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Microbial and bioactive soil amendments for improving strawberry crop growth, health, and fruit yields: a 2017-2018 study

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Experimental plots in mid January, 2018. Photo by Surendra Dara
 
In the recent years, interest in biological products – nutrient, biostimulant, soil amendment or pesticide products of plant and microbial origin – is increasing for use in agriculture.  While the growth of the organic industry is partly responsible for this interest, an increase in research exploring the potential of these products and a continued emphasis on sustainable agriculture could also be among other contributing factors.  In an undisturbed ecosystem, both beneficial and pestiferous arthropods and microorganisms coexist, limiting each other's proliferation and maintaining a balance.  This coexistence is out of balance in an agricultural ecosystem, especially where fumigants and other agricultural inputs are routinely used.  Introducing beneficial microbes and organic or inorganic compounds can enhance the soil structure, promote root and plant growth, improve crop health, reduce salt and drought stress, prevent the loss of nutrients, increase the uptake of nutrients and water, and protect against pests and diseases.               

In a continuous effort to explore the potential of additive, soil amendment, biostimulant, and other products, a new study was conducted in a conventional strawberry field at the Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria.  The following treatments were administered at different times, from planting till the end of production season, as requested by the manufacturer.

  1. Untreated control: Other than the soil incorporated fertilizers during the field preparation, no other nutrient inputs were added during the study.
  2. Grower standard: Transplants were dipped in Switch 62.5WG (cyprodinil+fludioxonil, at 5 oz/100 gal) before planting and a proprietary nutrient regimen that included administration of a humic acid-based product was followed.
  3. Innovak Global regimen: Nutrisorb-L (a blend of polyhydroxy carboxylic acids) at 28 fl oz/ac, starting 2 wk after planting and every 3 wk thereafter through drip.  Packhard (carboxylic acids with calcium and boron) at 28 fl oz/ac, starting at the first fruit set (early January) and every 2 wk thereafter as a foliar spray. 
  4. TerraVesco regimen: A microbe-rich Vermi-extract (worm extract) at 10% vol/vol as a transplant dip for 3 hours, followed by application through drip at 7.5 gal/ac after planting, and again in December, 2017 and January, 2018.
  5. Fertum regimen: Transplant dip in 1% vol/vol of Germinal Plus (a product from marine algae), followed by drip applications of Booster (a biostimulant and a natural organic fertilizer made from seaweed) at 0.5 gal/ac in late November and late December, 201; Silicium PK (a biostimulant and a natural organic fertilizer based on silicon enriched with phosphorus, potassium and seaweed extracts) at 0.5 gal/ac late December, 2017 and once a month starting from mid February to early July, 2018; and Foliar (a biostimulant and a natural organic fertilizer from marine algae) at 0.5 gal/ac in mid and late January.
  6. Shemin Garden regimen: EcoSil (a silica fertilizer) at 800 ml/ac once a month starting from early December, 2017 to May, 2018 through drip, and at 200 ml/ac in early May and June, 2018 as a foliar spray; ComCat (based on a plant extract) at 20 gr/ac and EcoFlora (a consortium of Azotobacter spp., Bacillus spp., Paenibacillus spp., Pseudomonas sp., Trichoderma spp., and Streptomyces spp.) at 12 oz/ac one week after EcoSil through drip until May, 2018 and ComCat at 10 gr/ac and EcoFlora at 12 oz/ac as a foliar spray in May and June, 2018.
  7. GrowCentia regimen-low: Yeti containing 1% bacterial culture (of Pseudomonas putida, Citrobacter freundii, Comamonas testosterone, and Enterobacter cloacae) and 2% alfalfa extract applied at 0.6 ml/gal through drip for 90 min weekly from the first drip application.
  8. GrowCentia regimen-high: Yeti at 1 ml/gal through drip for 90 min weekly from the first drip application.
  9. NanoChem regimen: EX10, a biodegradable fertilizer additive containing thermal polyaspartate at 1 qrt/ac through first drip after planting with follow up applications in early January (first bloom), mid February, and mid May, 2018.  The active ingredient binds with cations such as ammonium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc and improves their availability for the plant.
  10. BiOWiSH regimen 1: Formula 1 at 1.33 oz/gal for transplant dip followed by 3.53 oz/ac through drip starting 2 wk after planting and every 4-5 wk thereafter.
  11. BiOWiSH regimen 2: Formula 1 at 1.33 oz/gal for transplant dip followed by 3.53 oz/ac as a foliar srpay starting 2 wk after planting and every 4-5 wk thereafter.
  12. BiOWiSH regimen 3: Formula 1 at 1.33 oz/gal for transplant dip followed by 3.53 oz/ac through drip starting 2 wk after planting alternated with a foliar spray every 4-5 wk.
  13. BiOWiSH regimen 4: Formula 1 at 1.33 oz/gal for transplant dip followed by BiOWiSH Crop 16-40-0, a microbial consortium (Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, B. lichenoformis, B. pumilus, and B. subtilis)at 3.53 oz/ac through drip starting 2 wk after planting and every 4-5 wk thereafter.

Each treatment contained a 165' long 5.7' wide bed and replicated four times in a randomized complete block design.  A 15' long plot in the center of the bed was marked and netted for collecting yield and some other parameters that were compared.  Strawberry cultivar BG 6-30214 was planted on 7 November, 2017.  Other than the untreated control, all other products were administered on top of the grower standard fertility program.  However, only the grower standard transplants were dipped in Switch 62.5WG before planting. 

Various parameters were measured during the vegetative growth and fruit production periods to evaluate the impact of the treatments on crop growth, health, and yield.  Data were analyzed using ANOVA and LSD test was used to separate significant means.

20171107 Treatments (1)
Transplant treatment (above) and drip application (below).  Photos by Tamas Zold

Tamas Zold taking canopy measurements.  Photo by Surendra Dara

Canopy growth: Canopy growth was observed on 11 December, 2017, 7 and 30 January, and 8 February, 2018 by measuring the size of the canopy along and across the length of the bed from 20 random plants per bed and calculating the area.  Canopy size significantly (P = 0.0261) different among the treatments only on the last observation date where plants treated with EX10 and the GrowCentia product at the low concentration were larger than those in the grower standard.

Electrical conductivity and temperature of soil: From two random location on each bed, electrical conductivity (EC in dS/m) and temperature (oC) were measured about 3 inches deep from the surface on 12 and 25 January, 7 February, 19 March, 18 April, and 29 May, 2018.  Only soil temperature on 25 January significantly (P = 0.0007) varied among treatments where the difference between the highest (untreated control) and the lowest (Vermi-extract) values was 0.8oC.

Dead plants: The number of dead plants represents empty spots in the bed due to the death of transplants.  There were no obvious signs of disease or a particular stress factor associated with those plants except that they were randomly distributed within each bed and throughout the field.  When counted on 18 April, 2018, BiOWiSH regimen 4, Fertum regimen, GrowCentia product at the high rate, and Innovak Global regimen had 


Areas where transplants did not establish.  Photo by Surendra Dara

Fruit diseases: Fruit harvested on 12 March, 3 and 13 April, and 17 May, 2018 from each marked plot was incubated at room temperature in dark in plastic containers and the fungal growth was rated 3 and 5 days after harvest (DAH) using a scale of 0 to 4 where 0=no fungal growth, 1=1-25%, 2=26-50%, 3=51-75%, and 4=76-100% fungal growth. Botrytis fruit rot or grey mold was predominant during the first two observation dates and the growth of other fungi (possibly Rhizopus spp.) was also seen during the last two dates.  In general, fruit disease occurred at low levels throughout the observation period with

Sugar content in fruit: Sugar content was measured from two harvest-ready berries per bed on 17 May, 2018 using a handheld refractometer.  Sugar content varied from 8.06 oBx (Innovak Global regimen) to 9.53 oBx (grower standard).

Fruit firmness: Fruit firmness was measured from eight randomly collected harvest-ready berries from each bed on 28 June, 2018.  Firmness varied from 0.82 kgf (Fertum and Shemin Garden regimens) to 0.98 kgf (untreated control).

Fruit yield:Strawberries were harvested from 6 February to 22 June, 2018 on 36 dates.  When compared to the grower standard, the marketable berry yield was 16.2, 15.1, 13.7, and 13% higher in Fertum regimen, EX10 treatment, Innovak Global regimen, and BiOWiSH regimen 4, respectively.  The marketable berry yield was 9.8, 9, 7.5, and 6.8% higher in those respective treatments over the yield from untreated control.  

Seasonal marketable yields among all treatments (above) and percentage difference compared to untreated control or grower standard (below).
When data were analyzed without the untreated control, there was a significant difference (P = 0.0279) among the treatments where treatment 5 had significantly higher marketable yield than the grower standard and treatments 3, 8, and 11.  Percentage difference from grower standard yield was also significantly different (= 0.0301) among treatments where the Fertum regimen had the highest increase of 16.25.
Seasonal marketable yields (above) and percentage difference compared to grower standard (below) when untreated control data were excluded from the analyses.
There was a significant difference (P = 0.0141) among treatments only in the number of marketable berries.  There were more than 1700 in Innovak Global regimen, EX10 treatment, and BiOWiSH regimen 4 while grower standard had 1485, Vermi-extract had 1563, and the rest of the treatments had marketable berries in 1600s.  
 
The average fruit weight was a little over 33 grams in the grower standard and the Fertum regimen whereas the weight varied between 31.9 and 32.7 grams in the rest of the treatments.  
 

It took 23 harvest dates in three months (from February to April, 2018) to obtain the first third of the total seasonal yield while the remaining two-thirds were obtained from seven harvest dates in May and six dates in June.  Marketable fruit yield was higher than the grower standard in all treatments and higher than the untreated control in most treatments. 

In general, fruit yields were higher and the pest and disease pressure was lower than usual during the study period.  Aleo, a garlic oil based fungicide, at lower label rates was periodically used for disease management and bug vacuums were operated a few times against the western tarnished plant bug as a standard across all treatments.

This study evaluated some treatment regimens as recommended by the collaborating manufacturers and some of them appear to have a potential for use in strawberry production.  These results help the manufacturers fine tune their recommendations for achieving better yields through additional studies.

Acknowledgments: We thank the planting and harvest crew at Manzanita Berry Farms for their help with the crop production aspects, Chris Martinez, Tamas Zold, and Maria Murrietta for their technical assistance, Sumanth Dara for statistical analysis, and the support of the industry collaborators who funded the study.

Posted on Friday, August 3, 2018 at 12:50 PM

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