UK Fruit and Vine producers could benefit from Precision Nutrition

Precision Nutrition delivers productivity and environmental benefits to UK Fruit and Vine producers

March 12, 2024
7 mins
Andrew Judd
Specialty Fertilisers UK

Precision Nutrition delivers productivity and environmental benefits to UK Fruit and Vine producers

New approaches to precision plant nutrition could play a vital role in protecting UK fruit and vine crops from the challenges of climate change and deliver more cost-effective use of inputs, says ICL Growing Solutions’ agronomist Scott Garnett.

Improving crop health and resilience through new approaches to nutrition could deliver significant productivity gains for growers while helping achieve environmental and sustainability objectives in the future, he believes.

“At a time when the industry is looking at the return on investment from every input used and being asked to do this with a growing focus on minimising the carbon footprint of production too, the role of crop nutrition cannot be overlooked.

“Targeting vital nutrients to the precise needs of crops in the production cycle not only reduces waste, it improves yields and quality and ensures the amount of nutrients in the soil left vulnerable to leaching or loss is significantly reduced.

“Plus, healthy, well supported plants nutritionally, are far less likely to succumb to diseases, be vulnerable to pest attacks or suffer from the physical challenges of the more variable growing conditions likely to be experienced in the future.”

Those threats are unlikely to be diminished in the near future, believes the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH).

According to Dr. John Redhead from UKCEH, climate change will increasingly shape UK agriculture in the coming years with wetter winters and hotter summers becoming more frequent.

“The UK is unlikely to see a smooth transition to a warmer climate, with increasing likelihood that it will be typified by periods of extreme weather and the overall result that we will experience more years like the recent ones.

“Given an increasingly extreme and unpredictable climate, it is important to begin to diversify our cropping systems to spread the risk.”

Using inputs in a more targeted way that gets the most out of them will be a key part of any sustainable production system in the future, he says.

“Such thinking not only makes economic sense, it is also likely to benefit the environment and help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change in the first place.”


Improving productivity

ICL’s Scott Garnett agrees, pointing out that one of the three key pillars of the NFU’s approach to achieve net zero by 2040 is to improve productivity for the same, or more, food produced with less inputs.

“One of the key elements outlined in the NFU strategy is ‘to use controlled release fertilisers and inhibitors to increase efficient use of nitrogen and reduce emissions’ so fertiliser choice and efficiency of their use is going to become increasingly important.

“Achieving this ambition will involve a significant focus on improving fertiliser ‘technology’ and not just trying to make existing, and often long-standing, products and practices fit the new world.

“We’re all going to have think differently about fertiliser and how we can continue its use to drive the food supply needed to feed a growing global population, while making sure it fits a sustainable future.”

ICL UK speciality fertilisers manager Andrew Judd, says that in terms of the top fruit, vineyard and speciality crops sector, several advances have been made in recent years to ensure nutrients are used more efficiently.

“Many existing orchards have drip-fed irrigation systems and this lends them to a more precision nutrition approach utilising water soluble fertilisers and certainly the newer production systems tend to have infrastructure for liquid fertilisers installed.

“Such an approach not only allows growers to micro-manage their fertiliser use more with resulting benefits in terms of fruit yield, quality and storability.

“ICL’s water soluble fertiliser Agrolution Special not only ensures all nutrients are delivered in the correct proportions with all trace elements chelated, it can also solve water quality problems and keep irrigation systems deposit-free.

“Solinure is another high-purity product designed for drip fed irrigation systems with a trace element and NPK analysis that makes it ideal for soil based applications. A strong level of MgO can also be specified where required.”


Foliar feeding benefits

Foliar feeding can also bring significant advantages to the table and is particularly useful when nutrient deficiencies, such as N, P, K or Mg, need correcting, he says.

“Foliar feeding provides an excellent solution when the plant root system is not functioning optimally or when nutrient-provision via the soil is malfunctioning.

“This form of feeding is ideal when root uptake is disturbed by factors such as overly cold or warm soils, high soil pH, high weed competition or nematode infestation and they can also be used to avoid and reduce stress situations.

Foliar application also lends itself to some particularly interesting technologies to increase nutrient absorption in both fruit and vine crops, he adds.

“ICL Agroleaf Power Leaf, for example, is a fast acting foliar fertiliser which contains both M-77 technology and a Double Power Impact (DPI) complex to encourage uptake of the nutrients it contains and ensure prolonged availability.

“M77 is an exclusive package containing compounds to extend the effectiveness of the chelates supplied by the foliar spray as well as select vitamins to improve the metabolic activity of the plant tissues absorbing the nutrients.

“In addition, stress reducing compounds help build the plant’s tolerance to abiotic stresses, thereby maintaining its productive capacity.”

DPI works in a complementary fashion to this to boost photosynthetic activity through improved boosting transpiration rates and chlorophyll levels, Andrew Judd points out.

“With a natural origin, the DPI bio-stimulant technology has been proven to improve chlorophyl levels in treated leaves, as well as overall leaf weight and size which leads to higher CO2 assimilation rates.

“The DPI complex has also been shown to improve the availability of applied nutrients in the plant, particularly nitrogen and phosphate, resulting in higher yields from shorter growing times.”


Proven results

The Agroleaf Power range with M77 and DPI technologies, contains products for a range of applications to target every growth stage and address any nutrient imbalances and deficiencies, he says.

“In trials with hops, for example, the product has been shown to increase yields by 10% compared to standard grower practice, generating an extra income in excess of £1000/ha.”

Agronomist Scott Garnett says another significant advance in fertiliser application is the development of Controlled Release Fertiliser (CRF) technology.

“This enables  growers to tailor the period over which nutrients are released to growing plants from a few months to over a year.

“As a result, crop need matches nutrient supply more closely and the risk of nutrient loss through run-off, leaching or volatilisation being is reduced. Avoiding the loss of valuable nutrients makes good economic sense for growers, as well.

“CRF also helps reduce the carbon footprint of crop production as it makes it possible to apply just one application of fertiliser in a growing season, which significantly reduces machinery and fuel costs.

“Furthermore, the Agromaster CRF product most suited to vine production has the naturally occurring multi-nutrient mineral Polysulphate at its heart, which further adds the to the technology’s environmental credentials.”


Reduced emissions

An extensive set of trials carried out on CRF across the world have been pretty conclusive on the benefits of the approach, he says

“ICL’s CRF technology has been rigorously tested on a range of crops with consistent results being seen in terms of yield and quality gains seen.

“We’ve also seen reductions in ammonia volatilisation of 32 – 54% and 54 – 61% less nutrient leaching combined with 11% less denitrification, so these are major real world gains from both production and environmental perspectives.

Andrew Judd explains that CRFs works by covering granules with a semi-permeable coating that allows water to pass through it to dissolve the nutrients contained within.

“The process is temperature sensitive. As soil temperature rises, cracks develop in the coating, drawing in water to dissolve the nutrients inside.

“The water then carries these out into the soil for the plant roots to take up. When soil temperature decreases, nutrient release slows down.

“Agromaster contains nitrogen as well as the key nutrients phosphorus, potassium sulphur, magnesium and calcium from ICL PKpluS, making it an ideal fertiliser option for replacing the vital nutrients removed by the grapes at harvest.

“The PKpluS gives an initial early release of essential nutrients which is then sustained alongside the controlled release of nitrogen over the growing season.

“Products can again be tailor made to crop specific formulations and trace elements can be added by request.”

ICL’s focus is on helping farmers increase productivity and produce better quality crops in a more efficient and environmentally sustainable way, he explains.

“Both Agroleaf Power and Agromaster bring proven fertiliser technology to UK agriculture that can not only deliver significant benefits on the bottom line for growers but can also make a significant contribution to more sustainable, environmentally focused production.”