Nutrition Farming® is more about insight than inputs. It is a knowledge-based approach where the aim is to reduce inputs through smarter farming and increased sustainability. This often involves synergies where certain combinations optimise outcomes and knowledge of these synergies can be the key to success with this approach. In this article I will highlight seven key combinations.
1) AMF and Natural Phosphate
Mycorrhizal fungi and most crop plants enjoy a symbiotic relationship of tremendous benefit to both life forms. The fungi tap into the plant roots to receive a steady flow of glucose laced with nutrients that sponsor the development of a maze of hyphal filaments beneath the plant. These fine, pipe-like attachments provide the equivalent of a secondary root system that actually features up to ten times the surface area of the original roots.
It would seem a no-brainer that we should nurture and protect a creature that improves root function by 1000% but that is unfortunately not the case. Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) have been decimated in our soils through a combination of acid fertilisers that sizzle these fragile filaments, salt fertilisers that dehydrate the fungi, fungicides that kill both good and bad, faulty tillage practices, and herbicides that can kill these beneficial fungi more efficiently than they kill weeds.
It would also seem obvious that reintroducing these root boosters via inoculums would be a very productive strategy. This has certainly proved the case for many growers using Nutri-Life Platform®, the new AMF inoculum from NTS. In fact, the positive feedback about this cost-effective blend has been flooding in from growers involved in both broadacre and horticulture. We have, however seen some variation in the performance of this product. There are times when colonisation is delayed and on most occasions this is related to the amount and type of phosphate applied at planting.
Maximising P Response
AMF offer a host of benefits but perhaps the best known of these relates to improved phosphate delivery. Phosphate in the soil does not remain soluble in soil solution like some minerals. Instead, it tends to stay where it is put and this immobility is further complicated by the fact that applied phosphate tends to complex with positively charged minerals (cations) like calcium and iron, forming an insoluble compound. This results in a shocking inefficiency of acid phosphate fertilisers where growers usually receive just 27% of their phosphate fertiliser investment before it becomes part of a massive, inaccessible bank of locked up P in our soils.
The key to reclaiming this frozen reserve is mycorrhizal fungi, which reach out into ten times more soil volume to recover immobile phosphate while releasing acidic compounds that unlock these reserves. Inoculating with these creatures can result in greatly improved phosphate delivery to the plant with substantial reductions in the need for increasingly expensive, soluble phosphate fertilisers.
However, as with all things, there are some secrets to gaining an optimal response from a mycorrhizal inoculum. The key here is to be aware of the biochemical communication between the host plant and the fungi symbiont. The plant attracts and supports this fungal partner only when it requires soluble phosphate. If you have supplied an ocean of water soluble P at the same time that you are inoculating AMF, there can be problems. The plant is aware that it is amply supplied with all of the P it needs at that time, so it shuts off the supply of food and biochemicals that are specific to AMF colonisation.
Why waste your precious resources to secure a mineral you don’t need? This is the reason that we have seen a more immediate mycorrhizal response when the inoculums are introduced in conjunction with natural phosphate fertilisers like guano and soft rock phosphate. A small amount of DAP/MAP can be combined with the inoculums but it appears that it is best not to exceed 150 kg per hectare.
A combination of guano granules and DAP with a few kilos of NTS Soluble Humate Granules™ works particularly well in conjunction with AMF inoculums. The humic acid buffers the destructive heat of the acid phosphate, thereby protecting the AMF, while stabilising phosphate at the same time. This prevents phosphate from locking up with cations in the soil, effectively making it more plant available for longer.
2) Calcium and Boron
Calcium is the most important mineral in the soil, plant and animal so it is critically important to get your calcium nutrition right. Part of this process involves an understanding of the importance of the trace mineral, boron, in the equation. Boron is to calcium, just what sunlight is to plant growth. It is the partner without which the system struggles.
It is common to see growers disappointed in a lack of liming response who could turn their frowns upside down with the addition of a little boron. When boron levels in the soil are low (below 0.5 ppm), you can expect a substandard calcium response. You can also expect a reduction in soil life activity because boron is responsible for opening the trapdoor that allows the flow of glucose from the chloroplast sugar factories down to the roots and the microbes surrounding the roots. If you shut off the food supply to your workforce you can expect diminishing returns.
Boron should always be combined with humic acid to promote the formation of a boron humate that is much more stable in the soil. Boron is the most leachable of the trace elements and it can only be stored in humus. If your humus levels are low then your boron storage is compromised and it becomes even more important to stabilise this mineral with humates.
3) Precision Nutrition and Profitability
For the past fifteen years, NTS has been offering Prescription Blends™ based on soil test data and designed by our agronomy team. This form of paddock-specific, precision nutrition has proven very productive. We have seen growers double and triple yields using prescription blends over the years and it has really confirmed the importance of mineral balance backed by biology. However, if the soil is really out of balance it can be a little daunting to receive a quote for a blend that addresses all of the problems at one time. Many growers choose the more wallet-friendly option of split applications of a corrective blend over a couple of seasons. The bottom line here is that the applied fertiliser features the exact correctives for your soil so it will tend to perform even when applied at half rates.
4) Nitrogen and Sulfur
Both nitrate and ammonium forms of nitrogen must be converted to protein in the plant and sulfur is an essential driver of this conversion. In the case of nitrate nitrogen, sulfur is required to fire the nitrate reductase enzyme which initiates the conversion of nitrates to protein. Sulfur is also needed to form protein because two of the amino acids, cysteine and methionine, are made from sulfur. A lack of sulfur in your program can contribute to nitrate-packed, watery plants that are susceptible to insect attack and offer poor sustenance to both livestock and people.
Sulfur is no longer found free in the raindrops like it once was. The spectre of acid rain in the 1980’s led to the restriction of sulfur emissions from industry. Even when we recognise the importance of sulfur in the protein equation, and apply this nutrient, there is no guarantee that it will stick around. This is because humus levels in our soils are just a third of what they once were and humus is the storehouse for sulfur.
Gypsum is often the most cost effective way to build your sulfur levels but you can also address nitrogen and sulfur together with the use of ammonium sulfate. This fertiliser can be stabilised with humates and is the favoured nitrogen form in many Soil Therapy™ programs.
To read Part 2 of this article, please click here.