Renewable Farming

Foliar fertilizing: More yield, less fertilizer cost — if you know and follow the principles

American yield contest winners and leading farmers in Britain and the European Union have one management trait in common: They foliar-feed crops with small, precise amounts of nutrients through the entire growing season. If it’s green, they spray it.

April 23, 2020 — This week, several new insights on foliar-feeding showed up here at Renewable Farming.

The first came from a German-based firm, Phytobiotics Futterzusatzstoffe GmbH, well-known in the EU for animal nutrition products. It’s also providing crop nutrition, and has established a North American market presence: Phytobiotics North America, LLC. Its foliar-feeding concept: Use the amino acid glycine as a chelator (binding and delivery agent) to deliver trace elements needed by crops. 

Most trace-element foliar application blends use chelating agents which are more complex and larger, such as Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), or sulfate. Glycine has the smallest molecule size of any amino acid, making it more effective for penetrating leaf surfaces and translocating minerals throughout the vascular bundle.

Renewable Farming has followed this same principle with WakeUP – a colloidal product with individual colloidal particles averaging less than one angstrom (smaller than one-billionth of a meter).

Iowa-based crop consultant Bob Streit located Phytobiotics North America, LLC before Renewable Farming did. Streit recommended to Phytobiotics Account Manager, Grant Hansen, that he should investigate using WakeUP Summer as a surfactant for field tests of the company’s trace-element mixes. 

Phytobiotics manufactures four minerals using glycine technologies – zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu)and iron (Fe).

There are several appealing features of the foliar product series, labeled Folia-IQ: high-quality materials, low volume per acre, and reasonable price per acre.

The Phytobiotics North America, LLC website highlights 2019 trials that produced clear-cut yield increases. One side-by-side corn trial (See nearby combine yield map) showed a 21.6 bu. yield gain after foliar-feeding 4.28 ounces per acre of Folia-IQ Zn. The green area is treated, while the red is untreated. You can see the details by clicking on the Folia-IQ link. Data on the site, based on tissue tests, also shows increases in delivered trace elements, compared with controls.

Renewable Farming is now cooperating with Grant in drone-applied strip trials. We are also looking for beta-test farmers across the Midwest to broaden the field trials in corn and soybeans this season. To indicate your interest and explore test possibilities, call or e-mail Erik or Jerry.

Foliar-feeding trace elements is most effective if you measure the plant’s needs for these minerals using tissue tests and apply only what is needed. Or, better yet, use sap tests, which are becoming more available in U.S. labs at U.S. labs.

In farmer seminars over the past several years we have asked if farmers sometimes apply foliar nutrients on growing crops. The result? Fewer than half the farmers raised their hands. Many farmers have listened to conventional agronomists who belittle foliar-feeding, possibly because the agronomists are not familiar enough with foliar nutrients to provide skilled advice.

Last week, Bob Streit posted the following paragraphs, excerpt from his weekly message to clients:

“When a grower first begins to go down the rabbit hole to explore biological, foliar and hormonal products, he will run into products utilizing those words. I will try to lend a bit of clarity to those terms. ‘Chelate’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘claw.’ A crab’s claw means to surround or isolate a product to protect it, so it does not get tied or negated up by salts, excess calcium or humus binding sites. So, the minerals you want to get into the plant, leaves or cells are protected or bound to a chelating agent. This may be an artificial compound like EDTA or a natural product like a sugar, an amino acid or a carbon or carbon based humic product.”

“Foliar-applied minerals are typically mixed with chelating agents and other products that help then get through the waxy cuticles existing on most leaves and then into the inner parts of the plant. The pH levels and polarity charges on the leaf surface, inside the leaves, and within the spray mix are important in any foliar application and must be accounted for.

 “The best publication to follow and receive guidance for foliar applications is that written by Dr. Patrick Brown of U.C Davis and is available in his 123-page publication entitled ‘Foliar Fertilization – Scientific Principles and Field Practices’. The failure to seek out such guidelines and ignorance of such rules is why many universities and nutrient companies speak against foliar fertilizer applications. They were doomed to failure because they didn’t realize how much they didn’t know.”

 Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or

You can download the book Bob recommends, Foliar Fertilization: Scientific Principles and Field Practices at this link.  It’s posted under the label “Books” on the International Fertilizer Association website. Drill down for it.

For a quick refresher on our principles of foliar nutrition with WakeUP, you can download and read a PDF version of our PowerPoint presentation on foliar feeding at this link.

For more information on Folia-IQ please visit

or contact Grant Hansen, Account Manager:         515-512-2385