Nutri-Tech News: Paring Down The Plastic & Maximising Organic Yields through Better Nitrogen Management

Paring Down the Plastic – New NTS Drum Recycling Initiative

I have never felt comfortable with the plastic pollution associated with our liquid fertiliser drums. As my two farms have progressed and expanded, I am horrified to see the ever-increasing pile of petrochemical packaging that will persist in leaching landfill, long after I am gone. Our oceans are in a terrible state, to the point that I often share the stage around the world with scientists who are moved to tears when describing this increasingly irretrievable mess.

In this context, it amazes me that we took so long to banish plastic bags in supermarkets. The next step should be to ban all single-use plastic packaging. The supermarket chain, Aldi, for example, with all of their welcome, low price initiatives, are increasingly packaging fruit and vegetables in single-use, throwaway plastic. Surely we can select our fruit and vegetables from the stand and place them in paper bags to transport home. Perhaps they are trying to avoid the bruising that comes with every squeeze of the avo or pinch of the papaw, but it is hardly an eco-aware practice.

Anyway, we have decided to do our bit to help stem the tide. Initially, this initiative will only apply to customers at our retail outlet on the Sunshine Coast, with Stage 1 involving six of our most popular liquid fertilisers.

Incentivising A Change - $10 Discount When You Return The Drum!

For Stage 1 of the initiative, commencing 12th February, 2019, whenever you return a used 20 litre drum of the following six NTS products to our retail outlet in Yandina, you will receive a $10 discount off the replacement:
Farm Saver Liquid Kelp™
SeaChange KFF™
NTS Fulvic Acid Liquid™
Nutri-Tech Black Gold®
Nutri-Tech Triple Ten™ range
Trio (CMB)™

There will be no delay involved here. You simply exchange the empty drum for a full one. We will thoroughly clean, recycle and relabel the original drum, and it will be reused in the future, as part of this ongoing initiative. You will benefit financially for your environmental awareness and we will feel better about reducing our contribution to the ocean of poison plastic.

This offer is currently only available to Retail customers from our Nutrition Matters Shop at 7 Harvest Road, Yandina (on the beautiful Sunshine Coast).

Maximising Organic Yields through Better Nitrogen Management

This blog was originally intertwined with my 2018 Christmas message.

I suspect many of you may have missed it in the midst of “the silly season”. I feel that this message is particularly important, so I will recycle the original with some expansion and additions.

Lower Yields in Organics are Not How They Should Be

It is a common misconception that conversion to an organic farming system automatically spells lower yields. In this old-school understanding, it is reasoned that you will fall in a heap for a few years, but hopefully catch up when the higher premiums kick in. This is absolute nonsense! Organics is just a different road to Rome. You are allowed to use all trace minerals, magnesium, potassium and sulfur. Your calcium and phosphorus (P) are limited to less soluble forms, but liquid injection with micronised guano (Phos-Life Organic™) can provide all the kick-start you will require. You can further ensure sufficient P by inoculating mycorrhizal fungi and Trichoderma spp on the seed (Nutri-Life Platform®). Both of these organisms are well-researched phosphate solubilisers. There are also several other regenerative practices that can release phosphate from your massive frozen reserves. I always encourage farmers to pay a few dollars extra and measure their total phosphorus in a soil test. You will often discover that you have hundreds, if not thousands, of ppm of this mineral to draw upon, in any soil with a history of phosphate fertilisation.

The major yield limiter in organics, however, is nitrogen. It is the most abundant mineral in the plant and there are limited options within certified organic farming systems. Nitrogen deficiency will usually be the major reason for reduced yield in this system, but N can be much better managed and maximised by adopting some key strategies.

Nitrogen Tips and Strategies for High Production Organics

1) Access the free gift
You must ensure that you have the essentials in place to allow access to the huge reserves of atmospheric nitrogen swirling above your farm. There are, in effect, 5000 truckloads of urea, hovering above every hectare, and you were supposed to garner your share of this free gift.

There are five requirements to unlock this reserve. You must improve your calcium to magnesium ratio to enhance the breathing capacity of your soil. Nitrogen fixers are highly aerobic and they will struggle in a tight, closed, high magnesium soil.

Secondly, there should be a trickle feed of soluble phosphate happening, to ensure production of ATP. This is the battery that energises the enzymic reaction, which converts atmospheric nitrogen to ammonium nitrogen in the soil.

Next, and most importantly, you must have a minimum of 0.5 ppm of molybdenum in your soil, because the enzyme, nitrogenase, is molybdenum-dependent. 80% of the soils we test do not have this minimum requirement. If correction of molybdenum in the soil is not possible, then 50 grams/ha of sodium molybdate (combined with humic acid) as a foliar spray, twice during the crop cycle, will usually supply sufficient molybdenum for that crop.

The fourth requirement is cobalt, as this mineral is now considered “mother’s milk” for nitrogen fixing organisms, and it is lacking in half the soils we test.

Finally, we need to make sure that iron is available, as this is the second component of the nitrogenase enzyme, which converts atmospheric gas to nitrogen in the soil N. Humic acid is a renowned iron solubiliser.

2) Grow your own N
This may well be the most critical requirement for high production organics. You can achieve this with either green manure crops or interplanting legumes. The potential N production of a green manure crop can be estimated by multiplying dry matter by percentage of ground cover by percentage of N. There is always more nitrogen in both legumes and grasses before flowering, so that should always be your turn-in time. Herbicide burn downs should always be avoided, as you will lose a significant percentage of N in the gaseous form. Carbon and sulphur will suffer a similar fate. It is always more productive to work a green manure into the A horizon (the top few inches) to achieve the soil contact to stabilise the three minerals that will otherwise depart to the skies.

A 100% ground-cover at 6 inches high equates to 2.2 tonnes of dry matter per hectare. Each extra inch represents another 150 kgs. For example, if we were to grow a pre-bloom annual legume (containing 4% N) with 100% cover, to 12 inches high, the equation would look like this;

2.2 tonnes + 6 x 150 kg (for the six extra inches) x 100% ground cover x 4% N.

i.e., 3100 kg x 100% x 4%, which equals 124 kg of actual N, or the equivalent of 260 kg of urea. This is ample N to grow a good crop, if it is supplemented with a couple of amino acid foliar sprays (Amino-Max™) and supported with free nitrogen from the atmosphere.

The inclusion of a legume with your cereals, brassicas or grasses will always provide supplemental N for your host crop. This can involve the increasingly popular practice of interplanting a legume directly with another species. Peas and canola are a good example of this practice. Not only does this prove more productive and profitable in the end analysis, but it can also reduce the need for insecticides and fungicides in both crops.

The other N-enhancing strategy involves planting low growing clovers under all cereal crops. Here, you will provide supplemental N, P and Ca while also stimulating the beneficial fungi that create crumb structure and better infiltration of oxygen and water. It is a remarkable win/win strategy and you only need try it once to recognise the benefits.

3) Nitrogen from manure
Manure can prove a very cost-effective source of nitrogen and other key minerals. However, there are some limitations of which you should be aware. You will typically receive just one third of the N component of manure within a single crop cycle and this should be factored into your N budget. Let’s consider an application involving five tonnes per hectare of uncomposted chicken manure with a nitrogen component of 2% (20 kg of N per tonne). Here, you are actually applying 100 kg of nitrogen per hectare, but you will only receive 33 kg of N in that first crop cycle and this is not enough to grow a high yield.

You must also be aware of the accumulative effect of manure applications, with each crop cycle, to avoid oversupply. i.e., if you were to apply a further application of 5 tonnes of chicken manure per hectare, during a second crop cycle, you will also be receiving 33 kg, based upon ongoing release from that initial application. Now you will have 66 kg of N available for that crop and, following a similar application in a third crop, you will now have 100 kg of available N in your soil.

4) Nitrogen fixing inoculums
This is another very productive strategy for organic growers seeking maximum yield. There are options involving blends of the prolific, free-living nitrogen-fixing organism, Azotobacter spp, (Nutri-Life Bio-N™), that can be applied to seed or seedlings, or fertigated, to provide a significant N supply for the season. There are also specialist Azotobacter spp that will live on the leaf for a few weeks and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere directly into the plant (Nutri-Life Bio-Plex™). Both options are particularly cost-effective, but they have a critical requirement that determines their success. Molybdenum must be present as a building block for nitrogenase. Sodium molybdate at 50 grams/ha, included with the inoculum, along with humic or fulvic acid, will ensure that your nitrogen is delivered.

5) Foliar N
The foliar route is many times more efficient than mineral uptake from the roots. It is, in effect, a direct injection. Foliar urea is the preferred option in a non-organic scenario, but here we must seek allowable alternatives. The two contenders include high nitrogen, liquid fish, and amino acid concentrates.

Organic, liquid fish fertilisers vary hugely in their nitrogen. They range from as low as 1.2% up to as high as 5.0% N. Nutri-Sea Liquid Fish™ is an organically certified input with the highest N component of any fish input. It is a dense, concentrated material derived from deep water fish in the oceans between NZ and the Antarctic. These fish require a higher protein component to sustain themselves in extreme temperatures.

Amino acid concentrates are another productive source of foliar N in organics. Amino acids are more readily converted to protein in the plant. They are generally allowable inputs, and they have a strong role to play in organics. Amino acids can boost plant immunity and they can also serve as chelating agents. Amino-Max™ contains good levels of glycine, the smallest of the amino acids. Glycine is recognised as one of the most effective of all chelating agents.

In Conclusion

Nitrogen is the most abundant mineral in the plant and management of this mineral is a hugely important yield determinant. In the absence of nitrogen, the plant cannibalises enzymes, to mine their protein component (proteins are made from nitrogen). Enzymes govern every aspect of plant growth and protective potential. The wheels fall off fairly quickly when nitrogen is underdone and, in this case, you will certainly not enjoy stress-free farming.

Hopefully, these tips and strategies might provide the tools to ensure that your organic and biological yields should never be lower than conventional yields.

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