In Hester’s case, agronomic test results showed clear differences between “good” and “poor” areas.

Cabbage is a high-value crop that has special micronutrient needs, particularly boron and molybdenum, Yarborough said. “Boron turned out to be one concern,” he said.

“Report results for the problem areas indicated low soil pH, high salt values and boron-deficient plants. Some other nutrients were low, but not deficient, in both the ‘good’ and the ‘poor’ areas. These included potassium, calcium and the micronutrient molybdenum.”

Hester had been fertilizing his crop with a complete fertilizer that already contained micronutrients. He was expecting this product to provide his crop’s entire nutrient need.

But each cabbage crop needs about 2 pounds of boron per acre, and his fertilizer supplied only a quarter-pound. To correct this, Yarborough suggested a foliar application of a liquid boron product right away.

Spurred by Yarborough’s advice, Hester decided to take a similar approach in addressing the low levels of molybdenum. “Foliar application of molybdenum is good insurance,” Hester said. “It is inexpensive, probably about $3 an acre, and it produces a good benefit. I already know I’m going to use it, but by tissue testing, I can find out whether I need two or three applications.”

The long-term solution to many of these nutrient problems is to lime the soils regularly to bring the pH up to an acceptable level of 6.0. Hester began this process in January, but it takes several months for soil pH to change.

This spring he used tissue testing to monitor nutrient levels and determine whether additional fertilizer was needed.

“Cabbage is only a 75- to 80-day crop,” Hester said. “I don’t want to miss a crucial application of nutrients.”

Hester and Yarborough have worked out a fertilization strategy for the crop. Cabbage uses 140 to 150 total units of nitrogen and about 110 units of phosphate and potash over the course of a season.

At planting, Hester’s goal is to apply 50 units of nitrogen, phosphate and potash. Three or four weeks later, he will apply standard 17-17-17, then top-dress at about six weeks with 13-0-14. He will continue to add boron and molybdenum as a foliar spray throughout the season in conjunction with routine insecticide applications.

This attention to detail paid off this spring. Hester’s yields rebounded. He harvested 15 percent more than his first season and 20 percent more than last fall. In fact, the yield was his best to date.

“Growing cabbage has been new for me,” Hester said. “Where I had weak areas, Kent helped me out. His advice has turned my yields around.”

Like Hester, all North Carolina growers have access to the services of the NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division and its 13 regional agronomists throughout the state. Contact information for these advisers is available online at www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/rahome.htm.