Foliar feeding expert emphasizes need for an effective surfactant

On June 24, I jumped at the chance to join a conference call with two of agriculture's most capable crop consultants: Albion Minerals agronomist Tracey Kay based at Mesa, AZ and longtime friend Bob Streit of Central Iowa Agronomics, Boone, Iowa.  (The teleconference was arranged by consultant Jerry Scheppele of Garnavillo, IA and his distributor Terry Fommelt.)

June 26, 2021  By Jerry Carlson — Here's the conference highlight for our family, as makers of WakeUP: Tracey stressed that it's essential to use an effective surfactant when you're foliar feeding crops with trace elements. Naturally, for 9 years we've been convinced that our unique WakeUP Summer is the best foliar-feeding surfactant and nutrient mobilizer on Planet Earth.

First, here's why Tracey has found the Albion Minerals product line, Metalosate, a highly effective formulation for delivering trace elements into plant metabolism. These observations are based on his 13 years of on-farm consulting experience with Albion Minerals' product line.

1. All of their nutrient elements are completely soluble. You buy Metalosate zinc, manganese and other elements in powder form and blend them with water for foliar spraying. All crop metabolism requires dissolved nutrients. Plants drink, whether it's via leaves or roots.

2. Their trace elements are chelated with plant-based glycine, the smallest stable amino acid. Glycine is a component of larger protein compounds. Plant cells readily recognize and accept glycine into metabolism — along with the zinc, manganese or other nutrient element bonded with the glycine. Other common and more complex chelating agents such as EDTA are not as readily metabolized by plant cells. The Metalosate product line has been proven for about 50 years, and is used in 50 countries, Kay said.

3. The Metalosate manufacturing process results in a neutrally charged element. Benefit: Plant leaves and cell walls are negatively charged, so a tiny, neutrally charged element and chelating agent easily penetrates into crop metabolism. The plant cell quickly "digests" the glycine as a building block for protein, and uses the supplied zinc, copper, boron or other trace element in essential plant-building pathways as needed.

"Metalosate material moves from the leaf and into growing points in 24 hours. It is a truly systemic product. I care about the leaf that’s going to be formed in the future. The plant sends its nutrients to growing points. This is why systemic transfer is critical."

4. If you don't have a good surfactant to coat the crop leaf, a spray just leaves a "ball of material" on the leaf cuticle, Kay emphasized. "Many mineral foliars are simply micronized and not soluble," Kay told listeners. "The cell membrane is also an active barrier. It recognizes chemical structures. The membrane has a negative charge, like the leaf.  Synthetic chelates are not recognized by the cell.  Amino acid chelators are accepted. The mineral is released inside the cell, and the amino acid is metabolized as a protein."

Please see Metalosate's copyrighted schematic of a leaf cross-section below. Nutrients delivered in solution need to penetrate the outer waxy cuticle, the epidermal layer below that, and enter the palisade cells for metabolism. There's a common misconception that foliar solutions enter only through the stomata. Not so. Thus, it's essential to not only wet the entire leaf surface, top and bottom, but to soften and lift the waxy cuticle — which is a moisture barrier. This is where WakeUP's colloidal micelle structures offer so much power: They're designed to open that waxy barrier temporarily, so your payload solutions can penetrate immediately into leaf cells.

Kay was very specific about EDTA chelators: "They are not designed for foliar application. In Europe, the EDTAs are being banned because residue is being found in the water."

A farmer participant on the conference call asked, "How do your glycine chelated traces handle hard water?" Kay advised: "In the Western states where I work, there’s a lot of hard water. Always pre-acidify your spray tank water to a pH of 6. Citric acid is good to acidify water, although not totally predictable. Soluble AMS is consistent. Agitate after acidifying — give it time to work before you test the pH. 

Another farmer asked about humates in foliar sprays. Kay's response: "Fulvic acid is about 100 times the size of our Metalosate molecule. The fulvics have a tendency to tear other molecules apart. Mix fulvic into your spray water first, agitate, then add Metalosate products and agitate again. Then add other materials."

Some parting foliar feeding advice from Kay: "Anticipate. Tissue or sap test. Don’t wait until you see the crop turn yellow.  If you try to play catch-up by foliar treating yellow crops, remember that it takes chlorophyll to metabolize those nutrients you're applying."

Now for our own observations on why WakeUP is an excellent tank-mix partner for Metalosate trace element blends:

1. WakeUP Spring and WakeUP Summer are formulated entirely from plant-based ingredients which are found on the EPA's list of additives approved as safe in food. Plant cells recognize our sugars, alcohols and other hydrocarbons as nutrients. 

2. WakeUP creates tiny clusters of water molecules called micelles. These micelles have a mild negative charge, so they repel each other to create a very low surface tension (wet, not sticky) and quickly coat leaves with a thin, glossy layer. The micelles carry nutrients with them, providing that uniform leaf coverage that Tracey Kay wants.

3. WakeUP and its nutrient payload penetrates the leaf's waxy cuticle in minutes, appearing dry even in high humidity. Once inside the leaf's chlorophyll-bearing cells, WakeUP reduces surface tension of plant sap, speeding translocation of foliar-applied nutrients to growing points. Thus it makes Metalosate's nourishing elements even more systemic.

Cutaway view of a leaf's interior. This is a copyrighted image found on Metalosate' product brochure. Download the PDF at this link.