A regenerative approach to Orchard Soil Nutrition

The fruit growing season of 2021 is upon us and pre-season discussions begin with tree fruit growers across the UK looking at the management of soils and base nutrition. Many are contemplating the conventional ‘chemical approach’ that has been adopted since the mid 1900’s or a more regenerative approach that reduces reliance on traditional chemistries. A regenerative approach introduces organic compounds, bio stimulants and biological approaches to invigorate soils and rootzones in order to provide a greater level of inherent support to fruit tree growth processes throughout the season, especially during times of stress.

Over the past 50 years there has been an increase in the application of chemical nutrients and active ingredients to woody crops on a global scale, yet there also appears to be a disproportionate increase in unusable soil nutrient levels and abiotic/biotic stress pressure. The current path is now seen by many forward-thinking growers and companies as not sustainable and highlights the desperate need for growers to move to a more holistic, regenerative programme.

Effective soil management is an important part of the process in order to maintain strong biodiversity, organic matter, and higher carbon content.

Effective soil management is an important part of the process in order to maintain strong biodiversity, organic matter, and higher carbon content. In the rhizosphere, or root zone of fruit trees, complex interactions are constantly occurring between plant roots and soil microbes. This results in the creation of organic compounds which interact with essential nutrients and tree nutrient uptake, so maintaining higher organic matter and carbon is essential. Carbon is now growing in importance in UK farming; this is partly due to the UK government’s ‘Carbon Credits’ scheme as part of its climate change commitment to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, but it has always been an essential part of a healthy soil.

Woody perennials such as fruit trees are powerful ‘sequesters’ of carbon, a process which involves the removal of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil’s organic matter and above ground in the tree’s biomass by the action of photosynthesis.

Soil organic matter and carbon content are essential to optimising soil fertility as they are the “flywheel” that transfers nutrient elements from the soil to root. They play a vital role supporting the bacterial flora which mineralise nitrogen. They also stimulate active nutrient exchange to maintain availability and have the benefit of chelating trace elements owing to the acid functions of many humic compounds being created.

A major benefit is that soils which are higher in soil organic carbon (1.5 to 2.0 percent carbon or 2.5 to 3.5 percent organic matter) produce higher yields and are far more resistant to drought and biotic stress factors.

Regenerative nutrition and supporting strong soil biodiversity have long been parts of the core ethos of Engage Agro Europe and so the development of innovative technologies to support these important processes have been a long-held practice. Possibly, the most applicable technology to this is Bio-Chel Initiate an organic and readily available source of organic compounds and carbon.

J3628-Engage Bio-Chel InitiateBio-Chel Initiate is a multi-function, highly charged liquid ‘lignin-carbon’ complex which is 100% organic and contains over 50% carbon. Its addition to orchard soils, accelerates natural biodiversity, which in turn releases essential nutrients tied within the soil and binds them to the root surface allowing elevated uptake. Lignin is the second most abundant organic compound in living plants after cellulose and accounts for 30% of plant mass.  It provides a renewable source of food for soil microbes, which fix nitrogen and assist in binding plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) to tree roots encouraging natural phytohormone responses leading to enhanced growth. Worldwide use of this modified lignin soil amendment has shown to increase yields on average 10% to 30% across a variety of crops and has become an important tool in a regenerative nutrition approach.

An active rootzone is proven to be essential in the nutrient support of fruit trees however, the practice of soil testing orchards only every 3-5 years and applying the same base programme of NPK, calcium and magnesium has led to many soils being overloaded in specific nutrients.  Soils become out of balance which locks nutrients away from use or creates antagonistic competition between nutrients which will impede uptake and reduce tree potential.

As part of regenerative approach to soil management, annual soil analysis is essential as every year soil nutrient levels can increase or decrease posing the fruit grower with new challenges. With nutrient depletion from annual fruit removal, it is expected that nutrient levels always reduce, however experience shows this is not always the case. Nutrients are taken up at different levels and availability can and does result in nutrient excess in many orchards especially in those with lower organic matter and lower bio-activity. This will only be picked up by regular analysis and unlike low nutrient status orchards, excess nutrient in orchards is more difficult to manage.

J3628-Engage CypherCypher from Engage Agro has become an important tool in its regenerative programme:

  • It maintains bioactivity factors by supplying an energy food source for soil microbes present in the root zone.
  • It also improves the solubility of essential nutrients and their bonded anions of phosphate or sulphate so that they remain available in the rootzone.
  • All salt and nutrient movement and availability through the soil improves as does uptake efficiency.
  • Importantly ‘locked up’ nutrients become available to support trees rather than creating issues.

Cypher is a modified organic acid blend derived from the plant active portions of lignin and leonhardite ore. It is a patented product designed to condition soils which have lost momentum, become compacted or overloaded in bonded salts. It is applied as a spray directly to the orchard floor and can be used alone or alongside basic and acidic fertilisers and herbicide applications. As a product from nature, Cypher meets all the requirements for sustainable agriculture and offers fruit growers a “natural” way to improve and maintain soil health and therefore productivity.

by Mike Stoker -Engage Agro Europe

For more information on moving to a more regenerative approach to nutrition, contact Mike Stoker mike.stoker@engage-agro.com