause, it could waste time and money on solving the wrong problem. “If you know the nutrient status of your plant, you can refine a fertilizer application for the next grow stage as well as identify any hidden problems that may keep plants from reaching their optimal yield potential.”

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