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Sulphur fertilizer: Who needs what?

By: Kale Wilson P.Ag, CCA, Regional Crops Specialist, Swift Current

In order to obtain your yield potential, it is important to ensure that you are meeting the sulphur requirements for the crop you are growing. This is particularly important for oilseed crops. For example, canola requires, on average, twice as much sulphur compared to cereal or pulse crops. Knowledge of your crops’ sulphur requirements is useful when determining the blend of fertilizer you will be using in 2017. 

Table 1. Sulphur Fertility


Sulphur Uptake (40bu req)

Sulphur Removal (40 bu req)


0.25 lbs / bu (10lbs)

0.13 lbs / bu (5.2lbs)


0.3 lb / bu (12lbs)

0.17 lbs / bu (6.8lbs)


0.6 lb / bu (24lbs)

0.34 lbs / bu (13.6lbs)

The plant-available form of sulphur is considered a mobile nutrient with the ability to move in the soil similar to nitrate nitrogen, so placement with the seed is not required. Sulphur has a high risk of leaching with moisture either deep into the soil profile or moving with water. Plant-available ammonium sulphate fertilizers have high salt indexes and release ammonia, making safe seed row placement rates lower than regular urea. For safe seed placed rates, the effects of all fertilizer sources must be combined. Sulphur fertilizer attracts water to it at a slightly higher rate than regular urea. Caking due to this attraction to water can occur in bins, air tanks and air seeder lines when exposed to high humidity or other moisture.

Sulphur is one of four macronutrients that all plants require
Sulphur is one of four macronutrients
that all plants require.
The most common sources of sulphur are ammonium sulphate 21-0-0-24 and ammonium thiosulphate 15-0-0-20. Sulphur from these two forms is considered 100 per cent plant available in the year of application. Some fertilizers contain a combination of plant available sulphur and  elemental sulphur, while others contain 100 per cent elemental sulphur. It is important to know what is in your fertilizer blend. Elemental sulphur relies on special soil bacteria to oxidize the sulphur molecules into a plant-available form. Elemental sulphur needs oxygen for oxidation to take place and is a process that happens slowly over several months to years in warm moist soils only. Elemental sulphur applied in the spring will not have sufficient time to break down and supply the sulphur requirements for the crop. The most efficient method for elemental sulphur oxidation is broadcasting in the fall and leaving the granules on the surface of the soil (no incorporation). When elemental sulphur is banded, the ability for the fertilizer granules to be oxidized is greatly reduced.

It is important not to overlook sulphur fertility as it is one of the four macro nutrients that all crops require. Oilseeds require higher levels of sulphur compared to other crops. Ensuring that sulphur levels are balanced with the N-P-K applied will optimize economic returns. 

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