What Does Soil Nutrients Do For Your Crops?

Stuart Carlson, Northern Product Agronomist
January 9, 2020

Soil nutrition is very important for us to grow healthy and productive crops. In our November blog, we recommended growers to have your soil sampling done this fall, so now that you have had that done, let us dive into why we need the nutrients that you tested for.

There are 17 nutrients that are essential for plant health. Yield optimization can only be achieved when there is an ample supply of all 17 nutrients. These 17 nutrients are divided out into 4 categories; macronutrients, secondary nutrients, micronutrients and non-fertilizer elements. Let’s look at why each nutrient is needed.


  1. Nitrogen (N) – is essential for plant growth and is part of every living cell.  N is necessary for chlorophyll syntheses which utilizes sunlight as its source of energy, photosynthesis. Through this process the energy produced will help in nutrient uptake and protein content in the plant.
  2. Phosphorus (P) – Since N helps capture the suns energy, P will convert that energy into useful plant compounds. P is essential for the general health and vigor of plants. P promotes root development, early seedling growth, stalk strength and improves flower formation/seed production.
  3. Potassium (K) – K is vital to photosynthesis. K is essential in nearly all processes needed to sustain plant growth and reproduction. K builds cellulose and reduces lodging. Maintains turgor, reduces water loss and will be more tolerant towards high and low temps. K helps fight off diseases and pests such as nematodes.

Secondary Nutrients:

  1. Magnesium (Mg) – acts as a phosphorus carrier in plants and is required for better root formation and thus for better nutrient and water efficiency in plants. Rule of thumb is it may be desirable to maintain the soil Ca-to-Mg ratio about 10 to 1.
  2. Sulfur (S) – appears in every living cell. S is important for winter crop hardiness.  Leguminous plants need S for efficient nitrogen fixation. S is important in the nitrate-reductase process, during which nitrate-nitrogen is converted to amino acids.
  3. Calcium (Ca) – helps form the compounds that make up part of cell walls, which strengthen the plant structure. Ca improves root growth and stimulates microbial activity. Ca enables N-fixing bacteria to form nodules on roots. The very existence of plants and animals depends on Ca. 


  1. Boron (B) – improves seed set under stressful conditions. B is a component of all cell walls.
  2. Chlorine (Cl) – regulates stomata release of moisture and minimizes water loss.
  3. Manganese (Mn) – accelerates germination and maturity while increasing the availability of P and Ca.
  4. Iron (Fe) – is a component of many enzymes associated with energy transfer, nitrogen reduction and fixation, and lignin formation.
  5. Nickel (Ni) – is a component of the urease enzyme and is, therefore, necessary for the conversion of urea to ammonia (NH3) in plant tissue, making it important in plant N metabolism.
  6. Copper (Cu) – activates enzymes and catalyzes reactions in several plant-growth processes.
  7. Zinc (Zn) – although it is required in small amounts, high yields are impossible without it. Zn transforms carbohydrates and regulates sugars.
  8. Molybdenum (Mo) – optimizes plant growth. Helps metabolize N.

Non-fertilizer elements:

  1. Hydrogen (H) – necessary for building sugars and other molecules to produce glucose for plant energy.
  2. Carbon (C) – is the primary energy source and building block for plant tissues.
  3. Oxygen (O) – is responsible for cellular respiration in plants.

Make sure you are getting a complete soil test analysis that will give you a value on most of these nutrients.

As you can see, most of these nutrients are needed together in making plants as healthy and productive as possible. When your agronomist talks about a balanced soil, plant nutrition along with plant health; I hope you have a better understanding how to achieve your yield goals.

Sources: Mosaic Company Website Nutrient Knowledge