Trace elements for fresh market potatoes grown on coastal sands

Page last updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018 - 12:20pm

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Plants require trace elements in smaller quantities than macro nutrients but deficiency or toxicity can cause similar losses in yield and quality. Soil tests for trace elements in sandy soils are not as accurate as for macronutrients but can provide a guide. Soil pH can affect trace element availability and needs to be considered. Petiole tests provide an accurate way to monitor trace element status and the efficacy of fertiliser programs. Use petiole tests to determine the need for post-planting applications if pre-planting applications prove inadequate.


Trace elements, as the name suggests, are only required in very small amounts but deficiency can lead to considerable yield loss. Trace elements are required by the plant for many important functions such as photosynthesis, general metabolism, growth and nitrogen use.

Western Australian coastal sands are naturally deficient in almost all trace elements. To achieve maximum yield, potatoes require adequate applications of boron (B), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn) and sometimes iron (Fe).

Soil conditions and soil tests

Soil tests and associated recommendations for trace element fertiliser applications are available from commercial laboratory services within and outside Western Australia. If using Australian services, ensure the laboratory is NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accredited as this guarantees the tests meet minimum quality standards. Accurate soil tests allow accurate fertiliser recommendations which are important in correcting trace element deficiency, avoiding toxicity and maximising profit.

On alkaline soils, iron, manganese, copper and zinc may be poorly available while molybdenum may be poorly available on acid soils.

In both situations, factors such as waterlogging, nutrient interactions and environmental conditions may induce nutrient deficiency, even though the trace elements have been applied before planting. Deficiency may be alleviated by post-planting foliar applications.

Contact information

Peter Dawson
+61 (0)8 9892 8461