New concepts are always coming to light in the agricultural industry. Recently, plant health and microbiological health of soil have emerged as a critical part of successful crop production. More specifically, specialty fertilizer products and the term mycorrhiza have made their way into the vocabularies of agronomists and farmers alike as of late. But what exactly are these new products and what do they mean to our yields here in Western Canada?
You might be asking myco… what? Mycorrhiza is not, in fact, a fungus or an organism. Rather, it is the symbiotic mutualistic relationship between special soil fungi and fine plant roots; it is neither the fungus nor the root, but rather the structure formed between these two partners. Mycorrhizae form a network of fine filaments (called hyphae) that associate with plant roots and draw nutrients from the soil that the root system would not be able to access otherwise.
In an agricultural crop setting, hyphae can help plants access water and nutrients in even the smallest pores in the soil. There are two main types of mycorrhizae: endo-mycorrhizae which associate with 80 per cent of plants including trees and agricultural crops, and ecto-mycorrhizae associate with five to seven per cent of plants such as evergreen trees. Since this relationship is mutually beneficial, the fungus receives carbohydrates (sugars) and growth factors from the plant, which in turn receives the benefit of increased nutrient absorption because the fungus acts as an extension of the root system, reaching further into the soil for water and nutrients. These factors translate to an overall healthier plant which should translate to higher yield.
While it might seem unprobable that something so tiny could have such an impact, one researcher states that: “Global interest in fungi has now reached a point whereby any discussion of agricultural biotechnology that does not include the role of endo mycorrhizal fungi is considered incomplete,” says Mitiku Habte, Department of Agronomy and Soil Science, University of Hawaii.
Despite the adverse climatic conditions across most of the Prairies in 2010, Premier Tech Biotechnologies, makers of the Myke line of products, saw excellent results in their agricultural trials. Crops treated with Myke Pro PS3 consistently produced higher yields than their untreated counterparts. Particularly evident at third-party trials at Swift Current, green lentils inoculated with Myke Pro resulted in an increase of 18 per cent (6.4 bu./ ac.); Myke PRO-treated lentils also showed a significant yield response. Across all trials in 2010, inoculation with Myke PRO in 2010 produced a yield increase of 4.5 per cent (approximately one bushel per acre).
Results from 2009 trials in Taber and Swift Current are more impressive for Myke PRO treated lentils, and increases were far greater (10 to 15 per cent) and more statistically significant under a more normal lentil growing season. Yield increases of this magnitude on a high value crop such as lentils translate into significantly fatter wallets for farmers.
But profit is not the only benefit derived from introducing new concepts to your farm. As Marc Beland, product director of Premier Tech Biotechnologies points out, “In the future, we will need to (and even currently need to) feed more people on roughly the same land base, so to increase yield and not compromise nutrient quality of what we grow, there should be “hybrid” practices where growers will use different tools to improve their efficacy.” Already, conventional practices are being supplemented with biological products produced by nature. Beland says, “In the next decade, we would like to have mycorrhizae as widely accepted and trusted and the rhizobium inoculants are now.”
The large scale commercial grower trials in the 2010 season resulted in 20 growers seeding over 2,500 acres of lentils in and around the Milestone-Regina area, the Swift Current-Kyle area and the Rosetown-Kindersley areas. These 2,500 acres boasted an average overall yield increase of seven per cent and confirms the positive effect of lentil inoculation with Myke Pro PS3 at seeding. Although this product line isn’t new, the Myke Pro PS3 seed coating formulation was recently improved by increasing the concentration of the mycorrhizae and therefore reducing the amount of powder to be mixed in with the seed. Application rate is now 100g/ac. of seed or 40 acres with one four-kg pail. The granular product, Myke Pro GR comes in a five-acre bag or 160 ac mini-tote for in-furrow application at seeding.
Ease of application is still a hurdle to adoption of the product, Belad says, but the company is working on improvements. “This may include polymer coated seeds with all the fixings or to have multi-organism inoculants that work on many aspects of nutrient availability, uptake and plant vigour.”
SUPPLEMENTS AND NUTRIENT BLENDS
Mycorrhizae is not the only soil biology-focused concept being recognized by western Canadian farmers. While many specialty product companies are playing in the turf and horticulture sandbox, there are a few that are specific to agricultural crop production or have a portfolio dedicated to our industry.
ATP Nutrition focuses its product portfolio around a “R3 Management Plan” — a three-stage platform that divides the nutrient management plan and products into what they consider any plant’s three key physiological stages: rooting, reproduction and ripening.
The R3 Management Plan’s primary focus is to address and overcome abiotic stress — environmental factors like low temperatures, moisture, excess heat and drought — that can add up to 60 per cent of yield loss the year. ATP sees plan as the bridge between nutrition and plant health. The company will have 10 products on the market for 2011, across all three stage categories.
Transit S, described as a supplement and pre-cursor to enzyme development, falls under the root stage of R3 and contains a new active ingredient from FBSciences that is exclusively distributed by ATP Nutrition. ATP claims that Transit S improves N-P-K nutrient use efficiency when combined with your existing soil applied fertilizer program.
In the 12 third-party canola trials replicated across Western Canada conducted in 2010, Transit S demonstrated an average of 7.7 per cent yield boost. In the wheat trials, it also produced grain that was consistently close to a full per cent higher in both crude and digestible protein levels, in addition to bumping yields. ATP also offers products for seed and in-crop application.
Even more specialized, focusing on carbohydrate fertilizers is Canadian company, NutriAg, which offers plant nutrient products such as the new FertiFlo and Max lines, as well as agricultural adjuvants.
Foliar applied nutrients and micronutrients have been steadily gaining popularity. One of these, FertiFlo, is a liquid N-P-K and micronutrient fertilizer with many options including 6-6-16-0 plus micronutrients all the way to 15-5-5-0 plus micronutrients. Also available are many custom blends that can all be applied as a part of a regular fertility program or as a “rescue treatment.” In the capacity of rescue treatment, or corrective spray, FertiFlo products claims to decrease pesticide damage to crops by maintaining the rate of metabolism in the plant, thus helping crops to break down the pesticide more readily.
Symptoms shown by a crop are not always necessarily due to phytotoxicity from a pesticide, but rather a nutrient deficiency. Seeing stunting, chlorosis (yellowing) or malformation of new leaves all could be signs of a zinc deficiency and after a visit from your agronomist, a product from the Max line might be your answer. VigourMax is a liquid zinc and boron “super-complex” derived from plant carbohydrates containing 10.2 per cent zinc and 0.5 per cent boron.
Tip and marginal leaf scorch, retarded growth and a tendency for lodging due to weak stalks may all be signs of potassium deficiency. K-Max Extra (0-0-24) is a liquid potassium complex derived from plant carbohydrates which contains 24 per cent potassium and, similar to FertiFlo, can be applied as a foliar treatment for either regular fertility or as a corrective treatment. While these are simply examples, the NutriAg line contains any and all combinations of macro and micronutrients for use on a diversity of crops including fruits and vegetables, cereals and row crops. Field trials suggest that NutriAg products can improve the return on investment up to three times. While a threefold ROI is a bold statement, NutriAg says it has more than enough product options for Western Canadian crop producers to find a fit for their farm and put this claim to the test.
MeganOleksynwritesfromPigeonLake,Alta. Precisionagricultureconsultantbyday,she alsorunsherowncommunicationsconsulting, publicrelationsandfreelancewriting business,southpawcommunications