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Mar 2024 | Article

Biostimulant study shows yield and plant health gains

Pluton, used as part of an integrated pest management strategy on a crop of Crusoe winter wheat, produced a yield increase of 18.2% and a Nitrogen efficiency (NfUE) improvement of 13%. 

The 2600-hectare Bartlow Estate near Cambridge has trialled the use of Pluton, a liquid plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) from biostimulant specialist Orion FT, and has found it to increase yield and improve plant health. The trial saw Pluton used as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy on a crop of Crusoe winter wheat which was harvested in 2021. The result was a yield increase of 18.2% and a Nitrogen efficiency (NfUE) improvement of 13%. 

Sprayer operator Barry Williams conducted the trials as part of a BASIS thesis. The aim was to establish whether the use of biostimulants within the farm’s existing IPM strategy could improve plant health and lower inputs whilst gaining or keeping yields consistent. 

The tramline trial saw a 30.3-hectare field of Crusoe split into three with two biostimulants used and a control plot. The Pluton site was 1.71 hectares, with 0.76 hectares allocated to the use of Biomex, and 27.83 hectares remaining as the control. “The control site was treated with the standard farm fungicide routine only, no biostimulants. The two trial sites were treated with the same fungicide routine as the control, but with the addition of the biostimulant products,” explains Mr Williams.
Barry Williams

The biostimulants were applied at GS32 with the use of the farm’s self-propelled Horsch sprayer, in accordance with all label recommendations, to apply one litre of product per hectare diluted into two hundred litres of water, to achieve a soil drench effect. “The level of soil cover is important to allow the PGPR bacillus to colonise the soil structure. Both products were applied on the same day with appropriate hygiene measures between applications to avoid any cross contamination,” he says. 

The crop was monitored during the growing season with the use of Omex SAP analysis tests for micronutrients, which were taken at T1, T2 and T3 intervals. The samples taken from all three plots were taken on the same days under the same conditions. “The first samples were taken before any biostimulants had been applied to establish a base line for each site, subsequent samples were taken at the longest interval possible from the previous fungicide and trace element application so as to give the best chance of showing any potential effects.”

The whole field was harvested on the same day and the trial plots and control plots were harvested and weighed separately over the grain store weighbridge. Representative samples of each plot were taken for analysis at Granta laboratory, to allow grain quality to be assessed.

The control plot yielded 8.417 tonnes per hectare compared to the Pluton plot which showed an 18.2% increase with a yield of 9.953 tonnes per hectare. This was also an increase on the plot treated with Biomex which yielded 9.763 tonnes per hectare. “Samples of all three plots were also sent to Omex Agriculture Ltd for Nitrogen usage efficiency and nitrogen fertiliser usage efficiency (NFUE) testing. The Pluton plot performed the best with an NFUE uplift of 13% on the control.”
This translated to a gross margin increase of £283.60 per hectare. “This takes into account the cost of adding Pluton at £85 per hectare without reducing the amount of fungicide used. It therefore shows a marked yield increase, and that yield increase was cost-effective for the farm.”

The outcome has led Mr Williams to believe that the farm could potentially reduce its fertiliser usage, which would offer further savings and thus increase margin. “Whilst the yield data is encouraging, the nitrogen fertiliser usage is what offers the farm the greatest single cost-saving measure. The rising costs of fertiliser will only see this saving increase,” he says.

Mr Williams has continued to use Pluton and the following 2022 harvest also showed encouraging results. However, the value of wheat dropped significantly and has since stabilised around the £200 per tonne figure which is making it harder for him to justify the cost.

“We are committed to using biostimulants as part of an IPM strategy and we want to reduce our reliance on nitrogen fertiliser and fungicides. However, we also have to manage our costs and with the current price point of the product, is not possible to use it across the whole farm,” he says. 

As he strives to find the balance and also looks at other inputs to improve the sustainability of the farm’s yields he suggests that biostimulants are likely to have a part to play in his future decision making. 

“The trials here have shown biostimulants like Pluton have a place in agriculture and we need to judge when the best times are to use these products in the same way we have with chemicals. I believe there is a strong argument for using biostimulants but it has to make financial sense as well as offer agronomic benefits,” he concludes. 

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