Why Plant Tissue Sampling Should be a Part of Your Crop Health Routine

Every farmer starts the growing season with a plan for maximum profitability. Seed varieties are selected, fertilizer is placed and planting opportunities are (hopefully) optimized to get the crop off to a healthy start. Most yield potential is set the minute the planter leaves the field; however, it’s essential to keep an eye on your fields to maximize the crop’s nutrient intake. One of the most effective ways for farmers to check their nutrient supply during the growing season is through plant tissue sampling.

What plant tissue testing can tell you

Having plant tissues analyzed can confirm your visual analysis and helps you understand the deficiencies you can’t see. Not only will this allow you to make corrective applications in season, but you can also make plans for how to better feed next year’s crop. While there are some telltale visual ways to check for plant nutrient deficiencies, many deficiencies are not visible until the problem is significant, and perhaps past being resolved. The true nutrient status of a crop requires in-season laboratory analysis of a plant tissue sample during the growing season.

A complete plant tissue analysis will identify the nutrient status of the following elements:

  • Nitrogen: Vital for plant metabolism

  • Phosphorus: Impacts root development, seed quality, and disease resistance

  • Potassium: Impacts water uptake and overall plant processes

  • Magnesium: Important for photosynthesis

  • Calcium: Provides structural support for cell walls

  • Sulfur: Key in chlorophyll development and protein synthesis

  • Sodium: Often thought of negatively, can play a beneficial role in plant metabolism

  • Iron: Important for photosynthesis

  • Manganese: Impacts chloroplast production

  • Boron: Key in cell division and amino acid production

  • Copper: Important for photosynthesis

  • Zinc: Hormone balance and auxin activity

By combining tissue testing with soil tests, you can see more precisely what your nutrient availability and flow looks like, allowing you to create a complete picture of what your crop needs (and doesn’t need) in your fertility plan.  

FBN Midwest Labs plant tissue test

How plant tissue testing is done

Cleanliness is key in getting an accurate tissue sample:

  • Start with a clean container.

  • A paper bag or plastic pail will work nicely.

  • Never use metal because it may lead to sample contamination.

  • If the plant samples have soil or other residues on them, remove them with a dry brush.

  • If the residues persist, use a damp cloth or wash with distilled or deionized water and allow to air dry. Don’t prolong the washing, however, as this can affect the sample.

Mailing your plant tissue samples:

  • To mail your samples to the laboratory, clean paper bags or envelopes work best.

  • Don’t place samples in a plastic bag and make sure not to include roots, as this may impact sample accuracy as well.

PRO TIP: If you are using a whole young plant as your tissue sample, soil particles can often remain not only on the leaves, but also in the leaf collar and whorl areas. Any washing of the leaves will not address what has been lodged in these areas. Due to this, expect the iron and manganese to be affected.

The table below can tell you specifics about what to collect in some common field crops:

FBN Midwest Laboratories plant tissue testing


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Learn more about Midwest Laboratories


Midwest Laboratories


For more than 40 years, Midwest Laboratories has been the industry leader in providing expedient, reliable and traceable analytical services for the agricultural industry, from soil and water quality to biosolids, manure, sludge, and compost. Their agriculture tests include soil testing, fertilizer testing, compost testing, biosolids land application testing and lime quality testing.

The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.