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Nutrient Deficiencies of Field Crops: Guide to Diagnosis and Management

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Nutrient imbalance in soils is an emerging threat to sustainable agriculture: intensive cultivation, use of poor quality groundwater, depletion of soil organic matter and excessive use of fertilizers are major reasons for poor soil fertility worldwide. This necessitates correct diagnosis of plant nutrient deficiencies to avoid further use of pesticides in cases where pests or pathogens that are not in fact the cause of poor crop health. Richly illustrated with 600 colour photographs, this book is a visual field identification guide for symptoms of most common nutrient deficiencies in field crops, covering all their stages of occurrence. Detailed descriptions and suggested for management practices are given with each entry.

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1 An Introduction to Plant Nutrition

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1

An Introduction to Plant Nutrition

Manoj Kumar Sharma

The biggest challenge for agriculture over the coming decades will be to meet the world’s increasing demand for food in a sustainable manner. Therefore, our goal will be to produce more to feed the growing population. In order to achieve this uphill task, there are two options before us. The first option is to bring more land under cultivation and the second option is to increase production per unit cultivated area by adopting intensive cultivation. Because of the continuous increasing demand on land for other developmental activities, the scope for increasing cultivated area is limited. Accordingly, greater attention will have to be paid to increase the production per unit area of cultivated land by adopting exhaustive use of agricultural inputs.

Deteriorating soil fertility and improper management of plant nutrients have further aggravated the problem. Large increases in productivity cannot be attained without ensuring that plants are supplied with adequate and balanced nutrition. Soils are the storehouse of most of the plant nutrients essential for plant growth and development and the way in which nutrients are managed will have a great impact on plant growth, soil fertility and agricultural sustainability. Plant growth is considered the result of a complex process by which the plant synthesizes food by using solar energy, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients from the soil.

 

2 How to Identify Plant Nutrient Deficiencies in Field Conditions

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2

How to Identify Plant Nutrient

Deficiencies in Field Conditions

Prakash Kumar

Visual Diagnosis and Difficulties

The term ‘clinical diagnosis’ is used in medical sciences to describe the way of diagnosis based on the appearance of the clinical symptoms, without any laboratory tests or X-ray films. In the process of clinical diagnosis, the practising doctor matches the appearing clinical symptoms of the patient with the symptoms of the diseases known to him and makes a preliminary idea of the probable disease. Then, the doctor suggests some laboratory tests to verify the disease. After confirmation, the treatment is prescribed. Though the clinical diagnosis is a preliminary assumption by the doctor, it is a very important observation as only this provides the right direction to the tests and treatments. Therefore the clinical diagnosis is the most essential skill of a doctor, which is based on his/her ‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’. At times, experienced doctors are so sure and confident that they prescribe the treatment without any laboratory test.

 

Maize (Zea mays Linn.)

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MAIZE (Zea mays Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 24. Young stage nitrogen-deficient crop.

(Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Maize is highly sensitive to nitrogen deficiency. Deficiency symptoms appear even in mild deficiency conditions. Nitrogendeficient plants are stunted with thin, spindly stems and pale green to yellow leaves. Deficient plants produce hardly one small ear per plant and the ears have hardly any grains with reduced kernel size, resulting in a drastic reduction in crop yield.

2. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves. The deficiency symptoms appear first and become more severe on older leaves (Plate 23).

3. If deficiency occurs during the young stage of the crop, the whole plant appears uniformly pale green to yellow (Plate 24). In later stages of the crop, older leaves become pale yellow while young leaves remain green.

4. If deficiency persists or occurs in a more mature crop stage, a pale yellow chlorosis develops at the tip of old leaves and proceeds towards the leaf base along the midrib in a V-shaped pattern

 

Rice (Oryza sativa Linn.)

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RICE (Oryza sativa Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 64. Deficient pale green rice field (foreground) and a healthy dark field (background).

(Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Deficient plants appear stunted, thin and spindly with pale green to yellowish green leaves. The number of tillers and grain yields are reduced severely.

2. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves.

3. The deficiency symptoms appear first and become more severe on older leaves (Plate 63).

4. If deficiency occurs during the young stage of the crop, the whole plant appears uniformly pale green to yellowish green. The deficient rice field gives a clear impression of nitrogen deficiency by providing a yellowish green look to the entire crop (Plates 64 and 65).

5. In later stages of the crop, older leaves become pale yellow while younger leaves remain green.

6. A pale yellow chlorosis develops at the tip of old leaves and proceeds in a broad front towards the leaf base.

 

Sorghum (Sorghum vulgare Pers.)

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SORGHUM (Sorghum vulgare Pers.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 92. Deficient pale yellow crop (foreground) and a healthy green crop (background). (Photo by

Dr Prakash Kumar and Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma.)

1. Being a fast-growing grass species, sorghum is very sensitive to nitrogen deficiency. Deficiency symptoms appear even in mild deficiency. Nitrogen deficiency during any stage of crop growth may cause severe losses to the crop in terms of fodder production or grain yield.

2. Nitrogen-deficient plants are stunted with spindly stems and pale green to yellow leaves. The deficient plant produces fewer tillers.

3. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves.

4. The deficiency symptoms appear first and become more severe on the older leaves (Plate 91).

5. A pale yellow chlorosis develops at the tip of old leaves and proceeds towards the leaf base along the midrib in a V-shaped pattern.

This is the specific symptom of nitrogen deficiency in sorghum.

 

Pearl millet (Pennisetum typhoides (Burm.f) Stapf & C.E. Hubb.)

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PEARL MILLET (Pennisetum typhoides

(Burm.f) Stapf & C.E. Hubb.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 124. Demonstration field with (left) and without (right) nitrogen application.

(Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Pearl millet is one of the most sensitive crops to nitrogen deficiency. There are numerous reports of crop failure due to heavy rains in light-textured soils where pearl millet is grown as a rain-fed crop.

The nitrogen deficiency is one of the major reasons behind such failures. Nitrogen deficiency during any stage of crop growth may cause severe losses to the crop in terms of fodder production or grain yield.

2. Nitrogen-deficient plants are stunted with spindly stems and pale green to yellow leaves. The deficient plant produces fewer tillers.

3. In severe deficiency conditions, the plant does not produce any tillers. The height of the plant is reduced to half. The plant produces a tiny ear head with few grains or without any grains.

4. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves.

 

Wheat (Triticum aestivum Linn.)

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WHEAT (Triticum aestivum Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 156. Chlorosis of older leaves. (Photo by

Dr Prakash Kumar and Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma.)

1. Nitrogen deficiency is most common and widespread in wheat-grown areas. Wheat is very sensitive to nitrogen deficiency.

Deficiency symptoms appear even in mild deficiency conditions.

2. Deficient plants appear pale, stunted, thin and spindly. The number of tillers and the grain yield are reduced severely.

3. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves. The deficiency symptoms appear first and become more severe on older leaves.

4. In mild deficiency conditions or during the young stage of the crop, the entire plant becomes pale green to yellow.

5. If deficiency persists and becomes more severe, a pale yellow chlorosis develops at the tip of older leaves and advances in a broad front towards the leaf base.

6. Pale yellow to almost white chlorotic leaves turn pale brown and die.

7. In deficient crops, green youngest leaves, pale green middle leaves and lemon yellow to pale brown older leaves may appear simultaneously (Plate 155).

 

Barley (Hordeum vulgare (L.) emend. Bowden)

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BARLEY (Hordeum vulgare (L.) emend. Bowden)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 184. Close-up of chlorotic leaves. (Photo by

Dr Prakash Kumar and Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma.)

1. Being a fast-growing grass species, barley is very sensitive to nitrogen deficiency. Deficiency symptoms appear even in mild deficiency conditions.

2. Nitrogen-deficient plants are stunted with thin stems and pale green foliage. Affected plants lack vigour and produce small heads with few grains. In acute deficiency conditions, many young tillers fail to develop heads and die before maturity.

3. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves. The deficiency symptoms appear first and become more severe on older leaves.

4. In mild deficiency conditions or during the young stage of the crop, the entire plant becomes pale green to yellow.

5. If deficiency persists and becomes more severe, a pale yellow chlorosis develops at the tip of older leaves and advances in a broad front towards the leaf base.

 

Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.)

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PIGEON PEA (Cajanus cajan

(L.) Millsp.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 208. Entire plant appearing light green.

(Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Nitrogen deficiency in pigeon pea is usually found during the initial stages of crop growth when root symbiotic nitrogen fixation nodules are yet to develop. The deficiency may also occur during later stages of crop growth when the symbiotic nitrogen-supplying mechanism is disturbed for some reason such as nodule infestation, nodule pathogenic disease or physiological causes.

2. The deficiency symptoms appear first and more severely on the old leaves. The younger leaves usually remain green and apparently healthy (Plate 207).

3. In mild deficiency, the entire plant appears uniformly light green

(Plate 208).

4. If deficiency persists and become more severe, the older leaves show chlorosis. Interveinal chlorosis appears on the oldest leaves in the beginning of the deficiency symptom (Plate 209), which soon converts to a uniform pale green, greenish yellow or pale yellow colour. The midrib remains green and turns yellow at last. Interveinal chlorosis stage is mostly missing in severe deficiency conditions.

 

Green gram (Vigna radiata Linn.)

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GREEN GRAM (Vigna radiata Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 244. Paling of leaves more prominent on the lower part of the plant. (Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar and Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma.)

1. Nitrogen deficiency causes retarded growth of plants. Stems become thin and elongated. Branching and flowering are reduced drastically. Reduced pod formation and poor seed set result in poor yields.

2. Nitrogen is fairly mobile within plants and under restricted supply conditions it is rapidly redistributed from older to younger leaves. The deficiency symptoms typically appear in lower leaves

first. If deficiency persists, the symptoms move up the plant to the younger leaves.

3. The old leaves become uniformly pale green (Plate 245) and then turn pale yellow to yellow, while the young leaves remain light green.

4. Later, the yellow older leaves turn white and drop early.

Developmental stages

Stage I: The mildly deficient plant becomes uniformly light green in colour (Plate 243).

Stage II: If deficiency continues, the older leaves turn evenly pale yellow to yellow, the upper leaves remain pale green (Plate 244).

 

Black gram (Phaseolus mungo var. radiatus Linn.)

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BLACK GRAM (Phaseolus mungo var. radiatus Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 268. Uniform paleness appearing on the entire plant. (Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Plants inoculated with H2-uptake positive Rhizobium strains produce higher nitrogen content and dry matter than plants inoculated with H2-uptake negative Rhizobium strains.

2. There is a rapid increase in nitrogen fixation between flowering and early pod fill. The nodules senesce progressively following the mid-pod filling stage.

3. Insufficient nitrogen supply restricts plant height. The leaf size and number of branches are reduced.

4. Nitrogen deficiency reduces flowering, decreases the number of pods and pod length and reduces the number of seeds and seed size, ultimately resulting in low yields.

5. In short supply conditions, nitrogen is readily transferred from older to younger tissues because it is fairly mobile within plants.

Therefore, the deficiency symptoms tend to occur first and become more severe on the lower leaves, then working up the plant to the younger leaves.

 

Cowpea (Vigna sinensis Linn.)

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COWPEA (Vigna sinensis Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 292. Stunted plant with entirely pale green leaves. (Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Rapid increase in nitrogen fixation occurs between flowering and early pod fill stage.

2. Salinity decreases the number of nodules and nitrogen content of the plant.

3. The growth of deficient plants is retarded. Stems become thin and elongated.

4. Initially, the entire plant appears light green to pale yellow

(Plate 292).

5. Since nitrogen is mobile within plants, it is rapidly translocated from older to younger leaves if the plant suffers from deficiency.

6. The deficiency symptoms tend to occur first in older leaves and then progress up the plant to new leaves.

7. Older leaves turn yellow while young leaves may remain pale green (Plate 291).

8. The new shoots may turn red to reddish-brown.

9. The old leaves become brown and necrotic. Eventually leaves drop off early.

Developmental stages

Stage I: Early or mild deficiency symptoms are expressed as pale green leaves of the entire plant (Plate 292).

 

Cluster bean (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba (L.) Taub)

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CLUSTER BEAN (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba (L.) Taub)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 308. Entire plant appearing light green. (Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar and Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma.)

1. Nitrogen deficiency is usually found during the initial stages of crop growth when root symbiotic nitrogen fixation nodules are yet to develop.

2. Nitrogen deficiency may also occur during later stages of crop growth when the symbiotic nitrogen-supplying mechanism is disturbed for some reason such as nodule infestation, nodule pathogenic disease or physiological causes.

3. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves. The deficiency symptoms appear first and more severely on old leaves (Plate 307).

4. In mild deficiency conditions or when deficiency occurs in the young stage, the entire plant appears uniformly light green in colour (Plates 308 and 309).

5. If deficiency persists and becomes more severe, the older leaves show uniform pale green to pale yellow chlorosis (Plate 307).

 

Chickpea (Cicer arietinum Linn.)

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CHICKPEA (Cicer arietinum Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 332. Nitrogen-deficient crop in foreground compared with nitrogen-fertilized crop behind.

(Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. The formation and development of nodules are restricted under soil salinity and sodicity conditions.

2. Nitrogen fixation reaches the maximum level at flowering stage and then declines sharply during pod filling.

3. Nitrogen deficiency restricts plant growth and reduces branching. Plants have fewer flowers. Fewer pods are formed resulting in poor yields.

4. When nitrogen supply becomes restricted the older leaves display deficiency symptoms first.

5. The entire plant appears chlorotic, while older leaves turn more yellow than upper leaves (Plate 332).

6. Pink pigmentation develops on the lower part of the stem

(Plate 333).

7. In the later stage, the yellow older leaves turn white and drop prematurely.

Developmental stages

Stage I: Early deficiency symptoms are expressed as stunted growth and a uniform pale green appearance of the entire plant.

 

Kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris Linn.)

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KIDNEY BEAN (Phaseolus vulgaris Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 356. Older leaves with uniform pale green colour. (Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Nitrogen deficiency in kidney bean is mostly found during the initial stages of crop growth (15–20 days after emergence), when root symbiotic nitrogen-fixation nodules are yet to begin a sufficient nitrogen supply to the plant.

2. Nitrogen deficiency may occur during later stages of crop growth when the symbiotic nitrogen-supplying mechanism is disturbed for some reason such as nodule infestation, nodule pathogenic disease or physiological causes. Poor nodulation because of improper Rhizobium strain or unfavourable environmental conditions may also cause nitrogen deficiency.

3. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves. The deficiency symptoms appear first and more severely on the old leaves. The younger leaves usually remain green and apparently healthy (Plate 355).

4. Deficiency appears as a uniform pale green to pale yellow discoloration of older leaves (Plate 356).

 

Lentil (Lens culinaris Medik.)

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LENTIL (Lens culinaris Medik.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 376. Light green foliage of lentil crop.

(Photo by Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma.)

1. Nitrogen deficiency in lentil is usually found during the initial stages of crop growth when root symbiotic nitrogen-fixation nodules are yet to develop.

2. Nitrogen deficiency may occur during later stages of crop growth when the symbiotic nitrogen-supplying mechanism is disturbed for some reason such as nodule infestation, nodule pathogenic disease or physiological causes. Poor nodulation because of improper Rhizobium strain or unfavourable environmental conditions may also cause nitrogen deficiency.

3. Nitrogen-deficient lentil plants are stunted with thin, spindly stems and pale green to pale yellow foliage.

4. Nitrogen is mobile in plants and under short supply conditions it is easily mobilized from older to younger leaves. The deficiency symptoms appear first and more severely on old leaves. The younger leaves usually remain green and apparently healthy (Plate 375).

 

Pea (Pisum sativum var. arvense Linn.)

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PEA (Pisum sativum var. arvense Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 392. The entire plant stunted, light green to pale yellow. (Photo by Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma.)

1. Low and high temperature, continuous light and high light intensity conditions can induce nitrosative stress in pea plants.

2. Photosynthetic parameters in plants are affected by the nitrogen-fixation characteristics of the rhizobial symbiont.

3. In the case of deficiency, plants appear stunted and have small leaves.

4. The common symptom of nitrogen deficiency is the general yellowing of the entire plant.

5. When plants are not supplied with sufficient nitrogen, then it is rapidly translocated from older tissues to the younger parts (as nitrogen is mobile within plants).

6. The deficiency symptoms typically appear first on lower leaves

(Plate 391).

7. Initially, the whole plant appears light green.

8. The lower leaves gradually turn pale yellow to yellow while the young leaves appear light green.

9. Subsequently the lower leaves become white then brown necrotic.

 

Castor (Ricinus communis Linn.)

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CASTOR (Ricinus communis Linn.)

NITROGEN (N) DEFICIENCY

Symptoms

Plate 412. Field view of a nitrogen-deficient castor crop. (Photo by Dr Prakash Kumar.)

1. Nitrogen deficiency decreases leaf area and photosynthesis of castor plants, leading to lower biomass accumulation.

2. High NH4+ concentration in the plant greatly restricts growth.

3. Under deficient conditions, plant growth is retarded remarkably. The leaf dry weight is reduced greatly. The root/shoot ratio is increased.

4. When nitrogen supply is reduced, the deficiency symptoms tend to occur first on lower leaves (Plate 413).

5. The old leaves become pale green to pale yellow while the younger leaves remain normal green (Plate 412).

Developmental stages

Stage I: In mild deficiency conditions, the entire plant may appear light green, having a more pronounced effect on older leaves.

Stage II: Under prolonged deficiency conditions, the lower leaves turn uniformly light yellow (Plate 413).

Stage III: As the symptoms advance, the lower leaves become dark yellow (Plate 411).

 

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