Diagnosing iron deficiency in cereals

Iron deficiency is rare but can be a problem in high-rainfall areas on peaty or calcareous soils, or after heavy lime application on most soils.


Pale yellow, iron deficient leaves, most showing prominent green veins (right), compared with dark green healthy leaf (left)
Iron deficiency in wheat induced by heavy liming
Interveinal chlorosis on youngest  leaf.
Pale green to yellow plants

What to look for


  • Pale plants particularly in waterlogged or limed areas.


  • Youngest growth is affected first and most severely.
  • Symptoms begin with young leaves turning pale green or yellow.
  • Inter-veinal areas become yellow and in severely deficient plants the inter-veinal area turns almost white.
  • New growth remains yellow for some time before leaves start to die.
  • Old leaves remain pale green and apparently healthy.
  • Severely affected plants are stunted with thin spindly stems.

What else could it be

Condition Similarities Differences
Diagnosing sulphur deficiency in cereals Pale plants with pale new growth Sulphur deficient plants do not have interveinal chlorosis
Diagnosing group B herbicide damage in cereals Pale seedlings with interveinal chlorosis on new leaves Herbicide damaged plants generally recover and are not restricted to waterlogged areas
Waterlogging, nitrogen, molybdenum and manganese deficiency
Pale growth However middle or older leaves are affected first

Where does it occur?

Wet conditions
Wet conditions
  • Iron deficiency can occur in highly calcareous or limed soils, particularly in cold and wet conditions.
  • Symptoms on heavily limed paddocks are transient and restricted to the season in which the lime has been applied.

Management strategies

Spraying foliar
Spraying foliar
  • No yield responses to iron to justify soil application.
  • Where symptoms occur, particularly in cold and wet conditions, they are frequently eliminated by increased soil and air temperatures.
  • Foliar sprays will remove the symptoms where they occur in highly calcareous or limed soils.

How can it be monitored?

Tissue test
Tissue test
  • Use whole-tops for plant testing and compare iron level between affected and unaffected plants.
  • The critical concentration for youngest emerged blade and whole shoot hasn't been determined for Australian grown cereals. However greater than 50 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) at the boot stage appears to be adequate for growth.

Further information

Where to go for expert help

Craig Scanlan
+61 (0)8 9690 2174
DDLS Seed Testing and Certification
+61 (0)8 9368 3721
Page last updated: Wednesday, 6 May 2015 - 3:16pm