Properly balanced PH levels can mean the difference between large yields, and crop failure. Overly acidic soil produces smaller crops that simply don’t satisfy the needs of a working farm. Similarly, when soil is not acidic enough, crops may be unable to absorb critical nutrients
That is where soil amendments come into play. Sulfur is a particularly useful amendment that works best in conditions that are high in sodium or calcium.
Sulfur can activate calcium that is naturally present in the soil to make it more soluble, and therefore better suited to the needs of your crops.
As sulfur activates in the soil, it may raise the acidity leading to better nutrient absorption. In this article, we will take a look at everything you need to know about sulfur as a soil amendment.
What is Sulfur and Where Does it Come From?
Sulfur in its chemical form is a solid crystalline material that is yellow in appearance. As storms weather away rock material, sulfur naturally makes its way into the environment. At this point, it can come into contact with soil naturally in one of three different ways.
- Airborne: When water and other natural chemicals break down sulfur, some of the particles are naturally introduced to oxygen, at which point they become sulfate. The sulfate is then cycled around into plants, animals, and yes, soil.
- Weathering of minerals in soil: Soil also already contains minerals that are rich in sulfur. As these minerals erode thanks to rain and other weather conditions, it naturally contributes sulfur to the soil.
- Microbial Activity: Finally, sulfur can also come into contact with soil through natural microbial activity. As sulfate particles settle onto vegetation, they are eaten and digested by animals. The sulfate then passes through the animal waste and is incorporated into the soil.
However, despite the fact that sulfur can come into contact with soil naturally, it is equally common that soil be deficient in sulfur. What’s more, previously nutrient-rich soil can become deficient thanks to a variety of different environmental factors.
You can tell that soil is deficient in sulfur when the leaves are light green or yellowish. Sulfur deficiency may also be to blame when the expected growth rate of a plant has been severely stunted.
When these symptoms appear, supplementary sulfur may be necessary.
What is the Impact of Low pH on Crops?
Generally speaking, crops need a soil PH rating of somewhere between 5-8.5 in order to thrive. When the PH level gets higher or lower, it can severely impact the health of the plants.
When soil does not have high enough levels of acid there are several severe naturally occurring side effects that can compromise the health of your plants. One such side effect is the release of aluminum particles that may be present in your soil.
An abundance of aluminum in soil can actually be toxic for plants, leading to browning, stunted growth, and even death.
Depending on the level of the imbalance, the actual results may vary. Regardless, when the PH level is off, you are not likely to get the best possible results. Some plants may die, and those that don’t are likely to be stunted in their growth.
While the side effects of unbalanced soil PH levels can be very severe, mitigation is fairly straightforward. First things first, you need to confirm the problem. A simple soil test can give you a precise read of what PH levels you are dealing with.
Once the problem has been identified, you can then mitigate by carefully selecting a soil amendment that will bring you back to a more balanced position.
Which is better—AG Limestone or Sulfur? Or Both?
There are a variety of different soil amendments that can alter PH levels. Agricultural limestone is prized for its ability to lower acid levels, while sulfur is used to raise them.
Which is better? That’s not really the right question. It’s really a matter of which option will be right for your situation.
If the acid in your soil is excessively high, you will want to use agricultural limestone. When the acid is not high enough, you will want to use sulfur.
Have a Question?
When it comes to optimizing your soil, it helps to work with professionals. At Norcal AG Service, we know what we are doing. Contact us today for a free quote, and some guidance on finding the solution that is right for you.