There is increasing interest in smart fertilisers, and the combination of a stabilised amine and a trace element mix is delivering substantial yield responses for one Lincolnshire grower, particularly on his light land.
Applied to crops with a “little but often approach” within his existing spray programmes, the amine foliar fertiliser Delta helps plants utilise nitrogen more efficiently by encouraging rooting and tillering growth.
Their use in arable crops is new, having initially being developed for speciality crops, says Patrick Salmon of Bionature, which distributes the Delta fertiliser.
“It is widely used in Spain, for example, on crops that use a lot of nitrogen such as tomatoes, and in situations where leaching is an issue.”
But as nitrogen fertiliser prices have increased, crop values have risen and the attention has switched to crop yields, it has started to be used in broad acre crops in the UK.
As Mr Salmon explains, it is a more available source of nitrogen than the widely used ammonium nitrate. “Most nitrogen is applied in the nitrate form, which is inefficient as environmental losses are high and is responsible for excessive vegetative growth.
In contrast, the Delta fertiliser delivers it in the NH2 form, which is stabilised. There are two versions, either NHK Delta or NHCa Delta, with calcium or potash added to prevent the bacterial degradation of the NH2 in the soil, thus reducing leaching and volatilisation losses.
“It offers a different type of plant growth. It stimulates cytokinin growth, characterised by greater root growth, allowing plants to scavenge more nutrients from soil, bushier plants and increased tillering.
Usually when you apply ammonium nitrate, you get lush leafy growth and it does not encourage root development. “You get excessive auxin-type vegetative apical growth.”
The aim is to get a balance between auxin and cytokinin growth. “We are not saying don’t use ammonium nitrate, but rather combine both and make better use of the applied nitrogen fertiliser, says Mr Salmon.
Bionature has also developed a sister fertiliser (1-4-All), which also supplies the key trace elements iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium and copper. It includes “lightning technology”, a secret ingredient that improves the crop’s metabolic activity and enhances the uptake of nutrients.
“We are not trying to address any soil deficiencies, instead we are giving the plant what it needs at the time it needs it,” he says.
As the plant grows, it sometimes struggles to get nutrients out of the soil, such as in periods of stress like high temperatures. “It continues to feed plant in times of stress.”
Lincolnshire grower Tim Lamyman has been testing various Delta products over the past four years on his two farms in Lincolnshire. One is near Worlaby on soil ranging from light chalky sandy loam to red chalky loam clay, while the other farm at Tumby is on “blow-away sand” over gravel.
The trials started when a crop of Mr Lamyman’s potatoes was showing signs of calcium deficiency and the only calcium supplement he could source was NHCa Delta.
“The potatoes greened up and I thought if a calcium product can do that, it warranted further investigation.”
Subsequent use of the nitrogen and trace element mix has increased yields by up to 25t/ha. For example, treated crops of Melody achieved 54t/ha last year, compared with the average of 22t/ha at Tumby on unirrigated blowing sands.
Consequently, the control untreated areas were costing Mr Lamyman £6,000-8,000/ha in lost revenue, so he is now treating the whole area.
“Responses are greater when crops are under stress, like last year when we saw greening with waterlogged crops.”
It’s not just yields, there is better uniformity and skin colour. “For the first time, all the Tumby farm potatoes made the packing grade, securing a £40 premium, despite no irrigation.”
Mr Lamyman has also seen benefits with oilseed rape, fully replacing his seed-bed fertiliser with Delta and 1-4-All. Each 5 litre application of Delta is equivalent to 0.75kg of N/ha.
“There is a lot of talk about starter fertiliser for rape, but I see Delta as a practical alternative. It is essential for oilseed rape to develop a good tap root before winter.
One of the biggest responses has been in barley. In 2011, a barley crop was suffering magnesium deficiency and he applied the Delta products.
“It was a very dry spring with no rain falling from late February until end June. The untreated barley area died, but the treated area just held on until the rain arrived.
“It was green and had 100% more tillers, with 800 heads/sq m versus 425 heads/sq m for the untreated. The rain came and it got away yielding a still respectable 7.2?t/ha.”
On average, he is seeing a 2.5t/ha responses in winter barley this season (harvest 2013) across the two farms.
One field of spring malting barley (Propino) at Worlaby yielded 10.4t/ha with 99% retention over a 2.5mm screen, resulting in more saleable weight. Another field at Tumby yielded 9.6t/ha with 96-97% retention.
In previous years, screenings are more typically at 82-89% retention with a less bold sample. “It is unheard of to achieve such a bold sample on such difficult land,” he says.
Mr Lamyman also saw an impressive result in wheat last year where many growers struggled with yield and quality.
“Our KWS Santiago yielded 8.4t/ha on Tumby sand last year with a specific weight of 72kg/hl, while the untreated only yielded 6.5t/ha with a specific weight of 58kg/hl.”
Buoyed by this result, he has made a world record attempt at Worlaby Farm this season and is awaiting the results, as the crop was still unripe when Crops visited.
In conclusion, Mr Lamyman says he has “played around with different micronutrient fertilisers for the past 15 years on the Tumby sands with limited success.
“Now we are seeing crops with bigger roots, more biomass and tillering ability. The resulting stronger plants seem better able to withstand disease, such as the fusarium in wheat last year, and also saw little blight in potatoes”.
Looking ahead to next year, Mr Lamyman is looking to reduce seed rates and take advantage of the extra tillering capacity and save on seed costs.
“This year we had a crop of Glacier winter barley which we drilled at 75-85kg/ha seed rate as seed was limited. But it still achieved more than 4t/acre.
“Normally we would drill at 150-170kg/ha, but we saw 920 tillers/sq m in treated while the untreated only had 660 tillers/sq m.”
Hutchinsons is also carrying out some farm trials, managed by agronomist Simon Shaw.
While too early to comment on their own trials, Mr Shaw is very encouraged by what he has seen so far and sees a potential role with spring wheat in controlling blackgrass.
“We are seeing big strides in breeding and if we can get up to sensible yields and quality, it could have a role by introducing a spring crop into rotations.”
Crop responses seen at Tumby and Worlaby Farms
- Winter barley – 2.5t/ha last year (seen 1-4t/ha)
- Potatoes – Up to 25t/ha on unirrigated land
- Wheat – Up to 5t/ha on light land
- Oilseed rape – 1t/ha
- Spring barley – Up to 1.25t/ha
Application tips and costs
The Delta products give best results when applied several times in a season using a little but often approach.
Mr Lamyman advises applying in autumn, as it has longer to affect root growth. But if you are not going through a crop in the autumn, aim to apply the first treatment before mid February.
In cereals, he aims to apply in the autumn and then at T0, T1, T2 and T3. For potatoes, apply from rosette stage onwards and incorporate in the blight programme.
Cost-wise for Delta and 1-4-ALL, in wheat he estimates it costs £135/ha, £95/ha in winter barley, £60t/ha for spring barley and £148/t in potatoes.
However, he adds that there is potential to save on nitrogen. “At Tumby, we only applied 65-70% of the normal N on potato crops which still look really green.”
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