Building natural resilience


14 April 2023
Optimising nutritional intake is best defence against blight, says agronomist.

OPTIMISING crop health will be the key to the future of profitable potato crops according to Agronomist Andy Aspinall who is also Director of crop technology firm Engage. 

He said: “Just five to 10 years ago, potato growers had numerous pesticides at their disposal. They now have far less in their armoury and that means we need to think ‘outside the box’ and take a new approach. The potato plant is under attack from at least 75 diseases and non-parasitic disorders, many of which consistently cause yield losses."

He said growers and agronomists need to instead look at building resilience into the crop.

Engage Crop Solutions has been running field trials focused on the reduction of susceptibility to potato blight. The trials have been used to develop three unique formulations that provide key elements and maximise the plant's health processes. These are Fortify Cu, Bio-Chel Ca and Sentinel, which are applied as part of the normal spray routine.

In 12 trials across the UK and Ireland over the past five years, the programme from Engage has been consistently proven to significantly reduce the incidence of, or completely prevent, infections from blight, Andy said.

In the most recent trial during the challenging summer of 2022, a full programme of application was applied to a test crop while the control received a normal spray routine. The test crop saw a 6.4% increase in marketable yield but, crucially, the plant made higher levels of chlorophyll, was stronger, and critically, free of disease. The control crop had lower chlorophyll levels, were visibly weaker and although were not infected with blight did show widespread early signs of the bacterium, blackleg. 

Fortify Cu maximises vascular flow and cellular processes to support crop health and limit damage from abiotic and biotic stress factors while Sentinel is a unique liquid stabilised silicic acid that delivers high amounts of available silicon nutrient to increase cellular growth potential and strength to support the health of the crop.

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Calcium is the essential element for potato tuber growth and storage and Andy believes Bio-Chel Ca is unlike any other calcium source as it is completely available to the plant. The plant is able to draw calcium in at high levels, ensuring the growing plant doesn’t need to rely on stored calcium in the tuber.

Andy added: “This unique programme shows we can nutritionally equip potato plants to be far healthier to reduce the potential of infection from disease and address a key challenge of the limiting the use of pesticides.

“Plus, these advanced inputs have been designed to deliver nutrients and have secondary benefits to the health of the plant. For example, the silicon in Sentinel strengthens the plant but also utilises salicylic acid as this aids in silicon movement and keeps it mobile for longer. Salicylic acid has a secondary benefit as the plant can use to support its own salicylic production which will bolster its immune system. 

“Similarly, Fortify Cu has a naturally high negative charge which elevates the leaf’s own negative charge, helping prevent pathogens passing into the leaves so readily. Bio-Chel Ca has a lower pH and is high in plant lignin and sugars which plants can use so it softens the leaf wax and stimulates leaves and roots to take up more of the available calcium.

“Many potato growers are considering scaling back because of the challenges they face but advanced solutions like these will be key to ensuring we can continue to produce healthy, profitable crops and preserve food security.”

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