Common Questions About Plant Nutrition
What makes the Fusion 360 approach to agriculture different?
Fusion 360 was founded on the belief that nourished plants and soils can utilize their own natural defenses to ward off disease and pests. Doc Tom personally formulated every product in the Fusion 360 product line to enhance the overall vigor and “natural resistance” of the plant and the soil that feeds it. Each product is created with the key elements of plant nutrition in mind, and is scientifically formulated for increased uptake and mineral utilization.
For an example of this approach, think of the human body. Each nutrient we take in plays a key role in proper development and output. Calcium, for example, aids in bone development and maintenance, blood clotting, and nerve function.
In plants, calcium plays an equally important role in a plant’s cell structure. It acts as a cementing agent for the pliable pectin layers between cells, and also bridges the proteins evenly throughout cell layers. When a plant suffers calcium deficiencies in the roots, the tissues develop symptoms similar to an infection by water mold pathogens.
The same concept rings true for other nutrients such as iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc and continues into the micronutrient categories.
Addressing these nutritional deficiencies results in healthy, hardy plants, just as a balanced diet produces healthy, well-developed people.
How can I improve my soil quality?
Despite the varied origin of agronomic soils, what is germane to the grower is the ability of the soil to support plant growth and development. A soil must be able to provide the following essential characteristics that promote plant health:
- Hold minerals and nutrients used by the plant (availability).
- Yield these minerals and nutrients as needed by the plant (no tie-up).
- Provide a physical constitution that provides aeration for metabolic activities of the plant (soil texture).
- Have a texture that allows the roots to easily penetrate through the soil, and allows for proper water drainage through the soil.
Promoting the microbial activity of soil leads to improved soil and plant vigor. However, this is not as simple as it seems. Dr. Thomas Yamashita has performed years of research targeted at achieving this goal. Fusion’s products are a direct result of this research. Providing substrates and inoculants paired with essential nutrients enhances the growth of beneficial microorganisms and increases the soil’s nutrient uptake, thereby promoting soil ecology and increased plant yields.
As a part of our processes we partner with an agricultural lab, Sunburst Plant Disease Clinic, Inc., that will construct custom programs based upon soil sampling and analysis. These programs provide growers with a customized prescription for the issues currently hindering crop production.
What are the benefits of a foliar nutrition program?
Foliar nutrients are an essential part of crop nutrition, providing your crops with:
- Direct absorption of preformed plant nutrients
- Increased bud set and pollination
- Enhancements to tissue integrity, improving the plant’s ability to withstand various stressors
What are some common maladies associated with calcium deficiency? What makes Integrity Calcium different?
Fusion 360 scientists have perfected a unique means of imparting a net neutral (0) charge to the Ca ion. The calcium is paired with selective products known for their superior chelation abilities. Thus, there is reduced tie-up, and absorption into the plant tissues is greatly facilitated enhancing the integrity of the plant. Furthermore, the product is buffered to address concerns about phytotoxicity.
Calcium is an integral part of the cell wall structure, acting as a cementing agent for the pliable pectin layers between cells. By increasing the intake of calcium into the plant tissue, Integrity Calcium will help enhance fruit and vegetable firmness and subsequent shelf life.
How do mineral deficiencies affect my crop?
Crops that are deficient in key nutrients often present with various symptoms. Here are a few examples:
Zinc is essential for helping plants with the formation of plant auxin (IAA), activating enzymes, protein and amino acid synthesis, and the transfer of energy rich phosphorus. Crops that are deficient in zinc often show signs of:
- Little Leaf
- Interveinal chlorosis
- Shortened internodes
- Witches Broom
Manganese is another essential element, also aiding in activation of enzymes and energy transfers. Manganese also has a unique role in nitrogen metabolism and the splitting of water molecules during photosynthesis. Crops that are deficient in Mn often present with:
- “Tiger stripe” chlorosis
- Marginal chlorosis
- Small fruit size
- Premature leaf drop
Iron is fundamental to plant nutrition, aiding in the synthesis of chlorophyll, oxidation reduction, forming parts of proteins and enzymes. and offering assistance with various reparatory reactions. Plants that suffer from iron deficiency often present with:
- Interveinal chlorosis
- Marginal chlorosis
- Reduced shoot growth
- Premature leaf drop
If you notice, some of these deficiencies have similar physical signs. The best way to know exactly what nutrient(s) are lacking is provide a sample for testing. Once testing is completed, an exact diagnosis can be made, and treatments can begin to restore the plant to optimal form for continued production and yield.
If a field is manifesting an “excellent” tissue mineral analysis, why do certain tissues such as the fruit still manifest typical, physiological maladies reminiscent of a mineral deficiency?
The tissue mineral analysis must be viewed as an “average” reading. It does not delineate the intricacies of the dynamic mineral harvest occurring during the season or especially during moments of rapid growth and peak demand periods. During peak demand periods (e.g. bloom or fruit set) the rate at which nitrogen (N) is harvested reaches the pinnacle of disproportionate harvest and greatly exceeds that of other key minerals.
While many minerals lag behind N harvest, calcium (Ca) uptake falls the farthest behind. This is critical as Ca is most important in establishing sound tissue integrity. Further, because many elements and especially Ca, will move by mass flow through the transpiration stream, Ca will always tend to concentrate in rapidly transpiring organs such as the leaves. In contrast a global fruit with a low surface-to-volume ratio and minimal transpiration will accumulate considerably less Ca. This explains the discrepancy between an apparently sound tissue mineral status of Ca in the leaves but in reality, a deficiency in the fruit (Ca is used here as a model).
(a) Correct interpretation of a tissue mineral analysis taking into account the various peak demand periods that create extreme demands on mineral assimilation, thus creating disproportionate mineral harvest.
(b) The straight line (O) depicts the rate of overall plant growth; the broken line (- – -) the proportionate N harvest; the boxed line the relative harvest of P, K and minors; the triangle line the relative harvest of Ca.
(c) A leaf with high surface-to-volume ratio undergoing rapid transpiration.
(d) A global fruit with a low surface-to-volume ratio undergoing minimal transpiration.
Why should a person secure a soil mineral analysis when the tissue analysis depicts the true picture of what is really happening? That is, given a sound tissue mineral analysis, is it really necessary to obtain a soil mineral evaluation?
Tissue mineral analysis represents but one tool in the efforts towards a more complete definition of the conditions at hand. The tissue mineral analysis must be viewed as an average condition of mineral status, unable to tell you about the dynamic flux that changes with the rise and fall of each peak demand period. We will also need to know the status of the mineral banks of the soil and further, the ease with which these minerals are being released upon demand by your plant during peak demand periods.
Remember that the tissues will continue to form regardless of whether or not a balanced or imbalanced mineral status exists. The more tissue developed under duress or imbalanced nutrition, the more tissue of low integrity and resultant tissue of higher sensitivity and susceptibility to stress and pathogens alike. This question can be likened to the following scenario:
“A foreigner visits the Central Valley during the spring bloom of deciduous tree crops. The air is clean, the hills are verdant green and the temperatures hover around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. He goes home to tell his countrymen in Great Britain of the absence of fog, the evergreen hillsides, and the stable greenhouse temperatures of Central California.”
The question is, are other evaluations and the consideration of time periods necessary to derive a more realistic view of the true conditions of Central California?
If a soil mineral analysis from a field depicts textbook quality levels and balances of all minerals, is this necessarily indicative of the crop producing capacity of the soil?
Elsewhere I have described the basic differences between continuously cropped versus virgin soils. Examinations and comparisons of these two types of soils come up quite often due a common question frequently asked by vegetable growers:
“Why is it that when we break virgin ground, we enjoy the best yields and produce quality for about the first two years? Subsequent to this, no matter how we improve our fertility programs, we cannot match nor come close to the volume and quality of crops we enjoyed in the first two years.”
For a detailed comparison of the qualities of continuously cropped versus virgin soils, see the table below:
Research shows with great emphasis that soils with superior mineral analyses are generally inferior in productivity and quality of crops compared to that of virgin ground. How this happens can be summarized in the superior responsiveness of the virgin ground to applied nutrients and higher efficiency of moisture and mineral harvest, especially manifested during peak demand periods of growth.
Everyone knows that a drip or mini-sprinkler irrigation system delimits the expanse and volume of roots compared to a solid set sprinkler or flood irrigation system. How is that despite this limitation that the trees are able to grow so well?
The heart of the answer lies in one key principle: Plants will always reach more of their potentials when the efficiency of mineral delivery is superior.
While especially limiting the expanse of the root systems, the concentrated volume of roots in drip and mini-sprinkler systems develops the opportunity for a higher efficiency of mineral uptake per delivered mineral. Further, spoon-feeding methods of nutrient delivery are facilitated by drip and mini-sprinkler systems.
This latter factor also helps to minimize slugging tactics of fertilizer delivery, whereby sudden additions of these nitrogen or sulfur, especially, initiate a concomitantly sudden drain on the energy reserves of the plant. Slugging tactics promote rank growth and enhanced susceptibility and sensitivity to disease and stress.
Thus, the most desirable methods of irritation and/or nutrient delivery are those which maximize uptake efficiency from the soil. The situation becomes of “doing a perfect job in a limited area” as opposed to “diluting the effects over a broader volume of soil.”
The drip system, for example, represents the pinnacle of root concentrating. Yet, surface volume of receptive roots for immediate absorption of delivered nutrients is superior. The roots have literally been ‘trained’ to be there for the water and minerals. A grower with a solid set or flood irrigation system can approximate this high efficiency of uptake by also training his plant’s root system to be at the locale of delivery.
Practices in solid set or flood-irrigated blocks that maximize nutrient uptake efficiency include:
- Nontillage practices which foster development and survival of roots in the top 6 inches of soil.
- Minimal use of root-pruning herbicides.
- Developing a habitual zone of fertilizer delivery to train root mass to develop in that zone.
- Avoiding severe swings in irrigation cycles (e.g. dry soil à wet soil à dry soil)
- Balancing the mineral levels and chemistry of the soil and ensuring full mineral banks.
- Developing and maintaining selective soil microbiology, especially in the root zone.
- Supplementing with well-timed and designed foliar nutrient sprays to minimize stress.
How is it that a foliar spray with its seemingly miniscule levels of applied nutrients induces a visible growth response in plants?
Using a typical spray volume of 100 gallons per acre, let’s first take a look at the magnitude of those minuscule levels of delivered nutrients:
As you can see, the actual amounts of delivered minerals are infinitesimal. Yet, few of us can deny that visible responses can be seen from programs such as these. While minerals are delivered, and certain deficiencies are met, the essence of foliar nutrition lies in its well-timed delivery and reduction in stress at critical periods of plant development and/or environmental stress. That is, the benefits of foliar nutrition transcend the mere delivery of nutrients. Rather it affects one of the most important parameters in plant physiology, the efficiency of the plant’s metabolic machinery. This parameter is best expressed in the standard formula for photosynthetic harvest:
Photosynthetic harvest =
(kcal/square meter/hour)(square meter/plant)(hours/day)(efficiency of metabolism)
Thus, a well-timed and well-designed foliar nutrient spray has been observed to either raise the efficiency of metabolism and/or keep it from declining during stress periods, a ramification of which is the successive rise in leaf area. This example is akin to the critical difference between 9.0% interest and 9.2% interest. The latter, however seemingly similar to 9.0%, can add up to large differences by the end of the year, in this case translating to more plant biomass and harvested energy.
Of all the many problems observed in plant agriculture, what is the most common and carries the most impact in keeping farmers from reaching higher yields and quality?
In my many years in agriculture and being called upon to diagnose a myriad of plant maladies, I can attribute over 95% of those cases as origination from suboptimal nutrition.
Indeed, suboptimal nutrition is the number one problem in plant agriculture. It is borne, in part, of the necessity for pushing plants beyond their natural potential. It is also one that can inconspicuously and quietly escape our detection for various reasons:
- With heavy nitrogen fertilization the plants outwardly appear to be doing great.
- When maladies do occur, the plant’s resistance is compromised and a pathogen (or pathogens) enters the scene, thereby diverting attention and diagnosis away from the true cause of the issue.
- We have farmed for many years with ‘magic bullets’ that can pinpoint a malady and—at least for the moment or season—deter the secondary signs of suboptimal nutrition (e.g. fungicides, bactericides).
- The intricate science of plant nutrition often escapes even the best college education.
- Initial corrective programs appear expensive when, in fact, the grower’s reluctance to institute sound, well-balanced nutritional programs ends up costing him or her much, much more.
- There are many so-called ‘experts’ in the field who base their worth on saving the grower expenses as opposed to securing the grower profits and stability, the former no better than the physician who merely prescribes pain bills of Band-Aids, allowing the source of the illness to continue unchecked.
- Sound plant nutrition and farming is 20% science, 80% art. The art is comprised of 10% inquisitiveness, 10% conscientiousness, and 80% humility. Summarily, the ultimate achievement is best depicted by Albert Einstein: “Success, my friend, is 99% sweat, 1% inspiration.” I would like to add that success is not a reaching of a goal or destination, but the intricate, detailed explorations and observations—not along a beaten path, but—in one’s intuitive journey following uncharted dreams.