A Management Approach to High-Production Sustainable Agriculture.

Sometimes it can be interesting to chart the birth of an idea. During the preliminaries to a seminar series with American author / consultant, Gary Zimmer, I inadvertently cast myself in the role of training provider, facilitating Farmbis refunds for seminar patrons. This seemingly simple process evolved into a marathon, comprising hundreds of working hours negotiating the difficult terrain surrounding six separate State Government agencies and satisfying their varying requirements. There are often unanticipated benefits from the most tedious of exercises, and in this case I was forced to consider our approach in a different light to help qualify for the subsidy. ‘Management’ is a key word in Farmbis submissions, because it is accepted that improving management skills can create better operators, and this is considered worthy of financial support. The consideration of the NTS approach within a management framework was the initial trigger for the development of this holistic framework, but I needed some deadline pressure to make the next step.

Two months following the ‘Two-Up Tour’, while en route to the Acres USA Conference in Minneapolis, I found myself bailed up in a hotel room in central San Francisco, racking my brains for a fresh approach to use as a framework for my conference presentation. Amidst the midnight sirens and squealing car tyres, this management approach to high-production agriculture was born.

Success Skills

The past ten years have seen a great deal of ground covered in our ongoing quest for a better way. Sometimes we can almost hear the groans as a new product or concept is launched barely before the dust has settled on the previous release. This new umbrella may help to clarify any confusion created by our rapid development. It may help to pull together the component parts of a working model, which should simplify the route towards sustainability and the pursuit of profit. Management skills determine success or failure in any business venture.

In all four categories, management involves achieving and maintaining balance. Whether it is the critical balance between calcium and magnesium in the mineral realm, microbes like fungi and bacteria, or the balance between pest and predator, it is equilibrium, which governs the growing game – as it does with all things in life.

Mineral Management

After monitoring results in thousands of soil programs over the past years, there is no doubt about the validity of William Albrecht’s soil balancing philosophy. Cation balance and mineral nutrition may not always achieve the desired changes in the physical, chemical and biological structure of the soil, but they form the foundation upon which profitable sustainability is built. A good CEC soil test and an understanding of the Albrecht approach are essential prerequisites for sound mineral management.

Mineral management is really as basic as applying exactly what is needed when it is needed, but this precision nutrition is obviously not possible unless we understand what we need and why it is necessary. Soil Therapy™ is an educational tool that can enhance this understanding.

The key to mineral fertilising is to achieve a balance between soluble and slow release, to ensure adequate nutrition for the complete crop cycle. Many of the concepts are common sense. There is no logic behind throwing a bunch of soluble nutrients in the soil at planting and hoping that some nutrition remains when the money-earning portion of the crop is developing several months later. Similarly, there is a danger in relying upon the rapid release of recently applied lime, dolomite or rock phosphate when these materials are slow-release. Soluble, acid-treated phosphate should always be supplied with a rock phosphate backup. Slow-release limestone should always receive calcium nitrate or liquid lime support.

Calcium is a prime example of this soluble / slow-release balance. Calcium is the most important nutrient in mineral management, because this element governs the uptake of other nutrients. Calcium may be the ‘trucker of all minerals’, but if a serious calcium deficit is identified, then limestone may not release sufficient calcium to enable optimum nutrient transport for the immediate season. Calcium problems often stem from the fact that nitrogen and potassium are translocated at a faster rate than calcium. Calcium creates the cell division needed to keep up with the rapid growth fuelled by N and K. 80% of leaf test data we analyse is deficient in calcium. The supply of soluble calcium is the secret to this shortfall. NTS have developed two rapid-release calcium sources to supplement slow-release limestone. Lime-Life™ is a micronised liquid lime, which also features fulvic acid. If liming is not economically viable, then Lime-Life™ can also provide cost-effective root-zone calcium management. In this instance, it is not a lime replacement, but rather a band-aid to avoid yield limitation.

Mineral Magnifiers

The balance of ‘soluble’ and ‘slow-release’ as a fertilising strategy is an important step toward achieving mineral availability and efficiency, but there is another step that can help maximise the performance of fertilisers or mineral additives.

Humates are facilitators of mineral stability and availability, and they should form part of every program. Humates also play an important role in biological management, but from a mineral perspective the benefits of humic acid include:
• The chelation of cations: Positively charged nutrients (cations) like calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and manganese are far more plant-available when they have been chelated, ie positively charged nutrients are attracted toward the negatively charged plant surface, but congestion is created in the rush. The entry points become clogged and uptake is inefficient. Chelating agents neutralise the positive charge, allowing much easier access into the plant.
• The complexing of anions: Negatively charged nutrients (anions) like phosphate and boron are notorious for their instability. Phosphate bonds with cations like calcium, iron and aluminium and becomes insoluble in the process. If phosphate can be complexed with humic acid, it is not free to form these insoluble bonds, and full phosphate utilisation becomes a possibility. Boron is the most leachable of the trace elements. If it can be complexed with humic acid, then boron can remain in the root-zone for the full crop cycle. NTS market a stabilised boron product, which has been complexed into a soluble humic acid granule (NTS Stabilised Boron Granules™).
• Increased nutrient uptake: Humic acid is a cell-sensitiser, which increases the permeability of cell membranes to allow the plant to absorb 30 to 35% more than normal. There is a compatibility problem, however, when using liquid humic acid to stabilise and magnify minerals. Liquid humic acid (potassium humates) tends to fall from suspension when combined with some fertilisers. In fact, phosphate fertilisers, sulphate-based inputs and calcium nitrate are all likely to create this fallout and block spray jets. NTS have addressed this problem with the development of NTS Soluble Humate Granules™ – soluble humic acid granules (2 to 5 mL), which can be included with any fertilisers to stabilise and magnify these nutrients. Humic acids should always be evaluated in terms of their fulvic acid component. Good quality humic acid should contain a minimum of 14% fulvic acid. Fulvic acid plays a role in all four management categories, but its role in mineral management is that of solubilisation. Fulvic acid is a mineral dissolver, which can speed the release of slow-release inputs and can also liberate ‘tied-up’ minerals like iron, manganese or phosphate.

Microbe Management

Microbe management can be seen in terms of workplace health and safety. The performance of this silent workforce is dependent on the conditions we provide for them. ‘Health’, in this context, relates to the supply of organic matter and minerals, while ‘safety’ is largely about the biological impact of toxic inputs.

[![Bacteria and fungi both have very important roles to play in biological agriculture](http://www.nutri-tech.com.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/fungi-and-bacteria.jpg "fungi-and-bacteria")](http://www.nutri-tech.com.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/fungi-and-bacteria.jpg)Bacteria and fungi both have very important roles to play in biological agriculture.. Again, the key is balance.
A healthy diet for micro-organisms involves organic matter. While compost, humates and manure are all sources of organic matter; the most cost-effective supply of this element involves green manure crops and cover crops. Crop residues and stubble can also offer a rare opportunity to feed the soil, by promoting the conversion of organic matter to the more stable organic carbon or humus. The skill here is to maximise the organic carbon conversion rate. The rules for efficient conversion of organic matter to humus include the following:

• Shallow-incorporate residues: Allowing easy access for oxygen to support the aerobic cellulose digesters.
• Check and correct your carbon / nitrogen ratio: Nitrogen is required to convert plant material to humus. If you have just stripped out all of the available nitrogen with your last crop, then a bag of urea or some other N source may be needed to kick-start the conversion process.
• Use a microbial inoculum to speed up decomposition: The faster the organic carbon conversion, the better the humus gains. The NTS product called Nutri-Life Accelerate™ contains several voracious species of cellulose-digesting fungi. Nutri-Life Accelerate™ can be applied for $2 to $7 per hectare, and the added fungi will also supply new recruits to replenish depleted fungi workforces.

Minerals are the other ‘health issue’ for microorganisms. Calcium leads the pack in nutritional importance, partly because it is a cell-strengthener, and when you only consist of a single cell, your outer wall becomes particularly significant. Calcium-deficient chooks produce eggshells that crush at the slightest pressure. Picture a single-celled organism as that egg, and it is not hard to see why calcium is so important for healthy microorganisms.

Calcium is also responsible for the availability of another microbe essential – oxygen. Oxygen is arguably the most important element for beneficial microorganisms, as most of these creatures are aerobic. The calcium / magnesium ratio determines the availability of oxygen in the soil.

A specific mineral package is involved the fixation of nitrogen in the soil. Only 20% of the nitrogen utilised by commercial crops is supplied from a bag. A large chunk of the nitrogen that determines bottom-line profitability is provided by nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These species include the nodule-dwelling Rhizobium, associated with legumes, and free-living nitrogen-fixers, like Azotobacter. Both species convert atmospheric nitrogen (NH2) to ammonium nitrogen (NH3) in the soil, via an enzyme called Nitrogenase. All enzymic reactions require an energy source, and in this case the power is provided by a phosphate-based compound called ATP. Adequate phosphate, then, is a prerequisite to enable access to this ‘free’ nitrogen source. The Nitrogenase enzyme also contains a compound consisting of iron and molybdenum, so these elements are also essential for nitrogen fixation. Cobalt also contributes to the cause, so a mineral package consisting of phosphate, iron, molybdenum and cobalt is the key to nitrogen riches. Calcium (for oxygen) and organic matter (as a food source) complete the requirements for microbe management in relation to nitrogen fixation.

77 Cell Feeders

The other primary considerations for microbe health relate to broad-spectrum mineral nutrition. The first cell that oozed from the Precambrian Ocean contained 77 minerals – nothing that succeeds in nature is accidental. If this original cell contained this broad spectrum then, in all likelihood, each of these minerals has a role to play in cellular health. At present, just 17 of the 77 are considered, but every few years the benefits of another mineral are ‘discovered’. Silica is the current flavour of the month, and the functions now attributed to this previously unrecognised nutrient are quite profound. The obvious solution to the question of the specific roles of obscure micro-nutrients is to supply the complete package. Whatever their role, they are only required in parts per billion, so it is not a major cost to cover the field. There are three main sources of broad-spectrum minerals:

  1. Fish or Kelp: Seawater contains the full mineral spectrum, and ocean-derived products mirror the medium in which they mature.
  2. Humates: (Brown coal) and black coal contain the same mineral density that was found in the ancient plants from which they were created. The mighty Brontosaurus, feeding on plants that eventually became coal, weighed in at 70 tonnes, and yet this creature had a mouth roughly the size of a horse! This giant lizard must have grazed upon plant life with 30 times more mineral content than our current vegetation to sustain this body weight with such limited intake capacity.
  3. Rock Dust: Contains broad-spectrum, slow-release minerals, but this release time can be reduced if this material is combined with humates or compost.

NTS offer a high analysis, cost-effective liquid fish (Nutri-Sea™) and **kelp **(Tri-Kelp™ and SeaChange™). We are also leaders in humate technology, offering 17 different humic or fulvic acid-based products. Black coal is a major component of the composted, high-carbon fertiliser Nutri-Store 180®.

Microbial Balance

Just as the calcium / magnesium ratio rules when we consider mineral balance, the ratio between fungi and bacteria is of critical importance in the world of microorganisms. Dr. Elaine Ingham has trail-blazed research into relative microbial balance. She has determined that fungi are more seriously affected by farm chemicals and soil mismanagement than bacteria. The majority of our agricultural soils are now fungi-deficient, and this imbalance can explain low brix levels, low calcium and phosphate levels in the leaf, limited disease resistance and poor retention of calcium in some soils.

The Fungi-Calcium Relationship

Dr. Elaine Ingham has designed a beautifully simple experiment, which graphically demonstrates the biological link to calcium plant availability. In her three-pot experiment, sterilised potting mix was used, which did not contain a clay component (clay is the storage medium for calcium). Calcium is added to Pot 1, and following watering, the potting mix is tested, and there was zero calcium retention. A bacteria-dominated compost was added to Pot 2. Calcium was applied, the mix watered and once again tested for calcium. This time there was 2% calcium retention. Fungi-dominated compost was added to Pot 3, and the same procedure followed. Testing of this pot showed 100% calcium retention. Microscopic magnification revealed every little fungus with his hyphae wrapped around a calcium ion, holding on for grim death. Calcium was that important to these microbes, they were not prepared to forfeit a single ion.

Tips to Correct or Avoid a Fungal Deficit

The removal of toxic chemicals is the single most effective strategy to reduce fungi destruction. Dr. Elaine Ingham suggests that the herbicide Atrazine, for example, is actually a more effective fungicide than the host of chemicals actually designed for this job. Herbicides remain the principle stumbling block for conventional growers considering organic conversion. The technology now exists to virtually guarantee equivalent, if not improved production, growing organically. Biological fertilisers and biological management have advanced considerably since the days of animal manure and sulphur. There are also a host of mechanical management tools now available for weed control, but if this option is not feasible, then consider these compromises:

  1. Include fulvic acid with all chemicals.
  2. Feed the soil to encourage fungal proliferation.
  3. Introduce fungi-based inoculums.

Fulvic acid has a remarkable capacity for absorption. In this context, it is quite similar to activated charcoal, which is administered to poison victims to reduce the effects of the poisons. Fulvic acid, with a CEC of 1400, can absorb and isolate toxins to reduce their damage potential. Fulvic acid is an ideal additive to increase the sustainability of herbicides.

Glyphosate is a perfect example of chemical intervention with unanticipated side effects. Heralded as a completely biodegradable insecticide, the original travelling salesmen reportedly swigged on sample bottles to demonstrate the harmlessness. No doubt these early reps eventually paid the price for their naivety, but the problem with Glyphosate appears to be largely biological. Glyphosate and other herbicides kill single-celled plants, called algae, which live on the surface to access sunlight (needed for the photosynthesis process). These organisms produce sugars, which are an important energy source for the bacteria and fungi workforce. In the absence of energy, beneficial microbe numbers decline and opportunistic pathogens are allowed entry to the root-zone. Glyphosate is actually biodegradable, and if it is broken down rapidly in the soil, damage can be minimised. The problem is compounded when residues remain in the soil for extended periods, due to low microbe counts.

When fulvic acid is used with Glyphosate, 30% less herbicide is needed, due to the cell-sensitising capacity of fulvic acid. The high CEC (1400) of Fulvic 1400™ absorbs the active chemical and isolates it from the surrounding soil life. Fulvic acid promotes bacteria to increase their rate of biodegration. Glyphosate, which may have remained in a biologically compromised soil for six months, continuing to decimate algae, can now be biodegraded rapidly. In this manner, the fulvic acid inclusion, which is essentially cost-free, can dramatically reduce the biological damage associated with chemical weed control.

Fungi Food

The foods required to encourage fungal proliferation include:
• Complex carbohydrates rather than the simple sugars, like molasses and sucrose, which are preferred by bacteria. Liquid kelp (SeaChange™) or kelp meal are ideal sources of complex sugars.
• Humic acid is a powerful fungal promotant and food source.
• Fibrous cover crops: Young, succulent cover crops are bacteria food. The older, more fibrous crops are more likely to attract fungi, ie don’t turn in your cover crop too early.
• Saponins: Professor Ingham has identified the fungi-promoting potential of these plant extracts. NTS has released a product called Nutri-Stim Saponins™.
• Fibrous compost is both a food source and a home base for fungi.

Fungi Inoculums

Interseeding fungi-dominated plants amongst conventional crops is an interesting possibility to address imbalances. Professor Elaine Ingham suggests that the use of low growing mint plants amongst cotton or other field crops could act as a mycorrhizal inoculant in fungi-depleted soils. NTS market several microbe products containing fungi, including: Nutri-Life 4/20™, Nutri-Life Accelerate™, Nutri-Life TrichoShield™, Nutri-Life Root-Guard™ and Nutri-Life Myco-Force™.

Species Enhancement

Microbe management, in general, can also involve the inclusion of a specific species to achieve a desired result. NTS has exclusive world marketing rights for eight microbial blends developed over thirty years and involving a total of 40,000 university and field trials. There is an exciting potential for microbe-assisted nutrition, which NTS continue to explore.

Nutri-Life Bio-N™, for example, involves 126 strains of Azotobacter, which can fix 50 to 70 kg of nitrogen per hectare, while releasing plant growth stimulants, vitamins, amino acids and anti-fungal metabolites. After 18 months in the Australian market place, this product is now amongst the top five selling products in the 170-product NTS range. This impressive sales growth is directly related to product performance.

Nutri-Life Bio-P™ involves phosphate solubilising bacteria capable of gradually releasing the ten billion dollars of phosphate ‘tied up’ in insoluble form in our agricultural soils.

Plant Management

Crop Monitoring – the indispensable management tool.

When both Mineral and Microbe Management have been addressed there is still a need to monitor the plant to assess the relative success of these programs. Often nutrient balance can’t be achieved immediately and imbalances can create ‘lock-ups’ or reductions in nutrient availability. Environmental conditions like cold weather or waterlogging may affect nutrient uptake, and if there are any disease or nematode problems affecting the roots, this will also reduce the plant’s capacity to feed itself from the soil. Monitoring is critical, because by the time we discover the visible evidence of a deficiency, we are already too late to avoid yield limitation.

Leaf Analysis is both a problem-solver and a monitoring tool, and it should be used in all crops at least twice per season. Nutri-Tech Solutions P/L (NTS) offer a leaf testing service through EAL for just $60.50 (inc GST) per sample. These tissue tests form part of our Plant Therapy™ approach, which also includes a comprehensive analysis and programming service based upon the leaf analysis data.

We also encourage growers to monitor their own progress in the field, using hand-held meters and measuring tools as part of this Plant Therapy™ approach. The most valuable of these tools are the Refractometer and the Plant Sap pH-Meter. The Refractometer measures brix levels in the leaf. Brix is a measure of dissolved solids. It is generally considered a measurement of plant sugars, but there is a direct relationship between sugar levels and mineral levels within the plant. The higher the brix, the better mineralised the plant, and both plant health and productivity increase as brix levels are built.

The Plant Sap pH-Meter is the focus of a new concept with tremendous promise. American inventor / researcher, Bruce Tainio, has determined that the sap from the leaf or stem of all plants should measure 6.4. Whether mango or melon, pumpkin or pea, if the sap pH is below 6.4, then that plant is predisposed toward fungal attack, because it is lacking either calcium, magnesium or potassium cations in the leaf. The further the plant drops below 6.4, the higher the likelihood of fungal problems.

If the leaf sap measures higher than 6.4, then there is a shortage of an anion like nitrogen, phosphorus or sulphur. In our experience, low sap pH readings are most often related to a calcium shortage, while high readings often spell a phosphate deficit. If both of these nutrients happen to be low, then the more serious deficiency will determine the sap pH. If the sap pH exceeds 6.4, then there is a predisposition toward insect attack. The higher the sap pH, the higher the insect pressure. Refractometers and Horiba Plant Sap pH-Meters are both imported and distributed by NTS.

Yield Building with Leaf Test Data

The Big Four Nutrients

American author/consultant, Gary Zimmer, has discovered that, if four particular minerals are maintained at luxury levels in the leaf of all crops, maximum yield and quality can be expected. We have researched this claim based on our seven years of test data, and this appears to be an important finding. The four elements in question are calcium, phosphorus, boron and magnesium. The elements we are really chasing here are calcium and phosphorus. Boron and magnesium are included in the quartet, largely because boron is a calcium synergist and magnesium pushes phosphorus uptake.

Important patterns become apparent. It is calcium and phosphorus which determine brix levels, just as it is calcium and phosphorus that most often determine plant sap pH balance. The section on Microbe Management highlighted a serious fungal deficiency in Australian soils. Fungi are the key to biological availability of both calcium and phosphorus. The section on Mineral Management covered the lockout of calcium due to oversupply of nitrogen and potassium. Plant Management involves bypassing these problems in the soil with foliar feeding or fertigation.

How to Build Luxury Leaf Levels of Calcium and Phosphorus

It is unusual to see luxury levels of calcium and phosphorus in the leaf, and a strategy is often required to increase the levels of these two elements. When attempting to build these levels, balance should always be a prime consideration. If, for example, calcium is needed but nitrogen levels are high (a common scenario), calcium nitrate should be avoided. If phosphate levels are low yet nitrogen levels are high, then MAP or DAP are not suitable. There is a technology that offers both high-analysis calcium and phosphorus in an inexpensive, rapid-release organic form without the unnecessary nitrogen. We have termed this technology MMS (Micronised Mineral Suspensions). Here, desirable minerals like calcium and phosphorus are ground down to a 5-micron particle, dramatically increasing the total surface area available for conversion to plant available ions. These key minerals are then stored in a liquid suspension, which also contains a mineral solubiliser called fulvic acid.

Lime-Life™, for example, contains 39% plant available calcium (double the calcium content of calcium nitrate). Gyp-Life™ contains less calcium, but it is a good source of sulphur, if that element is required, and it can be a valuable tool for sodium management. Phos-Life™ is the new release in this liquid range, and includes high levels of natural phosphorus (around 10.4%), 26% calcium and an impressive trace element profile. All three of these MMS ‘living liquids’ can be foliar-sprayed or fertigated to build luxury levels of calcium and phosphorus. BFA certification is approved for these as well as Dia-Life™. Phos-Life™, in particular, should fill a major gap in the organic industry, where liquid, organic phosphate sources are limited.

If calcium and nitrogen are both needed, the most cost-effective solution is calcium nitrate, but it should be chelated with fulvic acid to magnify the response. If phosphorus and potassium are both required, then the preferred input is a material called MKP (mono-potassium phosphate), which is a very clean source of both elements (P-22.5%, K-34%). MKP should be combined with fulvic acid (Fulvic 1400™) for maximum effect. MKP can also provide a degree of fungal control on the leaf.

Helping the Helpers

Boron and magnesium are members of the ‘Big Four’, partly because they magnify the uptake of calcium and phosphorus. Magnesium is a powerful phosphate promoter. It is sometimes possible to achieve a better phosphorus increase (according to leaf analysis) by applying soluble magnesium, than can be achieved by applying actual phosphorus. Magnesium rarely reaches the desired luxury levels in the leaf, even in high magnesium soils. Once again, soil-based ‘lock-ups’ are involved and it is preferable to by-pass the soil and take the direct foliar route into the plant. There are three favoured sources of cost-effective, soluble magnesium and these include Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salts), Magnesium Nitrate and Mag-Life™. Fulvic acid (Fulvic 1400™) should be included with all three inputs to improve their performance.

Boron is the final ‘Big Four’ consideration. Boron is the most leachable of the trace elements and foliar supplementation is invariably required to achieve luxury boron levels in the leaf. Calcium may be the trucker of all minerals, but boron is the steering wheel. In order to achieve the maximum calcium response, a little boron should be included with all calcium inputs. We favour Calcium Borate or NTS Stabilised Boron Granules. Any of these three can be dissolved and included with Lime-Life™, Calcium Nitrate or Phos-Life™ to boost the calcium component of these inputs.

All of the ‘Big Four’ inputs described above (including Calcium and Magnesium Nitrate and Epsom Salts) are either imported or manufactured by NTS, and can be competitively supplied throughout Australia.

The Secrets of Foliar Fertilising

Foliar fertilising is the best application technique to achieve the precision required for efficient plant management. If leaf analysis or field monitoring confirms any shortage, the problem can be rapidly and efficiently corrected with the appropriate foliar fertiliser. There are, however, several factors that determine the success of the foliar approach. The seven secrets of foliar fertilising are as follows:

  1. 60% calcium base saturation is required to ensure maximum foliar uptake. In low calcium broadacre soils, where liming is not economically feasible, liquid lime (Lime-Life™) applied directly to the rootzone can create a comparable short-term effect.

  2. A fine mist spray, preferably with air assist, is required to supply the small droplet size, which is necessary to gain entrance through the stomata – the tiny breathing pores largely located on the underside of the leaf. These pores are each surrounded by a picket fence of fine hairs, which prevent the entry of larger droplets.

  3. Good timing guarantees peak performance. The time of the day, the time of the month and the time of the year are all relevant, as is timing within the particular crop cycle.

  4. Early morning is the time the plant normally absorbs dew, so foliar spraying late afternoon, evening or early morning will coincide with this natural feeding cycle to improve results. Note: The plant is unable to absorb foliar nutrients in temperatures exceeding 32°C.

  5. Any of the six days leading up to a full moon are prime time for foliar-fertilising, while results will be poor during any of the six days leading up to a new moon. This is not some sort of cosmic, hippy theory – the moon governs the movement of water (think of the tides). The plant is 94% water. Water moves within the plant more vigorously under full moon influence and foliar nutrients are more efficiently translocated.

  6. Foliar-fertilising can be invaluable during winter, as root uptake of nutrients like phosphate is negatively affected by cold or wet conditions.

  7. Young foliage is particularly absorbent. Flowering and subsequent seed or fruit formation is highly nutrient-dependent. Leaf analyses and foliar correction should be tied to these two critical periods – ie foliar spray field crops 30 days after germination and again before flowering. Foliar-fertilise fruit crops before flowering and whenever a new flush promises good absorbency. Foliar fertilisers can also be used to build fruit size (if necessary).

  8. Use foliar-enhancers with all nutrient applications. The categories of foliar enhancers include chelating agents, uptake enhancers and full-spectrum feeders. There are only two materials that encompass all categories, and these are fulvic acid (Fulvic 1400™) and liquid kelp (Tri-Kelp™ and Seachange™). Both fulvic and kelp can chelate nutrients, increase their uptake, promote growth and flowering and provide complete trace mineral coverage (i.e. kelp contains over 60 micronutrients).

  9. Monitor conductivity and pH of the spray solution. Conductivity should be as close to 2000 as possible. If the conductivity of the final dilution is less than 1200 there will be a disappointing response. If it is higher than 2000 there may be a problem with leaf burn. The ideal pH range of the solution should be somewhere between 6 and 7 pH, with a more acidic solution producing a reproductive response, and alkalinity promoting growth.

  10. Use a good spray oil with all foliar applications. This helps with rain protection, improves target penetration, reduces drift and evaporation, and increases coverage and systematic response. On the basis of customer feedback we believe that Cloak Spray Oil™ is the best product of its type on the market.

  11. Don’t use the foliar approach to replace soil-based nutrition! Maximum results will always be achieved with a holistic approach, where everything is considered and managed efficiently. The goal is to realise the genetic potential of your particular crop.

Realising Genetic Potential

The NTS Management approach covers every base. If Mineral, Microbe, and Plant Management has been efficient then yield improvement is inevitable. We do not know the genetic potential of many commercial plants. The radish taken from our NTS trial plot is a prime example. While there may not be much market potential for a 20-cm, 900-gram radish, this freak, which was as crisp and juicy as its baby brothers, highlights the fact that we really don’t know how much we can gain if we provide the plant with perfect conditions.

Pest Management

In theory, if we were able to instigate all of the Mineral, Microbe and Plant Management concepts covered in this article, there should be a minimum need for pest management. There is no doubt that nutrition is linked to pest and disease pressure. The NTS trial plots, which are comprehensively managed, are disease-free and insect pressure is practically non-existent. If pest management is required, there is a rapidly growing range of non-toxic alternatives, which do not compromise the health of both growers and consumers. Biological management is radically different to chemical control. Chemical control is a reactive response based on fear. Biological management is pro-active working with nature rather than against her. Fear becomes fascination because fear is based upon the unknown. When we understand the system, this negative emotion becomes irrelevant. Abuse of the soil and excuse for poor performances become consideration and explanation.

Non-toxic pest management involves the combination of IPM principles and new-generation biological and botanical materials.

Botanical Breakthrough for Insect Management

Section on Botanical pest management removed at the request of the APVMA in Australia. For International enquiries regarding this section please contact Nutri-Tech here.

Biological Disease Management

Microbial balance is the key to disease management. Disease is a symptom of poor balance. The key is to address that imbalance, and this should involve a combination of the mineral and microbe management skills considered earlier and task-specific microbial inoculums. There are new microbial products, which address virtually all problems, including those related to mould, rot, nematodes, insects and pathogenic bacteria. Specialist fungi, for example, can be introduced, which can induce plague diseases in insect hosts. There are varous species of bacteria  that are showing tremendous potential as a seed-dressing and in foliar sprays. These beneficial bacteria release metabolites, which are antagonistic to a wide range of pathogens in the soil and on the leaf.

Predatory fungi can hunt down and devour pathogens including phytophthora, fusarium, rhizoctonia, sclerotinia, pythium and rust. Nematodes can now be managed using a blend of nematode-trapping fungi.

The NTS approach involves more than the simple addition of a microbial inoculum. We will always provide backup for the newcomers with appropriate food sources and other support inputs.

Prices accurate at time of publication.