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May 9, 2023

Watch: Keg River Webinar Puts Sulfur in the Spotlight.

Watching Keg River’s first-ever elemental sulfur webinar was like witnessing a championship doubles tennis match! The conversation volleyed back and forth between our expert panelists, spanning a wide range of topics. It was a spectacular display of knowledge and insights, with plenty of lighthearted moments.

You can view the 1-hour webinar below or keep reading for a recap.

An all-star panel.

Moderated by Rob Saik (AGvisorPRO), the panelists included Dr. Terry Tindall (former Director of Agronomy for J.R. Simplot) and Elston Solberg (a guru on the topic of elemental sulfur). Rounding out the group was Keg River Chemical President Daryl Schuster.

Key insights.

As Daryl Schuster explained, the purpose of this webinar was to create more education and awareness around the use of elemental sulfur in crop production. The lively one-hour discussion bounced fluidly from one topic to the next. Here are some of the highlights.

Elemental sulfur has been largely overlooked by researchers.

Panelists expressed frustration at the limited attention the research and agronomic communities have placed on understanding and leveraging the benefits and opportunities with elemental sulfur. While it is an issue globally, North America tends to lag behind the rest of the world – as our eyes (and the markets) are focused on new technologies. This creates resistance to the use of older but proven technologies like elemental sulfur.

Multiple microbes are involved in sulfur breakdown.

Elston Solberg said that it is widely assumed that one microbe (thiobacillus) is responsible for breaking down elemental sulfur into sulfate. He revealed that his research has shown hundreds (if not thousands) of species are involved.

A listener asked if there was a concern about using nitrification inhibitors, which are known to kill certain bacterial populations. Solberg said that with the myriad of microbes, it shouldn’t be an issue.

In most cases, you will need a starter sulfur fertilizer.

Dr. Tindall pointed out that elemental sulfur requires time before it is oxidized into plant-available sulfate. He added that growers in Idaho typically apply thiosulfate or AMS at or above the root zone, so it is available at the early growth stages.

“By allowing immediate applications of sulfur to be placed at the very beginning, you get a nice root growth benefit to the developing plant immediately. Then, I guess you’d say, the long term, the drip, drip over a period of time to break down the elemental sulfur into a usable form that could still maintain benefits throughout the longevity of the crop,” Tindell said.

Tissue Testing and N:S Ratios are the surest way to determine sulfur rates.

The panel agreed that soil testing isn’t the most effective way to determine sulfur requirements, as it can be difficult to measure. Instead, they concurred that tissue testing for N:S ratios provide a far more accurate guide.

Solberg suggested growers simply follow the recommended N:S ratios based on the individual crop:

6:1       Canola, broccoli and crops with a high S demand

8:1       Pulses and legumes

10:1     Remaining crops (potatoes, corn, wheat, etc.)

If you’re worried about over-applying elemental sulfur, Solberg explained that it will not have a negative impact and will be banked for future crops.

“You can’t overdo (elemental) sulfur.”

“Anything that you can do that will regenerate or cause the soil to be more biologically active is a regenerative agricultural thing. It’s just that simple. Elemental sulfur is a great tool to help do that. It extends to the root system and to the plant health and to the end to S ratios and everything else within the crop.”

Elston Solberg

S is essential to producing two amino acids, which the other 20 amino acids rely on.

One of the reasons sulfur is so important is that it’s vital to the production of cysteine and methionine, which control the production of all other amino acids. So if you don’t have cysteine and methionine, you won’t achieve your yield goals.

Test your water for pH in irrigation systems.

In Idaho and parts of the Pacific Northwest, crop irrigation is widespread. Dr. Terry Tindall explained that elemental sulfur can be used to address two concerns: leaching of sulfates and reducing soil pH imbalances that can occur by using alkaline water.

A key recommendation is that farmers regularly test their irrigation water for pH and be aware of the impact on soil pH… realizing that the optimal pH for many crops is 6.5.

Rob Saik added that as irrigation becomes more common in Alberta and Saskatchewan, this issue will be of greater importance to growers in Western Canada.

Breakdown of sulfur particles is critical to performance.

We also learned that sulfur must be broken down into extremely fine particles before microbes can oxidize them. Daryl Schuster said that this is done by the bentonite clay in degradable sulfur fertilizers.

The clay swells and the mechanical action fractures the sulfur into microscopic particles. If the clay is of low quality, the breakdown will be greatly reduced. This is why working with a manufacturer that only uses top-quality ingredients is important.

Annual applications of elemental S speed up conversion.

Dr. Tindall noted that growers working with J.R. Simplot in Idaho are encouraged to apply elemental sulfur annually, in the spring or fall, which speeds up conversion in high-value crops.

Jumping in, Solberg recalled his early research where this was proven not just in fields where sulfur was applied the previous season but, surprisingly, in adjacent fields.

Fall S application can help you increase seeding by 20%.

Another topic covered was the application timing of elemental sulfur. Solberg said that by tasking sulfur out of the planter in the spring, farmers can increase seeding acres per fill by up to 20%. This is a huge advantage in Western Canada, where the growing season is only around 110 days. This makes the ability to apply elemental sulfur in the fall a game-changer.

Soil amendment can help fight pests and disease.

It was pointed out that applying elemental sulfur to a potato field, concentrated in the mounds, increases biogenic acidulation – which can help fight pests and disease. It can also help release other nutrients in the soil.

Don’t cry when it comes to storing onions.

Onions are a specialty crop unfamiliar to many. Dr. Tindall pointed out that sulfur plays an important role in the long-term storage of onions and prevents spoilage. This is because it supports a chemical called pyruvic acid, which makes onions last longer.

Thanks to everyone who joined us.

Keg River would like to thank our panelists, Dr. Terry Tindall and Elston Solberg, and everyone who was able to join us to make this webinar a success. It was a lot of fun and something we hope to do again!  If you have customers or colleagues who would benefit from this discussion, we wholeheartedly encourage you to share the webinar link!

Special thanks to Rob Saik and AGvisorPRO!

This webinar would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support and guidance of Rob Saik, Founder and CEO of AGvisorPRO. Rob was instrumental in bringing the panel together and guiding the conversation to cover topics important to farmers.

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About AgVisorPRO

AGvisorPRO connects decision-makers in agriculture to the advice, professionals, and services that they need to move forward with confidence. Get a fast answer to a tough question, request a consultation from an agricultural specialist, or discover a service that can launch your operation ahead. AGvisorPRO is building the most trusted agricultural network in the world and putting it in your pocket.

About Keg River Chemical

Keg River Chemical is a leading North American manufacturer of premium bentonite sulfur fertilizers for the agricultural market. Established in 1998, we supply independent and line retailers, setting the standard for quality, consistency & performance.

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