- Author: Surendra K. Dara
There has been a growing interest in the recent years in exploring the potential of biostimulants in crop production. Biostimulants are mineral, botanical, or microbial materials that stimulate natural processes in plants, help them tolerate biotic and abiotic stressors, and improve crop growth and health. Several recent studies demonstrated the potential of the biostimulant or soil amendments in improving crop yields and health. For example, in a 2017 field study, silicon, microbial, botanical and nutrient materials improved processing tomato yields by 27 to 32% compared to the standard fertility program (Dara and Lewis, 2018). In a 2017-2018 strawberry field study, some biostimulant and soil amendment products resulted in a 13-16% increase in marketable fruit yield compared to the grower standard (Dara and Peck, 2018). He et al. (2019) evaluated three species of Bacillus and Pseudomonas putida alone and in different combinations in tomatoes grown in laboratory and greenhouse. The combination of Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, B. pumilus, and P. putida increased the plant biomass and the root/shoot ratio. Significant increase in fruit yield, between 18 and 39%, was also achieved from individual or co-inoculations of these bacteria. A field study was conducted in processing tomato to evaluate the impact of nutrient products containing beneficial microbes and botanical extracts on tomato yields and fruit quality.
The study was conducted from late spring to fall of 2018 to evaluate three treatment programs compared to the grower standard. Tomato cultivar Quali T27 was seeded on 25 April and transplanted on 19 June using a mechanical transplanter. Due to high temperatures at the time of planting, some transplants died and they were re-planted on 28 June. Herbicide Matrix was applied on 5 July and Poast was applied on 13 July followed by hand weeding on 27 July. Crop was irrigated, fertigated, and treatements were applied through a drip system. Overhead sprinkler irrigation was additionally used immediately after transplanting. The following treatments were included in the study:
1. Grower standard: 10-34-0 Ammonium Polyphosphate Solution was applied at 10 gal/ac at the time of transplanting followed by the application of UAN-32 Urea Ammonium Nitrate Solution 32-0-0 at the rate of 15 units of N at 3, 6, and 13 weeks after planting and 25 units of N at 7 weeks after planting.
2. Grower standard + BiOWiSH Crop 16-40-0: BiOWiSH Crop 16-40-0 contains 16% nitrogen and 40% phosphate along with B. amyloliquefaciens, B. licheniformis, B. pumilus, and B. subtilis at 1X108 cfu/gram. Crop 16-40-0 was applied at 1 lb/ac at the time of planting followed by the application 0.5 lb/ac at 3, 6, and 9 weeks after planting.
3. Grower standard 85% + BiOWiSH Crop 16-40-0: Crop 16-40-0 was applied at the same rate and frequency as in treatment 2, but the grower standard was reduced to 85%.
4. RootRx: RootRx contains 5% soluble potash and proprietary botanical extracts and is supposed to stimulate a broad range of antioxidant compounds in the plant. It was applied at 0.25 gal/ac at the time of planting followed by the application of 0.5 gal/ac at 3, about 7, and 13 weeks after planting.
Each treatment contained 30' long bed with a single row of tomato plants and replicated five times in a randomized complete block design. Along with the fruit yield, the sugar content of the fruit and leaves [using a refractometer from three fruits (two measurements from each) and four leaves per plot], chlorophyll content (using a digital chlorophyll meter from four leaves per plot), and frost damage levels (using a visual rating on a 0 to 5 scale where 0 = no frost damage and 5 = extreme frost damage with a complete plant death) were also monitored. Due to an unknown reason, some plants in the fifth replication were stunted halfway through the study. Data from the fifth replication were excluded from the analysis. Data were subjected to the analysis of variance using Statistix software and significant means were separated using the Tukey's HSD test.
Fruit yield: Marketable and unmarketable fruit yield was monitored from 27 August to 13 November. Seasonal total for marketable fruit was significantly (P = 0.04) different among the treatments where RootRx resulted in a 26.5% increase over the grower standard while Crop 16-4-0 with the full rate of the grower standard had an 8%, and with 85% of the grower standard had a 13.2% increase. It appeared that a similar improved yield response was also seen when Crop 16-40-0 was used at a reduced rate of the grower standard in other studies conducted by the manufacturer.
Sugar content: Sugar content of the fruit and leaves was measured once after the last harvest and there were no significant (P > 0.05) difference among the treatments.
Chlorophyll content: Chlorophyll content was measured once after the last harvest and there was no significant (P > 0.05) difference among the treatments.
Frost damage: Study was concluded after frosty conditions in November 2018 damaged the crop. Although there were no statistically significant (P > 0.05) differences, plants treated with RootRx had the lowest rating of 2.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Jenita Thinakaran and the field staff at the Shafter Research Station for their technical assistance, Plantel Nurseries for providing transplants, and BiOWiSH Technologies and Redox Chemicals for their financial support.
Dara, S. K. and D. Peck. 2018. Microbial and bioactive soil amendments for improving strawberry crop growth, health, and fruit yields: a 2017-2018 study. UCANR eJournal of Entomology and Biologicals (https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=27891)
Dara, S. K. and E. Lewis. 2018. Impact of nutrient and biostimulant materials on tomato crop health and yield. UCANR eJournal of Entomology and Biologicals (https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=26054)
He. Y., H. A. Pantigoso, Z. Wu, and J. M. Vivanco. 2019. Co-inoculation of Bacillus sp. and Pseudomonas putida at different development stages acts as a biostimulant to promote growth, yield and nutrient uptake of tomato. J. Appl. Microbiol. https://doi.org/10.1111/jam.14273
- Author: Surendra K. Dara
- Author: Ed Lewis
California is the leading producer of tomatoes, especially for the processing market (CDFA, 2017). Tomato is the 9th most important commodity in California valued at $1.71. Processed tomatoes are ranked 6th among the exported commodities with a value of $813 million. While good nutrient management is necessary for optimal growth, health, and yields of any crop, certain products that contain minerals, beneficial microbes, biostimulants, and other such products are gaining popularity. These materials are expected to improve crop health and yield, impart soil or drought resistance, induce systemic resistance, or improve plant's immune responses to pests, diseases, and other stress factors (Berg, 2009; Bakhat et al., 2018; Chandra et al., 2018; Shameer and Prasad, 2018). Maintaining optimal plant health through nutrient management is not only important for yield improvement, but it is also an important part of integrated pest management strategy as healthy plants can withstand pest and disease pressure more than weaker plants and thus reduce the need for pesticide treatments.
Experimental plots, transplanting, and treatment details.
A study was initiated in the summer 2017 to evaluate the impact of various treatment programs on tomato plant health and yield. Processing tomato cultivar Rutgers was seeded on 7 June and transplanted on 18 July, 2017 using a mechanical transplanter. Monoammonium phosphate (11-52-0) was applied at 250 lb/ac as a side-dress on 7 August as a standard for all treatments. Since planting was done later in the season, crop duration and harvesting period were delayed due to the onset of fall weather. Plots were sprinkler irrigated daily or every other day for 3-4 hours for about 2 weeks after transplanting. Drip irrigation was initiated from the beginning of August for 12-14 hours each week and for a shorter period from mid October onwards.
There were five treatments in the study including the standard. Each treatment had a 38” wide and 300' long bed with a single row of tomato plants. Treatments were replicated four times and arranged in a randomized complete block design. Different materials were applied through drip using a Dosatron injector system, sprayed at the base of the plants with a handheld sprayer, or as a foliar spray using a tractor-mounted sprayer based on the following regimens.
- AgSil® 21 at 8.75 fl oz/ac in 100 gal of water through drip (for 30 min) every 3 weeks from 31 July to 13 November (6 times). AgSil 21 contains potassium (12.7% K2O) and silicon (26.5% SiO2) and is expected to help plants with mineral and climate stress, improve strength, and increase growth and yields.
- Yeti BloomTM at 1 ml/gallon of water. Applied to the roots of the transplants one day before transplanting followed by weekly field application through the drip system from 7 August to 13 November (15 times). Yeti is marketed as a biostimulant and has a consortium of beneficial bacteria - Pseudomonas putida, Comamonas testosterone, Citrobacter freundii, and Enterobacter cloacae. Yeti Bloom is expected to enhance the soil microbial activity and helps with improved nutrient absorption.
- Tech-Flo®/Tech-Spray® program contained five products that supplied a variety of macroandmicro nutrients. Products were appliedthroughdrip (for 30 min) at the following rates and frequencies in 300gal of water.
- Tech-Flo All Season Blend #1 1 qrt/ac in transplant water and again at first bloom on 28 August.
- Tech-Flo Cal-Bor+Moly at 2 qrt/ac at first bloom on 28 August.
- Tech-Flo Omega at 2 qrt/ac in transplant water and again on 11 September (2 weeks after the first bloom).
- Tech-Flo Sigma at 2 qrt/ac on 11 September (2 weeks after the first bloom).
- Tech-Spray Hi-K at 2 qrt starting at early color break on 25 September with three follow up applications every two weeks.
- Innovak Global program contained four products.
- ATP Transfer UP at 2 ml/liter of water sprayed over the transplants to the point of runoff just before transplanting. Three more applications were made through drip (for 30 min) on 7 and 21 August and 4 September. This product contains ECCA Carboxy® acids that promote plant metabolism and expected to impart resistance to stress factors.
- Nutrisorb-L at 40 fl oz/ac applied through drip (for 30 min) on 31 July, 14 August (vegetative growth stage), 4 and 18 September, and 2 October (bloom through fruiting). Nutrisorb-L contains polyhydroxycarboxylic acids, which are expected to promote root growth and improve nutrient and water absorption.
- Biofit®N at 2 lb/ac through drip (for 30 min) on 31 July, 21 August (3 weeks after the first), and 4 September (at first bloom). Biofit contains a blend of beneficial microbes – Azotobacter chroococcum, Bacillus subtilis, B. megaterium, B. mycoides, and Trichoderma harzianum. This product is expected to improve the beneficial microbial activity in the soil and thus contribute to improved soil structure, root development, plant health, and ability to withstand stress factors.
- Packhard at 50 fl oz/ac in 50 gal of water as a foliar spray twice during early fruit development (on 11 and 18 September) and every 2 weeks during the harvest period (four times from 2 October to 13 November). Contains calcium and boron that improve fruit quality and reduce postharvest issues.
A 50' long area was marked in the center of each plot for observations. Plant health was monitored on 1, 8, and 22 August by examining each plant and rating them on a scale of 5 where 0 represented a dead plant and 5 represented a very healthy plant. Yield data were collected from 11 October to 5 December on eight harvest dates by harvesting red tomatoes from each plot. On the last harvest date, mature green tomatoes were also harvested and included in the yield evaluation. Data were analyzed using analysis of variance and Tukey's HSD test was used for means separation.
Results and discussion
There was no statistically significant difference (P > 0.05) in the health of the plants in August (Fig. 1) or in the overall seasonal yield (Fig. 2) among treatments. The average health rating from three observations was 3.94 for the standard, 4.03 for AgSil 21, 4.45 for Yeti Bloom, 4.38 for Tech-Flo/Spray program, and 4.35 Innovak Global program.
Fig. 1. Plant health on a 0 (dead) to 5 (very healthy) rating on three observation dates.
When the seasonal total yield per plot was compared, Yeti Bloom had 194.1 lb followed by, Innovak program (191.5 lb), AgSil 21 (187.3 lb), the standard (147.4 lb) and Tech-Flo/Spray program (136.5 lb). Due to the lack of significant differences, it is difficult to comment on the efficacy of treatments, but the yield from AgSil 21 was 27% more than the standard while yields from Innovak program and Yeti Bloom were about 30% and 32% higher, respectively.
Fig. 2. Seasonal total yield/plot from different treatments.
Fig. 3. Percent difference in tomato yield between the standard and other treatment programs.
Studies indicate that plants can benefit from the application of certain minerals such as silicon compounds and beneficial microorganisms, in addition to optimal nutrient inputs. Silicon is considered as a beneficial nutrient, which triggers the production of plant defense mechanisms against pests and diseases (Bakhat et al., 2018). Although pest and disease conditions were not monitored in this study, silverleaf whitefly (Bamisia tabaci) infestations and mild yellowing of foliage in some plants due to unknown biotic or abiotic stress were noticed. AgSil 21 contains 26.5% of silica as silicon dioxide and could have helped tomato plants to withstand biotic or abiotic stress factors. Similarly, beneficial microbes also promote plant growth and health through improved nutrient and water absorption and imparting the ability to withstand stresses (Berg, 2009; Shameer and Prasad, 2018). Beneficial microbes in Yeti Bloom and BiofitN might helped the tomato plants in withstanding stress factors and improved nutrient absorption. Other materials applied in the Innovak program might have also provided additional nutrition and sustained microbial activity.
The scope of the study, with available resources, was to measure the impact of various treatments on tomato crop health and yield. Additional studies with soil and plant tissue analyses, monitoring pests and diseases, and their impact on yield would be useful.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Veronica Sanchez, Neal Hudson, Sean White, and Sumanth Dara for their technical assistance and the collaborating companies for free samples or financial assistance.
Bakhat, H. F., B. Najma, Z. Zia, S. Abbas, H. M. Hammad, S. Fahad, M. R. Ashraf, G. M. Shah, F. Rabbani, S. Saeed. 2018. Silicon mitigates biotic stresses in crop plants: a review. Crop Protection 104: 21-34. DOI: 10.1016/j.cropro.2017.10.008.
Berg, G. 2009. Plant-microbe interactions promoting plant growth and health: perspectives for controlled use of microorganisms in agriculture. Appl. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 84: 11-18. DOI: 10.1007/s00253-009-2092-7.
CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture). 2017. California agricultural statistics review 2015-2016. (https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/PDFs/2016Report.pdf)
Chandra, D., A. Barh, and I. P. Sharma. 2018. Plant growth promoting bacteria: a gateway to sustainable agriculture. In: Microbial biotechnology in environmental monitoring and cleanup. Editors: A. Sharma and P. Bhatt, IGI Global, pp. 318-338.
Shameer, S. and T.N.V.K.V. Prasad. 2018. Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria for sustainable agricultural practices with special reference to biotic and abiotic stresses. Plant Growth Regulation, pp.1-13. DOI: 10.1007/s10725-017-0365-1.