‘Nutrients and plant resilience? A very simple mechanism

News 06 April 2020

Growers are slowly beginning to realize just how important the right nutrients are to the resilience and health of crops. It demands a shift in thinking, from curative to preventative. Dutch consultant Plant Health Mark van der Werf of Koppert Biological Systems hopes that this new way of thinking will take hold as quickly as possible. ‘What you need to do is actually unbelievably straightforward.’
 

Mark van der Werf has been working on improving plant health for many years, including use of bio-stimulants and nutritional products from Koppert. As a consultant, he optimizes all the growing factors of a plant (substrate, water quality, climate, nutrition, IPM, and plant resilience).  These assist plants in their development during times of stress, such as germination, rooting, pollination, fruiting, and ultimately production. In order for biostimulants to get the most out of it, negative disruptive influences should be corrected in the first place. What is also needed is the correct nutrients, and that’s where things seem to be going wrong. ‘Many growers give their crops far too much nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. The result is that plants begin to suffer from a form of plant obesity, and then you end up with all manner of imbalances. For example, you have a surplus of nitrogen which is evident in a surplus of amino acids, and then the aphids flock to the crop en masse. Too much potassium is also bad as it suppresses calcium, an element that is essential to the formation of strong cell walls and, therefore, resistance to infections.’

The plant and its five a day

The N, P, and K surpluses cause the plant a wide range of problems, often in the form of a shortage of other trace elements that are needed to ensure balanced development and robust production. It’s comparable with people, explains Mark. ‘Someone who pumps their children full of snacks and sugary fizzy drinks shouldn’t be surprised when the children begin to suffer health problems. Any doctor can tell you that.’ So the plant needs to kick its evolutionary learned behaviour, namely the habit of storing as much nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous as possible as reserves for more difficult times. ‘But be careful, the plant cannot change by itself. The grower is the one providing the food – the plant doesn’t understand its five a day or have a nutritional advisor. The change needs to come from the grower.’
 

The plant on rations

To help growers with this, Koppert has been carefully developing the expertise required. For example in The Netherlands, collaboration with Nova Crop Control, is bearing fruit. Nova Crop Control is a research and testing centre that specializes in plant sap measurements, and its plant sap analyses help to highlight the key misconception. ‘As the plant ages, the more sharply its N, P, and K levels rise. The curve is sometimes very steep. We can also see it if we compare old and young leaves – older leaves sometimes contain four times as much nitrogen as younger leaves.’ This demonstrates that the plant continues to absorb the elements, even if there is no risk of a shortage. In research conducted by Koppert in plants including strawberries, the effects of rationing are abundantly clear. ‘We see increased development of beneficial fungi in the root environment, attacks by aphids are less serious, Brix values increase, the plant improves its resilience, and the crop is better as a result. We have demonstrated it in crops where we have incrementally reduced the amount of nitrogen being added. Productions were thus maintained, but the plant grew stronger and more healthy at the same time.’
 

Preventative thinking

According to Mark, this shows the value of the new approach – the plant can resolve many problems itself, provided that the nutrients are right. ‘As soon as the grower has that under control, it’s time to give the plant that little extra support during moments of stress in the form of our plant resilience products. These products have been developed and redeveloped and are scientifically tested and extremely effective. But, to achieve the desired effect, the nutrients regime needs to be right. Here at Koppert, we sometimes say that it is an unbelievably straightforward mechanism.’ All things considered, it is a form of preventative thinking and working. Apparently, the market is accepting and adopting this new thinking much more readily – there's a reason why many growers want to know more about plant resilience. Mark van der Werf explains, ‘The interest in the relationship between nutrients and crop health is quickly on the increase, and that’s a good thing. I hope that in around five years’ time, many growers will be applying this way of thinking.’

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