Potato Grower

August 2018/IGSA

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Diggin' In Diggin' In FERTILIZERS | Industry Report Exploring the science behind microbial fertilizers and soil probiotics Consummate Pro Potato growers are always looking for new ways to produce earlier harvests, as well as increase their return on investment. But often, the fear of trying something new can hold a grower back. Experience from others who have saved time, money and manpower by changing their ways can remove some or all of the fear of failure. Soil probiotics and microbial fertilizers are not new. The commercial history of bacterial soil amendments began in 1895 with the launch of Nitragin, a laboratory culture of Rhizobia. Since then, companies have continued creating better ways for the nutrients in the soil to be functional for plants. Microbial fertilizers offer a new technology to potato growers, balancing many of the shortcomings of conventional chemicals and continuing to improve soil fertility and productivity. WHAT ARE SOIL PROBIOTICS? Bacterial soil amendments, or soil probiotics for the soil, improve nutrient uptake by making them more bio-available, promoting a plant's vigor and growth. When applied to soil, the beneficial microbial populations come to life and begin multiplying. "Without vibrant beneficial microbes in the soil, plants are unable to reach their full potential," says Simon Neufeld of Earth Alive Clean Technologies, makers of Soil Activator. "Plants cannot use the soil's natural fertility or efficiently absorb added fertilizers. A product like Soil Activator boosts the soil's natural microbe communities while also adding specially selected, highly functional microbes to the mix." These soil amendments are easy to use. Coming in liquid, granular or powder forms, the method of application depends on their concentration and form. Granular forms are generally applied dry, either alone or in combination with other amendments. Liquid products can come pre-mixed or concentrated, and must be applied with water. Powder-based amendments are the most versatile, because they can either be mixed with water and drenched into the soil, or mixed directly into the growing media for container growing. For example, a 55-pound package of Earth Alive's Soil Activator—a dry powder microbial fertilizer—will treat 20 acres of potatoes when used as a water- based solution and applied in-row. (See the product's technical documentation for more specific instructions.) Best results are seen when the product is applied early in the season, ideally at the time of emergence, to give the microbes the best runway to do their job. WHY TO CONSIDER USING SOIL PROBIOTICS Microbial fertilizers offer advantages to all types of growers. "Years of tillage and other conventional farming practices can lead to a decline in native biology," says Neufeld. "When growers add functional probiotics to the soil, plants can thrive." In the case of a potato farm in the Machachi region of Ecuador, by simply drenching the soil with Soil Activator, potato production was improved. Plants grew greener and more vigorous vines, were better able to fight off diseases and pests, and yielded 10 "When growers add functional probiotics to the soils," says Simon Neufeld, "plants can thrive." In trials in Central America, Soil Activator has shown an ability to improve potato plants' vine growth and disease and pest resistance.

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