Making connections

Making connections

Dr. Robert Ames shows how bionutrition puts turf in the best position to take advantage of nutrients in the soil.

October 4, 2012

Dr. Robert Ames, director of applied science for Pilot Point, Tx.-based Advanced Microbial Solutions, is responsible for providing technical and scientific support to industry and other partners, including field personnel and customers. Dr. Ames manages a network of applications-focused relationships with research collaborators and promotes awareness of AMS technology within the scientific community.

Dr. Ames joined AMS in 2002, bringing with him two decades of experience in the study of plant-microbe interactions and plant nutrient uptake. Prior to joining AMS, Dr. Ames was a Staff Research Associate in the Plant Pathology Department at the University of California, Berkeley.

We’ve heard bionutrition can help sustain turf better throughout the summer heat and tough weather, but how exactly does it do that?

RA: Although the term “bionutrition” has primarily been applied to a healthy human diet which incorporates natural food products or food supplements, I think we can also apply this term for building and maintaining turf health. Turf bionutrition would consist of a program using standard fertility practices combined with various natural or biologically-derived products to aid plant and soil health. These types of products are collectively referred to as biostimulants.  Although there are many different types of biostimulants, these products function to improve plant growth, soil structure, nutrient availability, and fertilizer use efficiency. Collectively, these benefits will improve the ability of turf to withstand heat and drought stress through improvements in root growth and water and nutrient uptake.
What are the actual mechanics involved?

RA: The mechanics are fairly simple in concept. Again, remember that there are many different types of biostimulants. Some are designed to improve soil structure which means roots can penetrate deeper to obtain the moisture needed to reduce water stress. Other biostimulant products are designed to aid in soil nutrient availability and retention. This approach helps roots to obtain the nutrients the plant needs to sustain plant growth-- thus reducing heat stress. So, improved root growth coupled with improved nutrient and water uptake will contribute significantly to minimizing heat and drought stress. Biostimulants that are more on the “cutting edge” of research have been shown to reduce turf stress by improving root growth and altering root and shoot physiology to help the plant to respond better under stress conditions.
What’s new in the research on using bionutrition to stave off summer stress?

RA: Biostimulants in a bionutrition program for turf have now incorporated some of the same concepts used by Olympic athletes. We’ve all seen the drinks used by athletes to restore electrolytes like sodium and potassium which are lost while under physical stress. The same technology can be applied to reduce stress in turf.  By increasing the uptake of potassium, for example, it’s possible to reduce salt and other stresses to plants.  This has been shown in a publication out of Cornell for biostimulant products made by AMS Sciences, Gustafson (now Bayer Crop Science), and others (Yildirim, Taylor & Spittler (2006). ScientiaHorticulturae 111: 1-6).

Are there still aspects researchers don't understand about how bionutrition works on turf?

RA: We know that soil microorganisms and plants actually communicate through biochemical signals released and sensed by roots and organisms in the soil. It’s also well established that only about 1 percent of the bacteria in the soil can be cultured and studied for their effects on plants. So although there are biostimulants that help with turf nutrition and stress tolerance, the challenge remains to determine the biochemical mechanisms involved. In addition, we don’t yet understand the potential of 99 percent of the bacteria in the soil and how their functions can be channeled to improve turf health.
How should a superintendent go about using bionutrition on their turf if they are seeing trouble this year?

RA: I think the key here is to develop a bionutrition program which incorporates one or more biostimulants designed to improve root growth, soil structure and fertilizer use efficiency. Care should be taken to check into the documented research behind any product. Check out the company’s website and determine if the products are widely distributed by reputable companies and don’t hesitate to call the company directly if you have questions. Biostimulant products should be compatible with fertilizers or other products used in turf management. I’d also suggest setting up test strips or plots to compare treated versus untreated areas to evaluate products. Don’t rely on visual factors alone-- take soil cores to determine product effects on rooting depth, nutrient availability and soil moisture and structure.
Is there anything to be careful/cautious of when using bionutrition?

RA: There are a lot of products on the market making a lot of claims which makes it difficult to select one that will meet each superintendent’s needs. If they can’t supply reports from independently conducted studies or sufficient documentation to back up any product claims, then look elsewhere. Biostimulant products should be compatible with existing turf management programs. You don’t want to be spending time making up special formulas which can only be applied in very specific ways or certain times. Most importantly, a good bionutrition program will take some time to improve soil and turf health. Be patient and give the program at least two years to develop. And finally, be sure to set up test areas to compare the effectiveness of the bionutrition program against your standard turf management program without the biostimulants.
Are there weather conditions that would diminish or enhance the results of using bionutrition during the summer?

RA: Most products would recommend a broadcast application with water or through the irrigation system to get them incorporated into the soil. Application prior to an anticipated rain would help but may not be required. Dry or hot conditions may adversely affect some products, so check with the manufacturer before applying.
Is it cost effective in the short- and long-term?

RA: Yes, a well developed bionutrition program will go a long way to reducing turf stress and improve fertilizer and water use efficiency. You will find that you can get better performance out of a fertility program and may be able to adjust fertilizer application rates based on soil analysis reports and turf quality.  Improvements in turf and soil health will translate into reduced costs for fertilizer, water and potentially reduced disease once you find the bionutrition program that works for you.