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Silica – Strength, Resilience, Immunity

A major mineral is missing in many soils and most soil tests do not even monitor its presence. This mineral can increase stress resistance, boost photosynthesis and chlorophyll content, improve drought resistance, salt tolerance and soil fertility and prevent lodging. lt can also reduce insect pressure, frost damage and destructive disease while lowering irrigation rates, neutralising heavy metal toxicity and countering the negative effects of excess sodium. If I were to tell you that this same missing mineral can increase root growth, boost yield and enhance crop quality, you could well ask, “how could we have overlooked something so important?” and you would be correct. It has been a serious oversight. The mineral in question is silicon, and science is rapidly revealing the scope and scale of our silicon neglect.

Poverty in a Sea of Abundance

Silicon is not classed as an essential nutrient, but, in response to a wealth of new findings highlighting the importance of this nutrient, that status may soon change. Silicon is the second most abundant mineral on the planet. It is everywhere. Clays are alumina silicates and sand is largely silicon, so how could there be a shortage of silicon? The answer lies in the form of silicon that enters the plant. Plants uptake silicon as silicic acid and this is what is missing in the soil. Something we have done in conventional agriculture appears to have compromised the conversion of insoluble silicon into the plant available form. It may reflect a mineral imbalance or we may have knocked out some of the soil microbe species that solubilise this mineral. It is not yet understood what drove the widespread deficiency but we do know that a healthy, disease suppressive soil should contain 100 ppm of monosilicic acid (as measured in a soil analysis) and very few soils come anywhere near that mark!

Little was known about the multiple roles of silicon until recently. It was known to be present in every soil but it was only when it became less plant available that it was realised that there may be a link between this loss and a host of growing problems. During the last decade, silicon seems to have become “flavour of the month” in the soil science community. Researchers have delved more deeply and hundreds of papers have been presented at the International Silicon Conferences in Brazil and South Africa. This neglected mineral is now emerging as a key player in proactive pest and disease management and the production of nutrient dense food. If you are not yet aware of the silicon story then this article should serve to fill some gaps.

Cell Strength is Resilience

The cell wall in plants is a substantial barrier that must be breached to gain access to the goodies within. A fungal pathogen must drill through this wall with its hyphae to be able to tap into the nutritious cell centre. Once this goal is achieved, the pest has the food source that sponsors its spread, and a disease is born. There is an obvious opportunity here to stop the pathogen in its tracks. What happens if we strengthen that cell wall so that the hyphae buckle? It’s simple – the disease cannot gain a foothold and will not spread. Similarly, why would a leaf eating insect choose to wear out his eating gear on silicon-strengthened rock cakes when it can go elsewhere for sponge. Many published papers have now confirmed the exciting potential for increased disease and insect resistance through good silicon nutrition. In one paper presented at the South African conference, soluble silicon used as a soil drench had the equivalent inhibitory effect as phosphorus acid in the management of phytophthora in avocados. However, the silicon-treated plants had much more vigorous roots and canopies. In another case silicon was shown to offer effective management of dreaded black sigatoka in bananas. Other papers reported efficacy against brown rust in sugar cane, powdery mildew in cucurbits, fusarium wilt in potatoes and leaf blast in rice.

Interestingly, the plant understands the protective potential of silicon, even if we don’t. When a disease begins, the plant directs all available silicon to the attack site, to strengthen the surrounding cells and stop or slow the spread of the pathogen. There is a problem here, though, because silicon is immobile once incorporated into the cell wall. It must be in constant supply so that the plant can utilise it at these times. Most soils contain less than half of the soluble silicon required so there can be significant benefits in foliar spraying silicon at the first sign of a disease. This can stop the spread of the disease and many growers are successfully using this strategy.

Silicon and Sun Power

Photosynthesis is the most important process on the planet. The green plant is the only source of food and the management of chlorophyll, the green pigment where all the action happens, is the chief role of the farmer. Silicon is a gold sponsor of the sugar factories within the plant as it supports this process in several ways. The leaf is essentially a solar panel, the underside of which also serves to capture the CO2 gas as it rises from the roots and soil life. The better that panel is presented, the more efficient it will prove in capturing sunlight, water and CO2 (the three components of photosynthesis). Silicon strengthens the stem and holds that panel in perfect position. The plant is less likely to droop in warm conditions and more likely to maximise photosynthesis.

Minerals are the major players in the photosynthesis equation. Blotches, stripes and pale colours, from shortages of minerals, represent the mismanagement of chlorophyll. Sometimes it’s not just the lack of these nutrients but their delivery into the crop that is the issue. Silicon can have a big impact upon mineral uptake. Phloem and xylem are the pathways that govern mineral absorption and the translocation of minerals within the plant. These nutrient highways are built from silicon and their performance will suffer in its absence.

Calcium is an example of a poorly translocated mineral that will be utilised more efficiently when the nutrient highways are broad and true. Boron is a calcium synergist, which can improve the performance of calcium, but it has recently been recognized that boron also boosts silicon uptake.  Boron solubilises insoluble silicon and it is a good idea to combine boron, calcium and silicon in your program to maximise the synergistic potential of the trio. One popular strategy involves the application of boron to the soil in late winter to trigger the release of silicon. The soluble silicon will be used to build the super highways that will improve the sluggish uptake of calcium (needed for cell division during the spring flush).

Silicon – The Stress Saviour

There are two types of stress that affect production negatively. Abiotic stress involves the negative impact of environmental factors upon living organisms and biotic stress is about pest pressure. Abiotic stress is the single most harmful factor impacting crop growth and productivity on the planet and it can only have more impact as global warming progresses. However, biotic stress is not far behind. Every year since we began the chemical experiment in agriculture there has been an increase in the total amount of chemicals applied on a global scale and every year there has also been a marked increase in pest pressure. The current path is not sustainable; in fact it is not working! There is an obvious relationship between abiotic stress and biotic stress in that environmental factors will increase pest pressure. We are seeing this in all of the countries in which we work. Even in the local ginger industry, right on our doorstep, growers are experiencing Pythium pressure unlike anything they have previously experienced. This destructive fungus has found a new niche in the wettest growing season ever. This does not represent a deficiency of fungicides but rather it highlights the desperate need for a more holistic approach that will offer a greater level of inherent protection during times of stress.

Silicon can reduce the impact of both abiotic and biotic stressors and it represents an essential component of a program designed to create a disease suppressive soil and stress resistant plants. The stronger the cell wall, the more stress resistant the plant, whether that stress is from pathogens or non-living factors.

Part of the climate change forecast is an increase in extreme weather events. Wind can be particularly destructive in that it can promote lodging, which can render the crop unmarketable. At the most recent silicon conference, Iranian researcher, A. Fallah, presented a paper reporting a reduction of silicon within the plant associated with high nitrogen usage. It is already understood that over application of nitrogen has a nutrient diluting effect and that the mineral most affected is potassium. Now we understand that mismanagement of nitrogen can also impact silicon nutrition and the associated protective effect of this mineral. In this instance, weaker stem strength and increased susceptibility to lodging were noted in the rice crop studied. Fallah reported much stronger stems and resistance to lodging in silicon treated crops.

One of the stressors that is becoming more of an issue in many soils is the oversupply of heavy metals, salts and some trace minerals. In all cases, silicon has been shown to mitigate the stress. Copper (Cu) can build up in the soil due to the overuse of fungicides. We have found humates a valuable tool to neutralise the negatives associated with this excess. Silica has been effective in mitigating the effect of a variety of heavy metals but recent US research suggests that silicon may be a viable management tool in high copper soils. J. Li, J. Frankz and S. Leisner working in flower crops in Ohio, found that silicon could very effectively mitigate Cu toxicity stress and the improvement was measured on multiple levels.

Swedish researchers working in cadmium contaminated soils found that the higher the silicon level in the plant, the lower the cadmium level. In fact, there was 60% less cadmium in the silica treated food grains.

In some exciting Russian research involving wheat, silica was shown to alleviate salt stress quite dramatically. Wheat is notoriously sensitive to high salinity and the salt created a major decrease in photosynthesis. The addition of silicon to the soil resulted in increases in photosynthesis ranging from 158% to 520% depending upon the salt concentration in the soil. This is one of several studies highlighting the silicon link to salt management. We always recommend the inclusion of small amounts of Humic acid and potassium silicate with every irrigation, to manage saline irrigation water.

A South Australian study reported reduced drought stress and an associated reduction in pest pressure following silicon treatment. This study found that applied silicon mitigated the increased insect pressure that was a direct effect of high levels of nitrogen. Not only does high N shut down silica uptake but applied silica can also compensate for this nitrogen mismanagement.

Cold stress can even be addressed with silicon. South African scientists working with bananas have shown that silicon protected the plants from cold damage and that an associated increase in vigour decreased the banana’s susceptibility to Fusarium Wilt.

This enhanced protection from disease has been well researched. A recent Japanese study entitled “Silicon in the Control of Diseases in Rice, Sorghum and Soybean”, found reductions in brown spot pressure that varied between 35% and 75% in rice studies. They found significant reductions in anthracnose in silicon-treated sorghum and the results were quite dramatic when foliar applying potassium silicate to manage soybean rust. They concluded their paper with the following words; “The results of these studies underscore the importance of Si to increase plant resistance to foliar disease”.

This increase in disease resistance was originally thought to be related to the “barrier effect” linked to increased cell strength, but it is now understood to be also related to increased plant immunity.

Silicon-Based Immunity

One of the most dynamic research streams in agricultural science relates to the investigation of plant immunity and the triggers that activates the plant to fight its own battles. It is now understood that the plant has an immune system, which can be both monitored and magnified. Salicylic acid, for example, the biochemical upon which aspirin is based, activates the plant’s immune system. Aloe vera is the richest natural source of this compound and many of our growers benefit from the inclusion of this plant extract in their programs.

Recently, silicon has been found to trigger the production of a suite of compounds that fuel immunity. This mineral is now seen as an integral tool in proactive pest management as it offers both protective cell strength while also fuelling a robust defence system.

Phenolic compounds are one of the biochemicals that are part of this defence system and these compounds are now recognised as key players in the protection of avocado trees from Phytophthora cinnamoni. T.F Bekker, et al, from the University of Pretoria, conducted research which demonstrated that soil applications of potassium silicate to soils affected by this disease, increased the total phenolic content of the avocado root tissue.

It is interesting to note that this silicon-based, immune response is most pronounced when there is existing disease pressure. It’s almost like the plant calls in the heavy artillery when the going gets tough! A Canadian paper presented at the South African conference involved the study of 30,000 genes. The researchers reported that unstressed plants appeared to be minimally affected by silicon feeding with the associated up regulating of only two genes. (Note: upregulation is the process by which a cell increases the quantity of a cellular component such as RNA or protein in response to an external variable.) However, in stressed plants (affected by powdery mildew) there was an up regulation of a number of genes. A Spanish paper also covered the Powdery Mildew control potential of silicon and they found that the inclusion of amino acids with the silicon fertiliser enhanced the response.

Russian researchers have hypothesised that the plant immune system requires mobile silica compounds and if there is luxury levels of silica available to the plant there will be additional synthesis of stress protection molecules. A co-operative research effort between American and Japanese scientists showed that silica related resistance involves multiple pathways and that silica amendment clearly alters plant defence signalling, increasing the plant’s disease resistance.

But there’s More

Not only does silicon offer increased pest and stress resistance. It can also provide a major fertilising response and substantial yield increases. In a paper by J Bernal, involving research with rice and sugarcane in Columbia, just 100 to 200 kg of magnesium silicate per hectare achieved yield increases of 14.63% in sugar cane and the increases in rice ranged from 21% to 33% (depending upon the application rate). Iranian research with rice mirrored the South American findings but in this case the yield increase was 22% after applications of 500 kg of silicon. Rice and sugarcane have been most researched, as they are recognised silicon accumulators. In fact, rice has the highest levels of silicon of any crop. However, we have found that most crops respond to silica and research is now quantifying our in field experience. Brazilian researchers trialled six different application rates of potassium silicate on potatoes and found that the1% rate was most effective. In fact, 6 litres of potassium silicate in 600 litres of water, sprayed each week during the crop cycle, produced an impressive yield increase of 22.4%.

Australian, M. Lynch, a champion of silica fertilisers for over a decade, presented a paper at the SA conference where he suggests that silica fertilisers have consistently outperformed high analysis fertilisers in cereal production. This has included increased protein levels, increased yields, decreased screenings and increased grains/heads. He contends that silica fertilised grapes have superior skin quality, higher brix values, uniform bunch size and a virtual absence of fungal diseases.

At NTS, we have often found unexpected benefits when including silicon in programs. An avocado grower from North Queensland found that he no longer lost up to 15% of his crop to wind abrasion. The increased skin strength created fruit that did not mark when the fruit rubbed against the branches in windy conditions. Golf courses often report that the greens are wearing better following applications of liquid, micronized diatomaceous earth (a rich silicon source).

Silicon and You

If plants respond so favourably to silicon, what about humans? One could assume that if most plants are silica deficient then most people would also suffer from a shortage of this mineral. The Japanese Government has certainly recognised this problem and have strongly encouraged the use of soluble silica on rice crops.

H M Laane from the Netherlands, presented a research summary of human health research into silicon. The human body contains 7 grams of silicon, which is more than all the other trace minerals put together. High levels of this mineral are deposited in bones, nails, tendons and the walls of the aorta and substantial amounts are found in the kidneys, liver and lungs. Silica interacts with several minerals but important research has highlighted the use of silicon as a means of inhibiting aluminium toxicity. Aluminium has been strongly implicated in the plague of Alzheimers disease which now sees 1 in 4 Westerners over 65 succumb to this disease.

Silicon is also a calcium synergist and should be included in all good calcium supplements. H M Laane concluded that dietary levels in Western diets are too low and there is a coincidence with increased skin, hair and nail problems, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. There are also obvious benefits in silicon-strengthened arteries.

Fertiliser Sources of Silicon

Silica fertilisers are available in liquid and solid form and the liquids offer the most rapid response. Silicon is found in good levels in rock mineral fertilisers and in rock phosphate and guano products. However, this is not the plant available form of the mineral and, depending on the particle size, it may take many years for the mineral to become available. This is not the case if the fertiliser is a calcium silicate or magnesium silicate but you need to ask about the solubility of any silica fertiliser you may be considering. This is also not the case if these materials are micronized.

Diatomaceous earth in the amorphous form is a very rich source of insoluble silica. The material is basically the exoskeletons of tiny prehistoric creatures called diatoms. These remains contain up to 85% silica dioxide and the silica shell is sharp and jagged under a microscope, almost like a broken razor blade. Diatomaceous earth has been used as a natural insecticide for decades, as the jagged, little razor blades can cut up the offending insect’s exoskeleton causing the creature to dehydrate and die. This material is also used internally as a natural means to control intestinal parasites. The rich silica lode from diatomaceous earth can be made plant-available by micronizing the material right down to a tiny particle size of 5 microns. It can then be held in a liquid suspension and applied via boom spray or fertigation. As little as 5 litres of liquid, micronized diatomaceous earth per hectare, applied through fertigation on a regular basis, can lift leaf levels of silica into the luxury zone, with all of the associated benefits.

Potassium silicate is a good soluble form of silica but it is not compatible with many other fertilisers and must often be applied as a standalone or with boron. One way out of this limitation is to use a pre-formulated potassium silicate-based fertiliser which includes other synergists.

In Conclusion

Proactivity is the essence of the biological approach. If you understand how plants protect themselves, then you provide the necessary components to maximise that process and minimize the need for chemical intervention. In this context, silicon is an essential pre-requisite for proactive pest and stress management and should be an integral part of every good nutrition program.

Liquid silica can be applied with alkaline materials but definitely not with acids. We generally suggest using these products with Tri-Kelp™ Seaweed powder which improves the effect on photosynthesis and supplies many other nutrients including boron and potassium along with a host of trace elements (approx 70) and growth promoting compounds like auxins, betaines, cytokinins, gibberellins & vitamins.

In areas where frost is a problem we suggest using Ferbon OF30 Clear K-Silicate @ 5 litres:ha  in conjunction with NTS Tri-Kelp™@ 1kg:ha to minimise the effect of ice nucleation.

Silica products available from Bio-Tech Organics –

OF29 Silico-Sulfonate (Ferbon)

OF30 Clear Silico-Sulfonate (Ferbon)

Photo-Finish (NTS)

Potassium silicate (NTS)

Dia-Life (NTS)

Soft Rock Phosphate (NTS)

 

The Humate Phenomenon

Humates are the most exciting input for the increase of productivity and profitability in agriculture since the advent of commercial nitrogen. What began as a critical tool in biological agriculture has rapidly become an essential performance enhancer in all types of growing enterprises. What is all the noise about, and should you be investigating this strategy? This article may serve to summarise some of the many benefits of humates and hopefully inspire you to trial these inputs if you are not already using them.

Fifty years of scientific research has quantified the multiple benefits of humates derived from brown coal. Professor William Jackson has chronicled some of this research in his 1000-page, award winning book, “Organic Soil Conditioning”. Humates have been shown to be a highly productive input in all forms of agriculture, in stock health management and in environmental remediation.

The Mechanics of Humates

If we consider the attributes of humus in the soil, we find that the long list of benefits directly parallels the benefits of humates. Humus provides pH buffering, increased heavy metal and toxin tolerance, moisture retention, microbe stimulation and support, soil structure improvement and improved nutrient uptake. Humates do the same thing, but more powerfully, because they are like a concentrated form of humus. In fact all humus naturally contains Humic and fulvic acid (humates) so these natural acids can serve as a band-aid to substitute for the loss of humus in our soils. We have lost more than two thirds of the planet’s organic carbon during the past few decades of extractive agriculture so humates have become an increasingly important tool to counter those losses. Humates, like humus, contain both negatively and positively charged sites which enable the storage of both cations and anions. The nutrient storage capacity of a soil is often measured as Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) on a soil test. A light sandy soil, for example, might have a cation exchange capacity of just five and this is a soil where your fertiliser investment is always at risk. Loss through leaching is inevitable in these soils. Humic acid has a CEC of 450 and fulvic acid has a whopping CEC of 1400 so it is not hard to imagine the benefits of combining these materials with fertilisers to reduce leaching.

Powerhouse Problem Solvers

Global heating and peak oil have highlighted the vulnerability of an agricultural system based upon petrochemicals and easily influenced by weather extremes. Humates are a multifaceted tool that addresses both situations. Humic acid is the most powerful stimulant of the beneficial fungi that build humus. This all-important intervention in the carbon cycle traps and stores CO2 that was otherwise destined for the atmosphere. This humus then retains moisture and nutrients reducing the requirement for oil-based inputs and the carbon footprint of the grower (less irrigation, diesel and chemical intervention).

Fulvic acid is the most powerful bacterial stimulant and it is these creatures which can seriously reduce the need for applied nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogen fixers, both free living and leguminous, are fired up by fulvic acid and can supply a natural nitrogen source that is much more plant supportive than the nitrates that pervade modern agriculture. Fulvic acid also fires the phosphate solubilising bacteria that can access the ten billion dollars of phosphate that is estimated to be locked within Australian soils.

Humate-based reductions in fertilisers, farm chemicals and irrigation requirements are impressive but there is more! Humates can neutralise chemical residues in the soil that are often compromising production. In fact humates are now considered to be the first step in environmental remediation. Even glyphosate residues (or the breakdown compound which can be even more destructive than the original) can build up in the soil and hinder growth. Humates can be utilised to remove these toxins.

Productive Combinations

If you have yet to discover the many benefits of humates, you are in for a real treat. Trial a small area and monitor the response. We have never encountered a single grower who trialled the combination of Humic acid with either DAP or Urea, who does not still use these products together. The easiest way to monitor the combination of DAP and humates, for example, is to compare leaf tests on treated v’s untreated crops. What you will witness is a fall off in phosphate levels in the untreated crop as the season progresses. The humate treated plants, however, will continue to access phosphate throughout the season. There is 100% more phosphate drawdown during reproduction than at the start of the crop but most of your applied acid phosphate has locked up at that point. When Soluble Humate Granules are included with the DAP the two inputs combine to form a phosphate humate which is available throughout the crop cycle. This is a simple strategy which maximises your phosphate investment. Not only do you stabilise the phosphate and maintain access to the 70% of P that is usually lost to lockup, but you are also increasing plant availability of P via cell sensitisation (a well researched phenomenon where the cell membranes become more permeable and the plant absorbs up to 35% more than otherwise).

When humates are combined with Urea, a urea humate is formed that is much more productive than the standalone urea. Not only is the urea prevented from converting to a highly leachable nitrate through this stabilisation, but it is also 35% better absorbed due to the cell sensitisation phenomenon.

Cost effective Humate Help

Many growers add a little Soluble Fulvic Acid Powder™ to all liquid fertilisers to chelate and magnify these inputs. A little goes a long way with this material. There is an obvious benefit from as little as 200 grams of powder per hectare. In fact, the maximum suggested rate to achieve chelation, bio stimulation and fertiliser magnification is just 500 grams per hectare. Similarly, the soluble Humic acid is more cost effective than the liquid alternative. 5 kg of Soluble Humate Granules™ per hectare (combined with granular fertilisers) is sufficient to achieve a suture of obvious benefits. Growers in intensive horticulture favour 10 kg of soluble humates per hectare but it is possible to see a response with just 2 kg per hectare. This level of potency is only achieved with a Humate that is derived from a source of brown coal called Leonardite. The vast majority of humates in the Australian marketplace are based upon lignite which is still a valid source but has much less kick than Leonardite. We commonly hear comments that it takes two to three times more of a lignite product to achieve a response comparable to the higher quality Leonardite based products. If you are considering a humate trial make sure that you choose the more active alternative to avoid disappointment.

Five Key Humate Tips

1) Combine Humic acid and fulvic acid together for root crops. We have always favoured Humic acid for crops like potatoes, carrots, beetroot and sweet potato but we have recently found an increased response when these two natural acids are combined.

2) Put small amounts of Humic acid in irrigation water as there is recent evidence that this can structure water to increase plant utilisation. It is suggested that your water can become more responsive much like the effect of “melted” water which retains the crystalline structure of the ice from which it is derived. The Alaskan growing season is just ten weeks long and yet they can produce cabbages so large they must be wheel barrowed into the house.

3) Use fulvic acid with legumes. An application of fulvic acid can create swards of clover in pasture as long as there has been a previous history of this legume. Many of our dairy farmers have been delighted with this simple trick to improve their clover to grass ratio.

4) Combine Humic acid with liquid lime. It has been found that combining Life-Lime™ with Humic acid as a foliar can sponsor the release of COfrom the carbonates in this micronized, liquid, calcium carbonate. The CO2 then increases photosynthesis which, in turn, increases yield.

5) Use fulvic acid to substitute for sunlight. If it has been overcast for days and plants are faltering, then try a foliar application of fulvic acid. For reasons unknown (at this stage) this remarkable natural acid serves to substitute for sunlight and photosynthesis continues despite the grey skies. Golf courses have embraced fulvic acid to green up shade affected areas but there is huge potential for any crop suffering adverse weather conditions where plant vitality is affected.

In Conclusion

It is common to suspect that if something is over hyped it is probably “too good to be true”. Most times I have found this assumption to be a worthwhile protective filter, but this is not the case with Humates. They are a much-researched example of “The Real McCoy”. I have summarised some of the many benefits but there are many more and I strongly advise you to experiment for yourself with these amazing materials.

For more information on Humates, Humic acid and Fulvic acid, contact Bio-Tech Organics on 83808554 or John Norton on 0412305158

Tri-Kelp™ – A Multi Purpose Marvel

 

If you have yet to discover the many benefits of kelp in agriculture, then do yourself a favour and experiment with foliar spays or soil applications of liquid seaweed in your particular crop. There are now no cost limitations upon the use of kelp because the introduction of Tri-Kelp™ Soluble Seaweed Powder from NTS has effectively re-written the rules relating to kelp usage. Where this plant growth promoter was once considered a costly but highly effective inclusion in intensive horticulture, it can now be used in every situation, including pasture and broadacre crops. Tri-Kelp™ is a highly concentrated powder that is productive at application rates of just 1 gram per litre for foliar applications or 500 grams per hectare in the soil.

Liquid seaweed fertilisers, that have grown increasingly popular in the local marketplace over the past two decades, typically involve 10% solids, and retail for around $12.00 per litre. You can now produce your own 10% liquid kelp by adding 100 grams of Tri-Kelp™ powder to one litre of water (10%) at a cost of around $2.00 per litre (and you no longer need to transport 90% water around the country). However, this dramatic reduction in price is just the first factor in a long list of reasons to explore the use of Tri-Kelp™ in your enterprise. Kelp boosts nutrient uptake, provides the full spectrum of minerals from the ocean, increases shelf life, improves reproduction, enhances root growth and supports the plant’s immune system. It is also a powerful promotant of the beneficial fungi that sequester stable carbon in the soil (cellulose digesting fungi). These creatures are arguably the most important life form on the planet at this point in time, as they represent the most rapid and effective means to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere and return it to the soil. Building humus in your soil is not just an environmental imperative, it is also set to become a second income stream for growers when carbon credits are introduced (and kelp will prove a major player in this biological process).

Kelp Ain’t Kelp

Does this mean that all liquid seaweed products will perform these roles equally (aside from the cost comparison)? No, this is definitely not the case. All kelp fertilisers are beneficial but there is a distinct variation in performance, based upon where the seaweed came from, the percentage solids, the kelp species involved and the level of contamination. Unfortunately, some of the cheap Chinese kelp products have become notorious for heavy metal contamination, as they are often sourced from polluted waters and kelp tends to accumulate heavy metals.  There is also variation amongst the European and Canadian soluble kelp powders. However, most of these products are based on the same species (Ascophyllum nodosum) and the difference lies in how well they disperse and dissolve in water. Tri-Kelp™ is an easily dissolved powder that compares with the very best of the high-end products, at a fraction of the price. It is manufactured for NTS in China and the raw ingredients were stringently sourced to ensure a high quality, uncontaminated, inexpensive alternative. Tri-Kelp™ is unique in that it features a special ratio of three of the most successful commercial kelp varieties. In effect, it delivers the best that seaweed fertilisers can offer, and we encourage growers to trial Tri-Kelp™ against any other kelp they have used in the past. To date, we have yet to find a single grower who was not impressed.

Why Three is Better Than One

Tri-Kelp™ contains a distinctive blend of LaminariaSargassum and Ascophyllum nodosum and each of these species has something special to offer. Laminaria, for example, contains twice the iodine of any other kelp and this mineral, essential for thyroid health in animals and humans, may yet prove to have benefits for plant health (aside from its sterilising capacity). Sargassum contains luxury levels of glycine betaine, a compound that has anti-transpirant qualities (to boost drought resistance and reduce irrigation requirements) and has been shown to boost both photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation (according to research conducted on soybeans in WA in 1975). Glycine betaine also increases tolerance to salinity and has been linked to frost resistance. Ascophyllum nodosum has very high levels of cytokinins, which extend shelf-life, increase stress resistance and assist in the recovery from nematode damage.

DIY Kelp Chelation

Many kelp users are not aware that they can combine kelp with other minerals to chelate these nutrients and increase their uptake. Chelation involves the neutralisation of positively charged minerals so they don’t clog pores in the rush toward a negatively charged plant surface (like the attraction of metal to a magnet). Chelated minerals have been shown to enter the plant much more effectively. If you are planning to foliar fertilise with Tri-Kelp™, then it is a wasted opportunity if you don’t include any other nutrients that may be required. Mannitol, the long chain carbohydrate present in Tri-Kelp™, will provide DIY chelation that can represent considerable savings (particularly when considering the cost of EDTA chelates).

Mineral Punch

In agriculture we typically look at 14 minerals but there were over 70 minerals in the first cell that oozed from the Precambrian Ocean and it would seem logical that they were all present for a purpose. Each crop removes minerals and this demineralisation is magnified with leaching, erosion and the loss of the humus storehouse (our soils have lost an average of 70% of their organic matter in the last 100 years). The replacement of the full spectrum of trace minerals seems a sensible strategy even if we have yet to confirm their roles in plant nutrition. Tri-Kelp™ offers a naturally complexed, balanced source of all of these minerals. The improvement in flavour, so often attributed to the use of kelp, may be partially linked to this broad-spectrum mineralisation.

Vitamins for Plant Health

Vitamins are manufactured in the plant using mineral building blocks, so we would expect to see good vitamin levels in a mineral-rich plant like kelp. In fact, kelp is a chief source of carotenes used as human supplements and it has remarkably high levels of the B group vitamins (including B12, which is not found in land plants). It also features an exceptional Vitamin C component with levels ranging from 1000ppm to 3000ppm. Indian research has revealed that niacin, riboflavin and folic acid offer plants immune support while promoting growth and increasing yield. However, it is the Vitamin C research from the US and Japan that is proving the most exciting. Plants produce antioxidants for their own benefit rather than ours. However, it is no accident that they are also the primary source of antioxidant protection for animals and humans. Have you ever wondered how a plant can stand in direct sunlight from daylight to dark without suffering from UV damage? The secret is partially linked to Vitamin C and its protective role within the plant. Vitamin C reduces photo-oxidative stress and it is also linked to drought protection. The foliar application of vitamin-rich substances can offer considerable benefit. The high vitamin levels in Tri-Kelp™ are another part of a comprehensive plant health package.

Plant Growth Promoters

All plants produce cytokinins, gibberellins, auxins and betaines and these substances are required for every stage of plant growth, from root initiation to reproduction. Like vitamins, the building blocks for these nutrients are minerals, and these minerals have been seriously depleted from our soils. Micro-organisms in the soil also produce these plant growth promoters and supply them to plants in return for the sugars exuded from the roots. The bugs know that the better they look after their hosts, the more they will be fed. However, these organisms have often been compromised by chemical farming practices and this loss of minerals and microbes effectively means that most land-based plants are, to some degree, deficient in these key plant growth promoters. The ocean, in contrast, is a perfectly balanced mineral medium, and as a result, kelp contains 40 times more cytokinins, gibberellins, auxins and betaines than land plants. In fact, the phenomenal growth of kelp (30 cm per day) is largely sponsored by these promoters. It is often these plant growth promoters that provide much of the punch when fertilizing with liquid kelp. They are only required in tiny amounts, hence the powerful Tri-Kelp™ response at just 1 gram per litre!

From Seed To Shelf-Life

Seed treatment is one of the most cost-effective strategies in the growing enterprise and the most researched and productive material for seed treatment is kelp. Research quantifies increased germination rates, a shorter germination period and a marked kick start for the seedling, for a tiny investment. Kelp has also been shown to reduce transplant shock and it can be used as a “rescue remedy” to counter stressors like drought, hail and climate extremes. Professor T L Senn has dedicated much of his professional career to kelp research. He has demonstrated marked increases in shelf life with produce that has been foliar sprayed with kelp. He has even shown that dipping capsicums in kelp, post harvest, will increase their shelf life. Seaweed extracts increase shelf life through inducing delayed senescence which extends the time between harvest and the hormone-induced breakdown of fruit and vegetables.

In Conclusion

Kelp has become one of the three biological essentials in the production of any crop. The advent of soluble powders, that retain all of the qualities of liquid kelp without having to pay to transport water, has been a major benefit to kelp users.  The development of Tri-Kelp™, a unique fusion of three of the most productive kelp species in a user-friendly soluble powder concentrate (at half the price of other powders) promises to be of equal importance.

For More information on Kelp and Biological farming concepts contact Bio-Tech Organics on            08 83808554  or John Norton on 0412305158

Microbe Mastery

Microbe Mastery – Inoculums for Disease Management & Nitrogen Fixing

The use of biological inoculums in farming amounts to re-charging the life force in the soil to reap the benefits of a new, task-specific workforce. There are specific inhibitory bacteria or predatory fungi that are the mainstay of resilient soils and plants. The six organisms with most promise in this context include mycorrhizal fungi, Trichoderma, Pseudomonads, Bacillus strains, Azotobacter and Nitrogen-fixing Endophytes.

Mycorrhizal fungi are a critical component of this protective team. There is comprehensive research linking plant resilience to mycorrhizal colonisation. Part of this increased defence capacity comes from the biological delivery of phosphate (arguably the most important mineral for plant immunity, as it fires glucose production and is the building block for ATP which fuels the multiple enzymic reactions involved in resilience). There is also evidence that mycorrhizal fungi produce biochemicals that support an immune response in the plant. We have witnessed many cases of improved plant health and resilience following mycorrhizal colonisation.

Trichoderma is a cellulose digesting, free living fungi, which is often compromised by farm chemicals, including copper. Trichoderma does more than build humus, however, it is also a beneficial fungi that feeds upon a wide range of other organisms and it produces metabolites that further compromise the organisms. It releases acids that solubilise locked-up phosphate in your soils and most importantly, in this context, Trichoderma supports plant defence mechanisms via the production of protein-based immune supporters.

Pseudomonas fluorescens is a ubiquitous, protective bacteria that is seriously compromised by glyphosate and as this herbicide is widely used in all forms of agriculture, there is a question mark about the disease-suppressive capacity of these soils. A recent two year USDA study on soybeans showed dramatic reductions of beneficial pseudomonads and other beneficial organisms where glyphosate was used.  These organisms produce a variety of anti-social compounds including hydrogen cyanide. However, Pseudomonas fluorescens also offer protection-based benefits  involving frost events. Frost crystals are caused by ice nucleating bacteria and organisms that predate on these bacteria can effectively halt frost damage. Pseudomonas fluorescens is a competitive antagonist that lacks the ice nucleating protein and it has proven highly effective as a tool to reduce frost damage in many crops.

Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria Explained

Nitrogen fixing bacteria are single celled organisms that are essentially miniature urea factories, turning N2 gas from the atmosphere into plant available amines and ammonium via a specific and unique enzyme they possess called nitrogenase. Although there are many bacteria in the soil that ‘cycle’ nitrogen from organic material, it is only this small group of specialized nitrogen fixing bacteria that can ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen in the soil.

Most growers are familiar with legume nitrogen fixing bacteria called Rhizobium and the colonies they form inside nodules, visible white lumps on the roots of legumes. It is well established that specifically selected, high performance strains of these symbiotic legume bacteria can fix between 50 to 200 units of nitrogen per season, depending on soil moisture. To do this job, these specific strains need to be inoculated into the legume seed to ensure their numbers are high enough to colonize each plant and to bring about a significant influence on the total nitrogen production. There are also selected endophyte strains which colonise a plants vascular system, utilising plant produced carbohydrates as an energy source in return producing plant available ammonium nitrogen.

The Plant – Bacteria Communication / Feedback System

N fixing bacteria use plant carbon as a high calorie energy source to fuel the biological reaction that converts N2 gas into plant available N compounds. Whether it be the soil dwelling species or the endophyte N fixing species, the plant is controlling the amount of energy (plant carbon) the N fixing bacteria receive to perform their N fixation function. As such the quantity of nitrogen being fixed for plant use is controlled by the plant itself. For example, when there is limited soil moisture nitrogen fixation slows down, dictated by the plants diminishing nitrogen requirements and subsequent frugal supply of carbon to the bacteria. When soil conditions are optimum, nitrogen fixation is maximized by the plant’s increasing supply of carbon to the bacterial colony, in turn increasing N fixation to meet the increasing nitrogen requirements. It works like a feedback system and assures the plant receives just the right amount of nitrogen it requires based on the growing conditions at the time.

Using beneficial microbes can reduce the reliance on expensive NPK products and chemicals, designed to control pathogens. If the right types of beneficial species are introduced to both the soil and plant, then natural Biological processes, including competition and microbial balance can occur.

A recent study conducted at Newcastle university looked at the benefits of applying pyroligneous acid (Pyro AG) and its effect on beneficial plant growth promoting bacteria. The study showed tremendous enhancement of colony-forming units of many strains of beneficial bacteria, including nitrogen fixers, bacillus and pseudomonas, when Pyro Ag was applied at weak concentrations on the soil.

Click here to see the effects on these colony-forming units when using Pyro-Ag

Chillis respond to correct nutrients

Riverland greenhouse grower Nirmal Singh had a problem with his chilli crop with poor growth and production. After soil analysis we found the soil required some adjustments to the nutrients being applied to the crop, via drippers.

After being told his crop needed more insecticides and fungicides we suggested to him that this was not the problem. All the crop needed was a change in diet. Re-evaluating the test results it was clear the soil cations were out of balance. Magnesium Fulvate sprays as well as some Calcium Fulvate and OF64 via drippers was all that was needed to bring the crop back to better health.

The following season saw dramatic increases in yield, after FF50 Bio-Humate and lime was added to the soil before planting. Nutri Life was also included along with regular applications of Calcium Fulvate and OF64 Poly Plus after planting. The results speak for themselves.

Chillis struggling to grow

4-5 weeks later, after applying the correct nutrients, a much healthier crop below.

The next seasons crop below

 

 

Pyro Ag + Microbials aid re-growth in avocado trees.

Grower is amazed at regrowth in his avocado trees.

An avocado grower from Robinvale Victoria was surprised to see a dramatic turnaround of his avocado trees which were suffering from disease. After applying Nutri-Life Bam along with Bio-Tech’s Vermiboost liquid vermicast concentrate via fertigation, a 5 litre per hectare application of Pyro Ag seemed to bring the trees back to life in only 4-5 weeks.

Being a significant bio stimulant to soil microbes in very weak solutions, Pyro Ag has the ability to increase colony-forming units of beneficial bacteria dramatically in a short period of time. This dramatic increase in plant growth promoting bacteria helps plant root systems receive increased nutrient supply with benefits to plant growth.

The following pictures shows the amazing results of this stimulus.

 

 

 

 

 

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