ProCam research is suggesting new generation micronutrition products could have a vital role to play in making existing fungicide chemistry more effective, visitors to the company’s recent Trials Open Days learned. Integrating existing fungicide technology with specific trace element treatments can add up to 1.2 t/ha to the final yield of winter wheat, says ProCam technical director Dr. Tudor Dawkins. Speaking at the company’s recent series of research open days up and down the country, he said agronomy companies must strive to look for new solutions for building crop yields and trace elements had significant potential in achieving this.

“There are few new fungicides in the pipeline so we have to look at different ways of getting the most out of the ones we have at the moment. Trials over the last two years have consistently shown the cost-effectiveness of fungicide treatments with a return of £3 from every £1 invested being achieved in 2014 and a payback of up to £2 for every £1 invested in 2015 even though that was a relatively low disease-pressure year.”

But evidence is now coming forward on how the effects of fungicides can be enhanced in the future and much of this is focused on better plant nutrition, he said.

“We’ve known for a long time that good plant nutrition can help fight disease but we’re only just beginning to fully understand the extent of this. Wheat plants deficient in manganese, for example, often show severe mildew symptoms and whilst it is not possible to claim fungistatic properties for nutrients, sulphur and copper have been used to reduce disease levels in fruit and potato crops for many years. But the role of other factors such as external stimulants in the form of enzymes or their precursors is only just starting to be identified.”

Much of the potential benefit of these approaches revolves around encouraging root growth, Dr. Dawkins pointed out.

“A 12t/ha crop of wheat is going to have about 30km of roots per square metre whereas a 10t/ha crop will have around 20km. Clearly roots are important in the yield equation so stimulating greater root growth should lift outputs too. The application of gibberelins to stimulate cell elongation or hormones to promote rooting has shown benefits but these fall into the category of plant growth regulators rather than micronutrients.”

Over the last two years, however, ProCam has been working with the University of Nottingham to identify nutrition products that genuinely do deliver definable benefits and the result are very interesting, he said.

“Out of 12 products tested in 2014, the two products NutriPhite and Universal Bio delivered consistent improvements in shoot and root growth.”

Subsequent field tests with Universal Bio – a general NPK foliar feed with additional trace elements and ‘seaweed extract’ showed a dramatic greening response over the untreated, where no fungicide was applied, in a low disease pressure year, when used at T0, T1 and T2, Dr. Dawkins explained.

“The resulting improvement in yield was a healthy 0.9t/ha from the product alone with a further 0.7t/ha of yield gain recorded when it was used alongside a fungicide programme. What is interesting is that we saw similar benefits in our trials in previous years when nutrient based products have been co-applied with fungicides. In 2014, for example, the co-application of Kudos – which contains potassium and sulphur – with fungicides gave a yield improvement over the fungicides alone of 1.2 t/ha.”

At a time when UK yields are generally considered to be below their full genetic potential and the availability of agronomic inputs is increasingly limited, such interactions could offer real opportunities for growers to lift production in the future, he said.

“It is early days but the initial results are very encouraging. Our first trials with customers in the field have shown rapid greening of crops and very strong plants maintaining their performance right through to harvest. Of course the big question is was it just the nutrition or are there other factors at work. Certainly, there is no silver bullet when it comes to nutrition and some situations require remedial treatments where acute deficiencies arise because the soil does not contain sufficient or the crop cannot access it.”

But there is growing evidence to support the adoption of more prophylactic approaches to disease control and crop health rather than simply using high doses of fungicides when diseases appear.

“We’ve got take a more holistic approach to production in the future and look for new ways of growing crops using available products that are able to unlock more of the genetic potential of modern varieties.” Synergies happen in many biological systems where the sum of two parts is much greater than you would expect in terms of response and it seems the way that fungicides and micronutrients work together is just such an area.”