Seaweed extract could aid drought-stressed crops

This spring has seen large extremes in weather patterns from drought to flooding, causing stress to arable crops. But one researcher at University College, Cork, believes a certain chemical found in seaweed could make crops more stress tolerant.

Along with factors such as extremes of temperature, inadequate nutrient supply and excess light intensity fall under the general term of abiotic stress, which can reduce yields by up to 82%.

And a team of researchers at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) at University College, Cork in Ireland, have been researching stress tolerance by plants. In particular, managing abiotic stress, the mechanisms, chemical or genetic, by which the responses to crop stress can be improved.

One approach being investigated is applying Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed extract and this has been trialled in forage maize, spring barley, oilseed rape and maincrop potatoes.

Referring to the trials on potatoes, Peter Jones, who heads up the research team reports a consistent yield increase of 20% on average after a three-spray programme of an Ascophyllum-based product.

“We have looked at where the extra yield is coming from” says Prof Jones. “We believe it is associated with a number of factors. Firstly, we saw an earlier flowering and quicker canopy closure allowing for a longer and more effective tuber filling. This we believe led to better tuber uniformity. There was a significant improvement in ware grades with far fewer small tubers.

“Secondly, and perhaps of more interest to us in our work on stress tolerance, is the reduction in the effect of abiotic stress. We recorded a 15% reduction in abiotic stress after application. In other words we achieved a higher level of stress tolerance. So logically plants are better able to withstand what would be considered as less than favourable growing conditions.”

Work is continuing at BEES to learn more about the actual mechanisms by which Ascophyllum extracts affects stress tolerance in plants.

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