It is seen that maximum yield was not obtained until all three of the deficient nutrients were applied. Also note that the deficiency of copper or zinc (micronutrients) caused as much problems as when phosphorus (a macronutrient) was in short supply.

This explains why in many trials (and production fields) the response to N, P and K fertilizers is often lower than expected. There has been a lot of emphasis on the application of these macronutrients but the response to these nutrients will be poor if there are deficiencies of other essential plant nutrients.


In trying to achieve balanced nutrition, it should be emphasized that we are aiming at an adequate amount of nutrients, not excessive amounts of any nutrient. Not only is an excessive level of nutrients a waste of money, it is a potential source of pollution and can actually reduce yields.

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The concept of balanced nutrition is very simple and was in fact developed more than 150 years ago. The idea is that a crop requires an adequate supply of all nutrients for optimum growth. If more than one is in short supply, growth is determined by the nutrient which is in lowest supply. This is similar to the fact that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

If several nutrients are in short supply, we need to apply all of them to get optimum production. The following experiment on pasture land illustrates this clearly.

The soil was deficient in phosphorus, zinc and copper and several combinations of fertilizer were tried and yield is shown.

Balanced Nutrition