July 20, 2021 5:32 pm Published by Donna

Think more holistically about potato crop management and you’ll be better prepared when complications occur.

That’s the view of OMEX® consultant agronomist Dean Konieczka, who says that growers’ single ambition — no matter what crop they’re growing — should be to reduce the threat of plant stress.

“Let’s go back to basics,” he says. “Every plant in every crop — it’s programmed to generate yield. In the case of potatoes, that’s vegetative yield.

“Tubers. The plant wants to produce as many of those as possible, thanks to its genetic programming.

“But this ability to achieve its genetic potential depends upon its physiological capacity. When we put together a crop protection or crop management program, we’re modifying the local environment to give the crop everything it needs — and nothing it doesn’t — to reach its genetic capacity.

“Allowing the plant to achieve genetic capacity is the surest way of maximizing your yield,” Konieczka says.

So far, so good. And probably nothing new to the modern, progressive U.S. potato grower — integrated crop management programs are familiar and long-established.

“But we’re reaching the limits of what we can do with that external environment. That’s why we’ve started looking at what we can do with the internal environment: the plant’s systems and processes.

“Can we somehow improve, or boost, what’s going on inside the plant?”

Research from the United Kingdom, one of Europe’s major potato producers, appears to suggest we can. Scientists from OMEX® decided to focus more closely on the connection between nutrition and crop health, a topic that’s suffered more than its fair share of pseudo-science, snake-oil remedies and ‘miracle cures’.

“That reputation has, unfortunately, discouraged a lot of proper research,” laments Konieczka.

OMEX® worked with the University of Nottingham, a leading agricultural research institute, and consultancy Eurofins to observe how availability of copper and zinc might improve the potato crop’s ability to withstand late blight caused by Phytophthora.

“We had some very interesting results,” Konieczka reports. “Not only did we find that the micronutrient combination relieved pressure on conventional fungicide treatments, but it also gave us a measurable yield increase.

“And it’s common sense, too. If a plant is healthy, well-fed and unstressed, of course it’s less likely to succumb to infection and disease.

“In light of the increasing number of blight strains showing resistance to available fungicides, it’s also reassuring to find that there are other steps growers can take to avoid infection.”

The replicated trials featured Cell Power® Zynergy™, a combination of copper, zinc and organic acids.

Zinc helps to maintain the plant’s integumentary system, which comprises the epidermis, leaf cuticle and plant hairs and acts as the first line of defense against physical damage and attack from pathogens. High levels of zinc improve elasticity, wound healing and disease suppression. Meanwhile copper facilitates the production of phenolic compounds, a diverse group of plant metabolites that influence plant growth and defense responses.

The OMEX® R&D team developed a special formulation that enhanced the nutrients’ ‘bio-availability’ — how easily the plant can absorb and put the product to use.

“Essentially, we’ve created a fertilizer that acts like a fungicide, without actually being one,” explains Konieczka, who says that while scientists aren’t yet 100% sure of the mode of action, there is certainty that it doesn’t rely on fungicidal activity.

“What we do know is that by increasing nutrient bio-availability, we can help the plant to better withstand the attack by the pathogen.”

Konieczka says that in a low-fungicide input scenario, Zynergy™ has a statistically significant impact on disease levels when applied early in the season.

In field plots, Zynergy™ was mixed with half-rate fluazinam and a foliar feed. Researchers reported that the canopy looked better than on fungicide-only plots, which Konieczka says helps to explain the yield increase. “A better canopy means a longer-lasting canopy, which can photosynthesize for longer — sending more carbohydrates to those important tubers.”

Most striking were the trials with popular variety Maris Piper. It accounts for around one-fifth of the U.K. maincrop and is similar to Russet Burbank in terms of both popularity and blight susceptibility.

“By applying Zynergy™ in combination with foliar feed and fluazinam, we saw a 14.5% increase in marketable yield, a return of investment of more than 30:1,” Konieczka observes.

“But remember: Zynergy’s™ not a substitute for fungicides. It’s an additive: a highly effective foliar fertilizer that has real benefits in an integrated crop management system. We’re not making a plant protection claim — that’s why we describe it as a ‘functional fertilizer’.

“Treat it as a protectant and you’ll buy yourself a bit more flexibility in your blight spray program. And judging by the U.K. trials, up to 60 cwt. more potatoes from each treated acre.”

Learn more at www.omexusa.com.

The product names and brands referenced here are registered and trademarks of OMEX® Agrifluids, Inc.

© OMEX® Agrifluids, Inc. 2021.

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