When it comes to crop protection, it’s easy to forget how important plant nutrients can be in helping crops ward off potential problems, from voracious pests to deadly diseases. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: The best defense is a good offense. And there’s no more effective offense than a healthy, strong, vigorous plant.
So for this, the third installment in our four-part series on crop protection, we talked to a couple of experts on how to ensure your crops can be as healthy as possible. Wayne Tucker is with Bio S.I. Technology, LLC, whose products help fertilizers and chemicals be more efficient and rebuild, restore, and renew the soil at the same time. Ken Dart is the national technical and marketing manager for Agro-K Corp. The company’s products are formulated to be quickly and rapidly used by vegetable crops at peak times for optimal performance.
Q1 What are the key attributes you look for when develop-ing plant nutrient products for vegetable crops?
Wayne Tucker: [They include:]
what vegetable is being grown; what type of soil will it be grown in; water availability; what the crop nutrition requirements are; and will my products help overall production, nutrient uptake, and reduce cost.
Ken Dart: There are two things you have to look at to be successful:
1) For the product to be formulated in a way that provides quick and thorough uptake in a safe manner. It also needs to go in quickly enough in those peak demand windows. If the product doesn’t get in in that peak demand window, the grower isn’t getting the full value of the application.
2) It also needs to be mixable with insecticides, fungicides, and plant growth regulators to avoid separate application trips. The product is only as good as the timing the grower uses for the application. It can be a great product, but if the timing is wrong, the grower won’t receive the full value of the application.
Q2 What are vegetable growers saying is most important when it comes to plant nutrition?
Tucker: [Vegetable growers are asking:] Will the products I am using help my production and help control costs?
[They also ask] what products can I use to improve quality, shelf life, and reach the market earlier? Our nutrition programs address these concerns as well as their cause — not just the symptoms.
Dart: The biggest thing they discuss is balanced nutrition to achieve their quality objectives. That can mean increasing marketable quality in yield, increasing shelf and storage life, and reducing specific issues like tip burn in lettuce, blossom end rot in tomatoes, too small of heads in broccoli and cauliflower, poor color in tomatoes, and premature breakdown during transport.
Q3 What types of products do you have coming down the pike for vegetable growers?
Tucker: We have new microbial inoculants that have microbes as well as mycorrhizae in them. These products will help reduce crusting, possibly earlier maturity, better nutrient uptake, as well as make water and fertilizer
Dart: We have some nutrient-based phosphites that allow the grower to use the right nutrient at the right time in a phosphite formulation that allows very rapid and complete uptake of the nutrient, even through waxy cuticles, into the plant quickly enough to support peak demand. The phosphite formulation allows for complete plant movement through the xylem and phloem.
Q4 Where do you see the future of the vegetable crop nutrition category headed?
Tucker: We believe the products must address several problems the growers are facing at one time. So they will have to be effective in plant nutrition, but also soil rebuilding and improving nutrient uptake by the plants.
Dart: Two things: The first is much more effective tie-in between crop nutrition and disease management in the crop for more effective disease control. Growers are going to begin to understand the benefits of balanced crop nutrition as a significant cultural method to improve their disease control and improve the postharvest performance of their crop.
The second is grocery retailers and the growers themselves will begin to see they can influence the food value by how growers fertilize their crops. By how they utilize calcium and the calcium balance with nitrogen, and use of balanced nutrition, it improves the food value of that crop for the consumer.