NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — North Dakota is a huge agricultural state, but when we farm the land, we have to try not to over-farm it.

Because the more we interact with the soil, the more key elements disappear from the landscape.

Wednesday’s element to focus on is Potassium. Potassium is a chemical element with the symbol K and atomic number 19. Potassium is a mineral that your body needs to work properly.

It is a type of electrolyte. It helps your nerves function and muscles contract.

But what does that have to do with soil and our crops?

“Potassium is an essential nutrient for our crops. It is also a macro-nutrient meaning that it’s one of the nutrients that are in higher demand for our crops. One of the big roles that it plays with for crops, and most plants, is that it helps with cell structure,” said Chris Augustin, a soil scientist from NDSU.

Good structure, just like with a human, keeps plants healthy, strong, and long-lasting.

And although Potassium is great, here in North Dakota, it’s common to see potassium deficiencies. So, what happens in that scenario?

The plant’s stem is not strong enough to support the grain on it. Augustin says in our state there is high potassium in potatoes as opposed to our small grains, where most of the potassium is returned to the soil to help the leaf stand up straight.

However, our state helps out farmers.

One unique potassium recommendation that North Dakota offers to farmers and landowners is what’s known as, “Accounts for the Clay Mineralogy.”

The state checks your geological location and determines if there are enough minerals and elements, like potassium, in the ground.

“So, areas like the Red River Valley that have a whole bunch of clay, they have a lot more potential for potassium versus areas in Central North Dakota. But when we went and did this map in areas, such as Divide County, they have a lot more clay than we had anticipated. So, some of those areas now have different potassium recommendations,” said Augustin.

He says to protect the key nutrients that are essential to our crops, it is important to take the proper steps.

“The first step is to do a soil test. If you do it in the fall, keep doing it in the fall. If you like the soil test in the spring, keep doing it in the spring. The big thing is to keep being consistent with that soil testing because that’s like taking a snapshot of that field year after year,” said Augustin.

If a plant becomes potassium deficient, it will cannibalize the older growth and translocate that potassium to the newer growth of the plant, weakening it.

“And so, things like phosphorus and nitrogen and potassium that are plant mobile, the older parts of the plant will look sick, but the newer parts will look healthy. It’s one of the things that sticks out when it comes to potassium deficiencies. So, the older leaves start looking sick, but the leaf margins or the edges have a chlorotic look to them,” said Augustin.

Augustin says testing helps landowners and farmers get a better feel of their ground and soil. Potassium is essential for just about all plants, just like many other elements, and testing provides great relief for our farmers.