Fertilisers and biostimulants are receiving a lot of attention right now. Growers have long understood that the right nutrition can produce healthier crops, which are then more likely to deliver the high quality and longevity that retailers and consumers demand and, importantly, boost the plant's immune system so it better copes with the challenges of disease. With an urgent need to reduce reliance on agrochemicals, growers are now looking at new ways of managing crop inputs.
One company at the forefront of this endeavour is OMEX Horticulture. Technical sales manager Richard Cameron says Omex has long recognised the importance of nutrition not only to grow bigger crops but also in achieving healthier, stronger plants that go on to provide better-quality fruits and flowers as well as higher consumer satisfaction.
Responding to demand
"Our trials and research team have been working to develop and refine products in response to industry demand, to try and alleviate issues with quality, yield and longevity in a more natural way," says Cameron.
"The old sayings of 'prevention is better than cure' and 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' have relevance in horticulture now that growers are finding the medicine cupboard is slowly being cleared out by legislation and a lack of innovation in the chemical industry, which has relied on old and pretty aggressive chemistry for some time. Often pesticides are like using a hammer to kill a wasp, and are not particularly kind to plant, beneficial insects or the wider environment."
Cameron points out that recently launched Zynergy is an excellent example of how relatively basic foliar nutrients - copper and zinc - can help crops to help themselves as part of an integrated crop management programme. While these natural elements have long been used by growers, it is only more recently that formulations have been improved so that plants can make efficient use of the material. Trials conducted with growers around the country have shown not only a positive response in crops but also a consequential reduction in Phytophthora and Botrytis infections.
"Zynergy is not a crop-protection product and is not sold as such, rather the nutrient effect on the plant improves general plant health and the plant consequently is more naturally resistant against challenges from pests and diseases," Cameron explains. "When used as part of an integrated programme, Zynergy has shown additional benefits to yield, which is particularly useful in the edibles market. Because the make-up of the product is not pesticidal, it can be used in an organic situation and relieve abiotic stresses, and is compatible with most standard agrochemicals and foliar nutrients."
OMEX has also strengthened its range of wetters by introducing two new products, both of which can help plants access nutrition. NA13 helps improve adhesion, deposition and penetration of sprays on the leaf surface, while Kobra reduces surface tension, dry patches and shrinkage in growing media. An improved formulation from OMEX, SW7, now has lower application rates and silicon to alleviate abiotic and biotic stresses and strengthen plants.
Cameron concludes: "Growers should avoid taking a broad-brush approach because every crop and growing season is different. Those who have relied on agrochemicals to fix problems after they happen need to look at how to identify and prevent issues before they take hold, and consider updating their input programmes to consider the needs of each new cultivar and crop type on an individual basis. Any of the major suppliers should be able to help advise customers and share valuable information and experience of what is happening in similar situations around the country."
Well known for its seaweed extracts, Maxicrop has developed a new product for 2017. Xtra-Fol is a liquid fertiliser containing 8-8-7+S, chelated trace elements and Maxicrop seaweed extracts. Although aimed mainly at the edibles market, it also has potential for ornamental production.
Maxicrop commercial sales manager Mike Garner explains: "This general-purpose feed, plus the biostimulant effect of our seaweed extract, makes Xtra-Fol suitable for use on a wide range of ornamental plants, helping to produce strong, healthy plants with visual appeal."
Other nutritional products offered by the company include Maxicrop Plus Sequestered Iron, where the seaweed extract base has 2% sequestered iron to help prevent or alleviate symptoms of iron deficiency in a wide range of plants. "The combination of readily available iron plus seaweed extract helps to produce dark-green foliage and strong, healthy plants," says Garner. "It is particularly suitable for ericaceous plants that are prone to iron deficiency and is usually applied as a foliar spray as required during the growing season."
Maxicrop Plus Tomato Fertiliser has seaweed extract plus high-potash fertiliser 5.1-5.1-6.7 for feeding tomatoes and all flowering plants, tubs and baskets. Maxicrop Original, approved by the Soil Association, is pure seaweed extract and has many benefits such as stimulating beneficial soil microbes, aiding root growth and establishment, and helping plants cope with environmental stress.
Building on the success of Chase SM3 Seaweed Extract and the addition last year of Chase SM4 Seaweed Plus Feed, Chase Organics has now launched Chase SM5. This latest release is another liquid seaweed-based (Ascophyllum nodosum) feed specially formulated to increase the yield and quality of tomatoes and fruit.
SM5 is organic and animal-free, and can be used as part of the Chase three-step organic plant nutrition programme. Combining professional-grade seaweed extract and 100% plant- and mineral-based nutrients, it is designed to promote healthy growth and increased yields in all fruiting crops, especially tomatoes, strawberries, sweet peppers, aubergines and cucumbers, but it is also recommended for use on decorative plants to promote stronger and longer flowering with richer, more intense colours.
Chase SM3 is a pure seaweed extract plant biostimulant for all plant types and is intended for little-and-often use throughout the growing season. Chase SM4 is seaweed extract + 5-2-5 + Ca + Mg + trace elements and is formulated for vegetative growth, promoting healthy, balanced stem and leaf growth as well as a bigger root area.
"Combined with Chase SM4 and SM3, our new Chase SM5 is the third and final step towards naturally bigger, better crops," says Chase Organics extract sales manager Bernard Courtney. "Seaweed is well-known for its use in horticulture and gardens as a powerful biostimulant. The result is healthier plants that make efficient use of nutrients and have increased resistance to stress conditions, such as drought and marginal frosts, leading to improved crop yield and quality."
Chase SM3 and SM5 are available in five litres and SM4 in 20 litres. All are Soil Association Approved.
Any stage of plant production, whether sowing, potting, irrigating or feeding, needs to be time-efficient. Fertigation is one answer. Controlled-release fertilisers (CRFs) are clearly another and have additional advantages for the retailer and consumer. Osmocote has pioneered CRF technology for 50 years and continues to innovate today through ICL.
Now in the fourth generation, dual coating technology has been successfully used in Osmocote Hi End products to delay initial release until later in the crop's growth, matching the plant's increase in nutrient demand. The same technology is now available in new Osmocote Exact Standard High K, where the dual coating works in a more subtle way to deliver higher potassium levels later in the crop to give improved flowering and more compact growth.
The analysis has also been redesigned from 11+11+18 to 12+8+19. This new formulation has improved phosphate release, so the levels can be reduced slightly, giving more room in the granule for increased levels of potassium and other elements. Suitable for container nursery stock, perennials, pot plants and bedding plants, it gives perfect branching, healthy roots, compact growth, leaf shine and excellent colour.
Calcium and magnesium
After successful grower trials last year, ICL has launched Osmocote CalMag 3-4m. This product (10-0-0+17CaO+5MgO) gives continued release of calcium and magnesium, ideal for plants grown in soft-water areas and in peat-reduced media - both situations where nutrient deficiencies are often seen due to the low supply of these key plant nutrients. Again it is suited to container nursery stock, perennials, pot plants and bedding.
One interesting use of the product was on perennial plants where Osmocote CalMag was used in combination with the new Osmocote Exact Hi K. ICL technical manager for fertilisers Andrew Wilson says: "Many autumn/winter potted perennials, such as lupins, emerge strongly in spring and have a high initial demand for nitrogen. The plants then need higher levels of potassium for compact growth and flowering. The combination of Osmocote CalMag and Osmocote Exact High K addresses this tricky nutrient supply issue perfectly."
Another new ICL product successfully trialled last year is Osmocote Iron 3-4m (17.8Fe). Iron deficiency is the top grower nutritional problem affecting plants from petunias to roses and even vinca. It is prevalent at higher pH levels seen in peat-free growing media and shows as a yellow interveinal chlorosis in new leaves.
It widely affects grasses and bamboos. When trialled on Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron' (blood grass), the effect was dramatic. This plant, often marketed with pale-yellow leaves, had better colour, resulting in better photosynthesis and better growth even at high pH.