What do we see in bionutrition research right now?
There is a large variety of bionutrition products out there that make a lot of claims, especially for turf applications. It is a challenge to sift through those and see who has university research to back those claims up. We have substantiated our product claims with research in agronomic crops, which is the bulk of our market. What we see with agriculture is that when our products are combined with fertilizer, we help reduce nitrogen loss through volatilization and leeching. Thus, there is also a greater retention of nitrogen fertilizer in the soil. So, we can approach turf nutrition with environmental as well as economic concerns, especially now with new regulations restricting the application of nitrogen, or in some cases phosphorus-containing fertilizers. We’ve seen a number of situations with turf where they could probably back off on the amount of fertilizer that’s applied, but we’re not making those recommendations. We’ll let the regulatory aspects, the agronomic aspects or cultural practices guide what the superintendent feels they need. Our approach is to make more efficient and more effective use of the fertilizer when it’s combined with the product.
How can bionutrition help a course become more sustainable?
Obviously, there’s the concern for groundwater contamination, although a lot of that comes from agriculture and animal-feeding operations. There’s a fair amount of nitrogen that needs to be applied to keep the turf green. Our goal is to help ensure that more of the applied fertilizer will stay in the soil and be available over time. We’re not claiming tremendous growth responses or that you can reduce fertilizer use. We do, however, want to be more efficient and more environmentally aware of the product that goes out and how we can help limit nutrient loss. We do see some stimulation of root growth and we’ve got that documented for turf for a number of situations. That increase in root development does not necessarily contribute to a significant increase in the amount of shoot growth; in fact you don’t really want to see that on a golf course if you have to mow more often. But an increase in the size of the root system can come into play under stress conditions. We have research to support this: If the turf becomes under stress, especially drought stress, a little bit larger and healthier root system will help minimize that stress. We also see some improvements in water infiltration.
The benefits of our products are due to our production process that consists of a large microbial community from which we derive microbial byproducts. These byproducts are what the microorganisms need to function as a community. Like our own communities, we benefit from the skills of many people like plumbers, electricians or surgeons, each with their own set of tools. The microbial tools, or byproducts, are what bacteria and other organisms produce in the soil to function and interact with plants. We take advantage of those byproducts that are actually biochemicals that the organisms produce. We have found that these biochemicals also function to help plants utilize fertilizer more efficiently. Another benefit is to help keep nutrients in the soil in a plant-available form. The product can be applied with organic or inorganic fertilizers.
Can bionutrition really help reduce the need for fertility treatments?
We usually incorporate reduced-fertility treatments with studies for comparative purposes. Some studies show that just reducing fertility does not make that much of a difference because of the residual fertility already in the soil. However, even under standard or reduced fertility, we’ve seen enhancement of root growth. Superintendents know which fertility rates are best under their conditions. We encourage soil testing and turf quality measurements to guide a fertility-management program. By incorporating bionutrition products into that fertility program, it should be possible to measure an improvement in soil nutrient availability. The superintendent can then make adjustments to the amount of fertilizer needed based on the observed benefits. We have also been able to show under field conditions a reduction in drought stress with bionutrition. Sometimes it’s more difficult to see differences in turf quality with bionutrition products until a stress situation occurs and that’s when an improved root system for water and nutrient uptake really comes into play.
What should superintendents consider when adding bionutrition products to their programs?
Before they consider applying any product, I would recommend that they request and review research data that substantiates any claims, preferably from independently conducted university research. Take a close look at the company. What is its reputation? The key performance factor to search for is more efficient use of the applied fertilizer, especially nitrogen. The idea is to keep more of it in the soil and make more efficient use of what is applied.