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Apr 2023 | News

Crop data shows benefit of silicon

As featured within the April 2023 edition of Crop Production Magazine:

An ever-increasing breadth of data is showing that applying supplementary silicon to field crops can boost a plants’ natural defence mechanism. This can increase resilience to pests and disease and improve nutrient use and yield quality. 

Split field crop data taken from a grower in Kent has shown the benefit of applying plant available silicon to a wheat crop. Following four applications of Sirius, a silicon biostimulant, the treated wheat crop accumulated over 500mg/kg more silicon than the untreated crop, which increased crop health and resilience. The outcome at harvest was a consistently high yield which saw the treated sample weigh 300 kilos per hectare heavier than the untreated.

Managing Director of silicon biostimulant producer Orion Future Technologies, James Kennedy explains:

“Research has shown that elevating silicon levels in a crop helps to strengthen the plant’s natural defences. Some silicon is available in the soil, but this varies with soil types and overall soil health. We have developed a way to apply it as a foliar spray or seed treatment which offers growers the opportunity to boost a crop’s silicon uptake. Results across a variety of crops have demonstrated that applying silicon biostimulants is reducing losses and increasing yield.”

Silicon accumulation improves the physical strength and resilience of plants. By improving the plant’s defence response to pests and disease, higher silicon levels can help to reduce damage from aphids and fungi. The biochemical effect of higher levels of silicon in the plant reduces the feeding appeal for predating pests like aphids. In addition, silicon increases the leaf cuticle thickness, enhancing the plants physical barrier to reduce the threat of fungal hyphae penetration or cabbage stem flea beetle. 

Whilst the accumulation of silicon in the plant has shown yield benefits, trials have demonstrated this is a combination of silicon and also other nutrients.

“In an accumulation study with KWS, we were able to establish that applying Sirius to different varieties of wheat (Palladium, Ultimatum, Dawsum, Zyatt and Extase) helped to increase the uptake of silicon. However, crucially this also helped boost the uptake of nutrients such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and nitrogen.”

The Sirius treated crop more than doubled its levels of calcium, magnesium, and manganese. It also saw an increase in copper of more than 50% compared with untreaded. 

“Increasing the availability of nutrients to a crop will improve plant health and strength, but also add weight which will carry through to harvest. Using a biostimulant also has no negative effect on the soil, i.e. a healthier crop that is less dependent on inputs will also leave healthier soil for the next rotation.”

In a similar trial, carried out in Brazil, silicon was applied to a wheat crop to improve resistance to bird cherry-oat aphid (Rhopalosiphum padi). Silicon accumulated by the crop helped to create a barrier to aphids by triggering the jasmonic acid-dependent defence of the plant.

“Silicon biostimulants have not been developed for a specific crop, but rather to improve the health of a wide variety of plants. Making more silicon available to a plant has shown benefits in cereals, vegetables and fruits. In addition, Orion is currently conducting trials to reduce damage from pine weevil (Hylobius abietis) to Sitka spruce trees.”

Applying Orion’s silicon biostimulants is a relatively easy process. Available in liquid form, the products only need to be diluted in water and can be added to crop protection products in the sprayer tank with no lack of efficacy to the biostimulant or tank mix partner. This has seen silicon biostimulants used widely with encouraging results for crops that have a history of problems with pests and disease. 

“We have seen encouraging results in strawberries, protecting the fruit against powdery mildew. Trials with Harper Adams University halved aphid numbers in a pea crop and significantly reduced feeding time. Our product portfolio is not exclusively silicon based, but all products improve plant health by reducing the attractiveness of the plant to pests or pathogens."

Silicon only becomes available to plants in its monosilisilic form. Orion has developed iNHiB™Technology that makes silicon available to the crops in this way to help mitigate plant stress. 

“This formulation technology also allows our products to be easily tank mixed with plant protection products with no compatibility or efficacy issues. This makes their inclusion very convenient to growers wanting to apply silicon without making additional spray applications” 

With an ever-increasing number of crop protection products being delisted or failing to gain registration in the UK, and pressures to reduce chemical usage, it is clear that the development of biostimulant solutions can help to reduce the reliance on traditional chemistry. However, silicon biostimulants do not seek to claim crop protection status, nor does Mr Kennedy see them as an alternative.

“Silicon biostimulants should be used as part of a sustainable pest and disease management strategy. Integrated pest management (IPM) shows us that there is a need to consider as wide a range of solutions as possible to develop ways to control threats to our food chain and productivity,” he concludes.

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